Bun B and Shea Serrano’s New Rap Coloring Book Is (Not Really) For the Children

If you’ve spent any kind of time on the Internet, chances are something Shea Serrano has written, drawn, or created has made you smile. The 32-year-old inner-city teacher from Houston, Texas, writes and illustrates for several different outposts—our sister papers Houston Press and LA Weekly, Grantland, Complex’s Four Pins, Myspace—and over the last year has managed to catch fire online with side passion projects like Sex Questions from Seventh Graders and Drake-ing Bad. But the thing he’s perhaps most proud of (and what could make him some actual money) is his collaboration with Houston/Port Arthur rapper Bun B of UGK. Bun B’s Rap Coloring and Activity Book allows readers to play with imagesof their favorite rap greats and up-and-comers. Also, games. And word puzzles. The book’s a load of fun, and is sure to please rap nerds and crayon-wielding tykes alike. We hit up Serrano to seewhat makes his beautiful mind tick.

How did the book come about? Bun said he wanted to do a book, something fun and funny and smart because people never really get to see rappers acting that way, which, per him, is how a lot of them are in private. We met up and talked about different ideas. We’d considered doing this other book—a hip-hop survival guide of sorts—but never really pushed the idea into a good enough place. We spent maybe a year or so just thinking on it.

While coloring with my sons one day, I got bored, so I drew a couple of Houston rap guys like coloring pages. I posted them on Twitter and they got a nice response. I figured that if I could get Bun to agree to do a coloring book, we’d be in a good spot. He liked the idea immediately, so I downloaded Adobe Illustrator, spent a month or so learning how to get it to do what I wanted it to do, then started making pages. I set up the Tumblr in October. It went viral about a week later. Then in November, Abrams [Books] got in contact with me and expressed interest in turning it into a book. It all happened very fast.

How did you first meet Bun? I write about music for a bunch of different places; if you write about music, you’ll eventually end up interviewing Bun. He’s that dude.

You guys got the permission of all the rappers featured in the book. Why was that necessary? We just wanted everything to be totally legit. I hated the thought of putting someone in there that didn’t want to be included. Bun felt the same way, and Abrams definitely felt that way. Managing to get everyone’s permission is one of my most proud moments. It was always so exciting to get a signed permission back. Like, I mean, can you even imagine Juicy J doing that?

Who is the target audience of the book? Do you think parents will buy it for their kids, or is it more geared as a novelty for rap nerds? Do you care either way? Man, it can go either way. I just want anyone to buy it; I don’t care who. It’s not built for kids—it’s more for music fans. That said, we set it up so that if you wanted to give it with a kid, it’d mostly be OK. There aren’t curse words or strippers or anything like that in there.

What do you plan to do with the billions this thing makes you? I’m going to buy some solid diamond shoes and then skate right the fuck down the hallway of the high school I went to and shout, “In your face, bitches!”

Several of your creations have become wildly popular online. How have you managed to, as Kanye might say, pop a wheelie on the zeitgeist and made things that resonate with so many people? Yeah, Drake-ing Bad [wherein Serrano draws Drake into scenes from Breaking Bad] and Sex Questions from Seventh Graders and the Rap Coloring Book all went viral faster than I was anticipating. I’m pretty proud of that. Really, I just want to do things that are neat and fun and interesting. If an idea is vacillating between being genius or extra stupid, then that’s kind of exactly the sort of thing that goes viral.

It should be noted, though, that super-villain Barry Schwartz actually came up with Drake-ing Bad. He hit me up one day and said he wanted to do it, but that he didn’t know how to draw. We chatted a bit about it and came up with a format, and I liked the idea so I set up the Tumblr and drew the pictures and whatnot. He let me do whatever I wanted, so I was a little nervous that I’d screw it up. He looked at it and said it was exactly how he saw it in his mind’s eye. I asked him if “mind’s eye” was just a different way to say “butthole.” It wasn’t. Malibooyah. Here we are.

‘Bun B’s Rap Coloring and Activity Book’ is available now from Abrams Books.


Robert Rauschenberg, 1925-2008

“I actually had a kind of house rule,” Robert Rauschenberg said of the period in the 1950s when he was living in a ratty building in downtown New York and working on his found-object “Combine” paintings. “If I walked completely around the block and didn’t find enough to work with, I could take one other block and walk around it in any direction — but that was it. The works had to look at least as interesting as anything that was going on outside the window.”

This reliance on serendipity and litterers to provide materials for his vibrant hybrids of sculpture and painting was typical of the optimism and insight of this rangy ex-sailor from Port Arthur, Texas. In 1949, at age 24, he arrived in a city dominated by the macho romance of abstract expressionism, but soon discovered that he wanted to move beyond America’s house style. First came paintings made with dirt and growing grass, followed by monochrome black and white canvases. Then, in 1953, the little-known Rauschenberg, a big admirer of Willem de Kooning’s roiling abstractions, knocked on the Dutchman’s studio door. After some drinking and small talk, Rauschenberg asked if he could have a drawing, throwing in that he wanted to erase it.

De Kooning knew of the younger artist’s monochromes, but also saw the audacious Oedipal challenge. “I want to give you one that I’ll miss,” the older artist finally replied. By his own reckoning, it took Rauschenberg three weeks to eradicate that dense, mixed-media image, but the ghostly palimpsest of Erased de Kooning Drawing signaled an artist who understood the power of such Dada stunts as a way to break through to new art forms.

Robert Rauschenberg, Décor for Minutiae, 1954/1976.

