On The Yard With Professor Bun B at Rice University Discussing Religion & Hip-Hop Culture

(Bun B and Dr. Anthony Pinn | Photo by Erik Quinn/imagesbyQ)

After reaching out to him and his manager via Twitter, working out logistics with his publicist Roberta Magrini and making communication with Aundrea Matthews of Rice University, I was scheduled to interview Bun B aka Professor Trill for The Final Call Newspaper on January 27.

But it wasn't about the success of his 2010 release "Trill OG" nor his upcoming tour. Rather it was regarding him taking on the title of "Distinguished Lecturer" at Rice University.

While class is in session, no media is allowed inside the McMurry Auditorium at Rice University wherein the Southern Hip-Hop artist delivers weekly lectures instead of performances to hundreds of students. I'm not going to pretend--I wanted to be on the inside of the classroom and watch Bun in action.

Instead, I could hear his familiar mic voice echoing into the hallway and then I walked by the open door leading to the auditorium and caught a glance of focused students with white apples lit up on the back of their Mac computers. Once class ended, I interviewed several students about having Bun B as their professor. All positive and interesting perspectives. Then I sat down inside the auditorium and went one on one with Bun B and Dr. Anthony Pinn.

In January, the Port Arthur, Texas native began co-teaching Religious Studies 331: Religion and Hip-Hop Culture alongside Dr. Pinn every Tuesday and Thursday. The class quickly grew with some 250 students enrolling in the course that is exploring the spiritual dimensions tied to Hip-Hop.

When I asked Bun B about Hip-Hop being a religion for some people he said,"Absolutely. There are those in Hip-Hop who follow the laws and doctrines of Hip-Hop with the same tenacity and faith level that people would carry over into standard religious practices."

In terms of what he wants the students to get out of the course he said, “I want them to take away from this class a deeper appreciation of the culture of Hip-Hop. I think most of the students in this class only recognize Hip-Hop as a musical form and as an individual expression. We want to show them a deeper context of the culture that Hip-Hop was born out of a society and an environment. And show them the message and interpretation of that message that goes with coming out of that environment."

Dr. Pinn told me he first taught at Macalester College in Minnesota prior to presently being the longest tenured Black professor at Rice University. He has been teaching the Religion and Hip-Hop Culture course over a span of 15 years. Through the Houston Enriches Rice Education (HERE) Project he has made efforts to connect the campus to the community.

We sought to incorporate Houston into the class and Bun B is a great fit. The response has been great and the students are gaining so much from him,” says Dr. Pinn.

Bun B couldn’t share the entire syllabus with me but did state that they will be addressing the wedge between the church and Hip-Hop along with teaching the students about the role of Islam in the advancement of the music they all probably have in their I-pods.

(Rice University)
"The problem is the preacher has seen unfair representation of Hip-Hop and drawn conclusions from that. I think Hip Hop has seen unfair representation of the clergy and drawn its conclusions from that. But by that same token we have positive representations as well and we need to start putting like-minded individuals in the same room to build up that image for the community," he says.

“We’re going to talk about how most of the major Hip-Hop artists are born out of the Five Percent Nation and the religion of Islam and how they have been able to interject tenets of that faith into their music. In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s we had all of these different artists embracing the Five Percent Nation, embracing Islam, embracing Minister Farrakhan, embracing the prophet Elijah and embracing even Clarence 13X. The music and the look reflected it because these people had such a broad fan base and these tenets were able to spread across the country,” says Bun B.

“I grew up listening to his music and had certain image of him. To see him in a different capacity such as this is enriching. He is not only knowledgeable of Hip-Hop but the religious side as well. This will not be an easy A,” says Deangela Hayes, anthropology major.

The last question I asked Bun B was how important reading has been in his development as a person and a performer. "That's a good question. Reading is essential. The best and most successful rappers have been those with the best command of the English language. The better you can communicate, the more people you can get to tune into your conversation and the lesson. It has always been for me about learning more, taking in more words and stepping up my vocabulary. I told others that you can’t keep up with me and you can’t learn the words I use just by standing on a corner in ‘hood. You have to get into a library or a bookstore and educate yourself. So the educational methods I have used in Hip-Hop, I have been able to now transition that into the delivery our lectures here in the classroom," he says.

Read more about this story in an upcoming edition of The Final Call Newspaper.

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