Bun B and Austin Brown. All photos by Sama’an Ashrawi.
I first met Bun B three years ago in of Houston, TX on A$AP Rocky’s tour bus. Rocky was on tour with Rihanna and we were filming them for a film called SVDDENLY (which you can watch right here). The project took so long to complete that we thought about changing the name to EVENTUALLY, but that didn’t work out.
The night ended with Rocky and Bun presenting Pimp C’s widow Chinara Butler with a birthday cake, so as nights spent with rap artists on tour buses go, it was as heartwarming and vanilla as one could wish for. I don't know if the cake was vanilla-flavored as I wasn’t given a piece.
I met Bun again on Thursday, July 14, 2016; backstage at the Ed Sullivan Theater on Broadway, in Manhattan and was also an occasion where people’s hearts were warmed.
Bun B, Sean, and Austin
One of the most genial artists in rap, Bun B performed as a special guest with Parquet Courts on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on a song called "Captive of the Sun," written by Austin Brown who is the tall one with light, brown hair. I’d met Austin around the same time I met Bun B—through Parquet Courts’ bassist, Sean Yeaton.
Struck by the group’s amiable and interesting personalities, I’d somehow managed to persuade VICE to fund a half hour documentary about a barely known band touring through three different countries. The only real treatment we gave to the production department was: “It’s gonna be like the “Range Life” video by Pavement but with talking, and we’re gonna call it Light Up Gold Road Trip.
We filmed for three weeks around Todd P’s Festival Nrml in Mexico, SXSW in Austin, and in London on some mini-tour where they met the tour agent Russell Warby and their manager James Oldham and Jeanette Lee from Rough Trade.
Lots of significant and fun things happened during the making of this short film about and I’m quite honestly amazed more people HAVEN'T WATCHED IT YET, but one of the coolest things about the adventure was finding out that Austin is a big fan of rap music, so this gave us things to talk about while getting to know each other.
When he was 21 and a student at the University of North Texas in Denton—an hour’s flight from his hometown of Beaumont—Brown hosted a party at Hailey’s Nitghtclub. He would play records from Bun’s group UGK as well as artists like Big Mo, Mike Jones, Fat Pat, Paul Wall and anything that came out on the Swishahouse label.
And so now, a decade-ish later, Brown is hanging with his rap hero backstage on a major TV show while his dad Brad and stepmom Debbie gaze on like how you usually see parents’ faces when their kid’s just graduated from college.
“Collaborating with Bun was an idea I always wanted to do forever,” the singer told me as maintenance workers mopped up water pouring out of a broken AC unit next to the Parquet Courts dressing room. “I’d talked to him a few times and I floated the idea past him once, before he knew who I was and now it’s happening. We just clicked and he got on a remix of the song. It’s kinda crazy. And now we’re here.”
Well, now we’re here, and now it’s showtime! and now Austin’s visage takes on a look that some would call “glazed.”
The rest of the group, Andrew Savage, his brother Max, and Sean Yeaton, seem less glazed but “eager” to get on with this and get it over with, so they hustle upstairs to set up in front of the 400-strong audience, made up of elderly tourists, Colbert fans, and a handful of the band’s friends, label people, the Colbert crew, and a writer from The New Yorker.
James Oldham and Bun B
Members of the group PC Worship are here to play along with the song on pedal steel guitar and drums, and so is Michael K Williams, plugging his show Black Market, which is on our TV network VICELAND. As Colbert introduces the group he makes no mention of Bun B, but soon after the first chorus ends, Bun creeps on stage and “knocks it outta the park” with his performance. When it’s all over, Brown and Bun do a very cute fist pump and the entire audience gives a standing ovation.
The old ladies in the audience from Arkansas are going wild. The art rock group and the TRILL OG made it work!
“When we started playing the song it was like my ears started ringing so loud I couldn’t hear what I was playing or any of the other instruments and I got tunnel vision” Brown said after the performance.
“I’ve never felt so nervous, but it was beyond the most rewarding experience I ever had. It was just too good to be true. It just felt really moving. I was such a fan of the moment that it was difficult to be present and it was difficult to perform.”
I think it turned out great though.
After the show in a small backstage room, Austin has a bottle of Dom Perignon on ice for Bun as a nod to the UGK track “It’s Supposed To Bubble.” As they raised a toast Bun gave a speech to the group that went something along the lines of: “You guys got here on your own and thank you for inviting me up here. It’s such an honor to be playing in the same theater where The Beatles played and changed music forever.”
I declined to join in the room because there were too many people in it, but he definitely said some of those things.