Bun B wasn’t the first rapper invited to speak to Dr. Anthony Pinn’s “Religion and Hip Hop Culture” class at the distinguished Rice University.
But four years later, now that he’s matured his role from one-off guest lecturer to full-time co-teacher, it’s hard to envision any other MC standing behind the professor’s podium.
Ronda Prince, the CFO and COO for Rap-A-Lot Records (and James’ little sister), remembers receiving a request from Aundrea Matthews for one of her label’s artists to come and speak to the class.
Matthews, who is now a Ph.D. candidate in Religious Studies at Rice, had once worked at Rap-A-Lot and was attempting to utilize her connections to bring in a practical expert on the subject matter.
One name tossed around was Z-Ro. Although underrated on a national scale, the Screwed Up Click member is a popular voice among H-town hip hop fans.
“I said ‘He’s an excellent artist, but when I think about coming to the classroom and talking to the kids… ummm… I don’t know if that would be my pick,’” Prince recalled.
Instead, she suggested Bun B because of his professional reliability and high performance in media interviews.
The next step was getting Anzel “Intl Red” Jennings, Bun’s manager and business partner, to pitch the idea to his client.
“He was a little nervous at first, but we went ahead and did the one guest spot and discovered Dr. Pinn and Bun were two like-minds,” Jennings said. “We went back to his office, saw some of the books he read, and the conversation started.”
Jennings recalled that “the synergy was flowing” and soon after the visit he received a call asking if his artist would be interested in co-teaching the full course.
“A lightbulb turned on in my head. Bun continued to be a little reserved about it but we talked it though. Eventually he felt comfortable enough to attempt it and it turned out to be a success,” Jennings said.
When the course began in spring of 2011, Dr. Pinn told me, “I take my job seriously and am not letting just anybody in. My conversations with (Bun B) convinced me that, not only was he a tremendous artist, but that he was a deep and thoughtful thinker who would do a fine job.”
Ronda Prince also shared her confidence in Bun B’s talents and pleasant surprise at the end result.
“I knew that he was awesome, that he was very smart, and could handle himself, but what happened with the class went well beyond my expectations – and much longer than I thought it would also,” Prince said.
“Religion and Hip Hop Culture” is now in its third semester with Bun B, or Professor Bernard Freeman – as is the preferred on-campus term, as co-steward of the platform.
A new development for this year is that the class will go international as Rice adds the course to its free “massive open online course” list.
The class launches March 24, 2015 and already 5,000 people (as opposed to the 250 that the physical classroom could contain) from 100 countries have registered. Due to time limitations, this year it will only focus on hip hop’s interaction with the Christian and Islamic faiths.
From the beginning, Bun B, who identifies himself as a Christian and attends The Church at Bethel’s Family in southwest Houston, knew there would be skeptics. However, he hopes people still approach this work with open minds.
“All I ask is that you don’t judge me and this course based upon the bad rap that you’ve heard, even the bad rap I have done, because, quite honestly, hip hop doesn’t deserve that. Hip hop has done more than that, been more creative and inspirational than even (it) has been able to show.”