Working as stage manager for Merce Cunningham’s dance troupe, Rauschenberg created flats from swatches of bright fabric splattered with paint drips, around which colorfully garbed dancers moved — an action painting come to life. The stage set provided an impetus for taking his work into three dimensions. In the Combines — collages of comic strips, printed fabrics, news photos, signboards, and cast-off sundries, bound together with thick ropes of paint — he mined beauty from the slag heap of American culture. Jeff Koons, an artist who knows his kitsch, has said, “I can’t think of an image that has more power than Canyon” — Rauschenberg’s 1959 Combine starring a stuffed bald eagle salvaged from the dingy apartment of a recently deceased member of Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders. The wing-flared raptor juts forbiddingly from the bottom of the canvas, perched above a rumpled pillow suspended from a frayed cord. Among the many collage elements, the canvas includes a photo of distant galaxies below a rusty, flattened steel drum, and a print of the Statue of Liberty, which is mimicked by the waving arm of a toddler (Rauschenberg’s son from a short marriage to a fellow student at Black Mountain College). These literal and metaphorical gulfs — flight and gravity, cosmic forges and industrial detritus, national ideals and uncomprehending citizen — conjure a multifaceted America that, while scarred and sagging far short of its promise, remains wonderfully weird and exhilarating.

That same year, Monogram shocked many viewers, with its stuffed Angora goat, the head slathered with paint, squeezed through an automobile tire. At the close of the conformist Eisenhower years, the love that dare not speak its name was still best communicated through such visual conundrums: The Combines used pictures as words and objects as pictures to create poetries of form and meaning.

Like his onetime lover Jasper Johns, Rauschenberg often revisited motifs in his art, and did it with a gusto few could match. An untitled work from 1955 features a toy parachute flattened out in the lower corner of the canvas, listless cords drooping below the frame’s edge. Most of the canvas is thinly painted, a beige expanse as desolately beautiful as a desert, with scattered oases — a wrinkled sock, a wan photo of grazing cows — for the eye to wander among. Set this next to the 1963 performance Pelican: Rauschenberg on roller skates, careering about to a score he collaged from radio, music, and television sounds, a huge parachute stretched over wooden slats radiating from his back. Pelican was one of numerous pieces the artist choreographed as he pushed beyond the success of the Combines into an exuberant realm previously reserved for dancers and athletes.

As with Icarus, though, there came a crash. In the seven-foot-high 1964 silkscreen Retroactive I, the largest image is one of JFK stabbing a finger at two figures derived from a photo parody of Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase and cropped to resemble Massacio’s Adam and Eve expelled from the Garden. In an upper corner, an astronaut descends by parachute, a forlorn messenger too late to halt America’s latest loss of innocence. When Rauschenberg’s series of silkscreen paintings won the International Prize at the Venice Biennale that year, he called an assistant in New York and told him to burn the screens; there were to be no cushy landings for this continuously searching artist.

In the ’70s came a series created with flattened cardboard boxes, which lacked the earlier rough magic. The ’80s brought a quixotic quest, the Rauschenberg Overseas Culture Interchange, in which he collaborated with local artists in countries such as Mexico, Chile, and the USSR, an endeavor idealistically conceived and roundly panned, and that Rauschenberg wryly conceded had not led to “any excess of world peace.” To be sure, there are gems among the later work, but they sometimes seemed more prose than poetry.

In his last years, despite a crippling stroke, and with the help of his longtime companion Darryl Pottorf, Rauschenberg continued to send assistants out to shoot photos for massive collages, such as spare juxtapositions of ancient marble columns against plastic drinking straws. His primary instruction, to those who lacked his gift for discovering beauty in banality, could also be the artist’s epitaph: “If you think something would be a bad shot, take it.”


UGK’s Underground Kingz

After more than a decade of regional grind, Port Arthur duo UGK’s crossover moment came seven years ago with a set of verses on Jay Z’s “Big Pimpin’.” Signaling not only their own apparent ascension to A-list status, the lines “Now what y’all know ’bout them Texas boys /Comin’ down in candied toys, smokin’ weed and talkin’ noise” raised hopes of the Lone Star State’s acceptance into hip-hop’s big leagues.

Sadly, it proved a false start for UGK themselves. Their third album, 2001’s Dirty Money, failed to capitalize on this spike in profile, and in 2002, rapper-producer Pimp C was jailed on firearms charges. By his release in December 2005, though, plenty had changed. While rapper Bun B, assuming his rightful place as one of Southern hip-hop’s most respected ambassadors, campaigned for his cohort’s liberation via an unstoppable run of guest verses and a solo LP, the Dirty Third had barged its way into the mainstream. You couldn’t plan a better time for a reunion, and Underground Kingz shows that a six-year hiatus has done the pair little harm. Despite playing out over 26 tracks and three bonus cuts, this homecoming opus avoids the standard double-album pitfalls by not letting cameo vocals crowd the action, focusing on the interplay between Bun’s bluff precision and his partner’s comedically nasal flows on the title track, “Heaven,” and “Tell Me How Ya Feel.” An undeniably powerful chemistry between these MCs shines throughout, strong enough to match up to an array of guests that includes Dizzee Rascal, T.I., and Geto Boy Willie D.

Pimp’s unmistakable gospel-influenced G-Funk instrumentals only underpin eight songs, but the OutKast-featuring lead single “International Players Anthem,” helmed by Three 6 Mafia’s DJ Paul and Juicy J, is an ideal match, hooking itself around a soaring, soulful Willie Hutch sample. There’s still innovation to spare in the rhymes, too, notably the Ballardian car-as-significant-other jams “Chrome Plated Woman” and “Candy.” But when such old friends and heroes as Too $hort (“Life Is 2009”), Scarface (“Still Ridin’ Dirty”), and the troika of Marley Marl, Big Daddy Kane, and Kool G Rap (“Next Up”) enter, it’s especially clear that UGK are finally getting the props they deserve.