Very few emcees these days transcend generations. In our microwavable, here today, gone tomorrow culture, ten years can seem like ten eons in the music business. After more than 15 years in the game, Bun B [click to read] has not only stood the test of time when many of his other peers have fallen into obscurity, he’s thriving. When his partner in rhyme, the late Pimp C went to prison for violating parole, Bun got on his grind, kept the UGK name alive and reintroduced himself to a generation of fans who identify more with YouTube than The Box. His first solo album, 2005’s Trill proved that he could hold it down without his brethren on an album that featured a who’s who of Southern Hip Hop.
When Pimp was released from prison, UGK was back at it, dropping a self titled double CD that made waves with the Outkast assisted “International Players Anthem” (arguably one of the best collaborations in the new millennium). After paying dues, Bun B and Pimp C were in position to get the recognition long time fans always knew the Port Arthur, Texas duo deserved.
Until tragedy struck.
On December 4, 2007, Pimp C was found dead in a Los Angeles hotel room. The passing of Pimp C took an unprecedented toll on Bun, but as the cliché goes, “what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.” Despite the loss of his brother from another, Bun resurfaced, seemingly stronger than ever. His follow up effort, the aptly titled II Trill picks up where its predecessor left off and keeps the UGK name alive.
While many of the game’s prominent emcees are stuck in the Toys R Us kid mentality (“I don’t want to grow up”), Bun dispels the notion that he’s anything but a grown ass man on the Sean Kingston assisted lead single “That’s Gangsta.” Over a JR Rotem beat he takes the new generation to school concerning the often used and much abused “G” word, rhyming: “A gangsta ain’t ya clothes, a gangsta ain’t ya hat/ Your watch, ring, and chain, nah a gangsta ain’t that/ A gangsta can have that, but he ain’t gotta show it (why)/ Cause with or without it, he still a gangsta and he know it/…You claiming G but you ain’t a gangsta jack/ so tell all them fake gangstas I’m coming to take gangsta back.”
Fans used to hearing Bun rhyme alongside Pimp C won’t be turned off by the cast of characters riding shotgun. None of the collaborations on the album sound forced, killing the thought that someone of Bun‘s stature in the industry is jockeying for crossover radio appeal. Lil Wayne pops up on “Damn That’s Cold” and Rick Ross, David Banner and 8-Ball & MJG lend their talents to “You’re Everything.” Chicago native, and longtime UGK fan Lupe Fiasco delivers a solid, show stealing performance on “Swang On ‘Em” while affirming that he’ll do what he wants to do, even if it seems out of the ordinary (“Speak on, how you on a song Bun B on, complete 180 how crazy has he gone/…how come he do what he want and never do what we want/ I’m Rick James in this game it’s a wide leather couch for me to plant my feet on”).
Tributes to the Pimp pop up sporadically on II Trill, but Bun succeeds where other rappers fail by running the spectrum on emotions for his fallen comrade. For many, mourning comes in several stages, from the somber to the celebratory and the remaining Under Ground King covers both. “Angel In The Sky” finds B retelling the UGK story–from the early days in Port Arthur to the present–and “Pop It 4 Pimp” finds him switching gears with Juvenile and Webbie, inviting ladies to shake something in memory of Mr. Butler. There’s even a verse from Pimp C himself on “Underground Thang” that serves as a permanent reminder of what used to be.
In addition to the club tracks, II Trill stands out when it gets serious, tackling many of today’s current affairs. “Get Cha Issue” finds Bun lyrically eviscerating hypocritical pastors, corrupt cops, and politicians. Lyfe Jennings and Young Buck help the album change course, taking the listener inside the mind of the three on “If I Die II Night,” sending a wakeup call to those willing to die for ideas that won’t live. “If It Was Up II Me” plays like a front porch conversation on Sunday afternoon, with Bun B breaking down the politics of poverty and extolling the virtues of education, economic empowerment, and parenting.
With 15 tracks (plus an intro and two interludes), II Trill hits from start to finish. There’s no new ground broken on this one, but got dammit, the album sounds great and proves that Bun is more than capable of going for self–even though we wish he didn’t have to.