The Who: Bun B is one half, along with the late Pimp C, of the Port Author, Texas hip-hop group, UGK. Bernard "Bun B" Freeman and Chad "Pimp C" Butler formed UGK (short for Underground Kingz) in 1987. The duo released their debut album, The Southern Way, as a cassette only release in 1988. While largely considered regional icons (though releasing four critically acclaimed albums in the '90s), UGK would not amass any mainstream recognition until their appearance on Jay-Z's 2000 mega-hit, "Big Pimpin'." UGK would release their following LP, 2002's Dirty Money, to greater fanfare, but shortly after, in 2002, Pimp C was incarcerated for an aggravated gun assault charge. While Pimp was locked up, Bun B continued to hold the UGK torch, shouting his "Free Pimp C" slogan on an infinite number of remixes and hit songs. By the time Pimp C was released from prison in December of 2005, UGK's stature had grown immensely. The duo immediately went into the studio to record 2007's double-disc album, Underground Kingz. The LP debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 album chart. But the jubilation was short lived. On December 4, 2007, Pimp C tragically passed away in a Los Angeles, CA hotel due to an overdose of Promethazine/Codeine syrup and a pre-existing medical condition called sleep apnea.
The Buzz: Bun B released his first solo album, Trill, in October of 2005. The LP debuted at No. 6 on the Billboard 200 album chart and sold over 500,000 copies, earning Bun a Gold plaque. Now, three years later, Bun returns with the highly anticipated sequel, II Trill. With Pimp C's tragic death, this marks the first material released from Bun since the passing of his musical partner. The album is powered by the lead single, "That's Gangsta," which features Sean Kingston.
The Verdict: Categorizing Bun B's second solo album, II Trill, as merely a refinement of 2005's Trill, would be a disservice. It's the dichotomy of Bun B's persona - one part hustler, one part social commentator (a side not often seen on Trill) - that expands II Trill's content and creativity beyond its predecessor. Yeah, the album does have its share of customary odes to "slabs" and "candy paint," as seen on the Lil Wayne collaboration of "Damn I'm Cold." There's also plenty of chest-thumping on "Keep It 100" and the single "That's Gangsta." But the complexity, intelligence and depth of Bun B shines on the standout track, "Get Cha Issue." Throughout the song, Bun addresses various social and political issues such as police brutality, hypocritical pastors, and corrupt politicians. Without preaching, Bun connects the issues at hand with the younger hip-hop demographic - something not easily done. Bun goes even deeper on reggae infused "If It Was Up II Me," addressing socio-economic issues affecting the inner-city youth. The most heartfelt effort on the album, though, is the Pimp C dedication, "Angel in the Sky." Over a melancholy piano loop, Bun emotionally reflects on the good times he shared with his musical partner, rhyming, "It seems just like yesterday, sometimes/Sitting in your bedroom, writing dumb rhymes/You making beats on the Ensoniq /And we was smoking dirt week, 'cause there wasn't no chronic."
While II Trill is Bun B's most reflective solo work to date, the album's production is inconsistent, at times. "Swang On 'Em" is a refreshing collaboration with Chicago's Lupe Fiasco. Sadly, the track's minimalist, marching-band-inspired beat is a tad mundane, overshadowing a superb verse by Lupe. II Trill also includes some peculiar musical samples. "Good II Me" is a trite remake of The S.O.S. Band's 1983 hit, "Just Be Good To Me." It's not quite as bad as Silkk the Shocker's 1998 song, "Just Be Straight With Me," but it's an unnecessary interpolation nonetheless. Similarly, "Pop It 4 Pimp," which features Juvenile and Webbie, includes an awkwardly placed sample from Juve's "Back That Azz Up." The song even finds Juvenile recycling his lyrics and delivery from the 1998 hit. The track's producer, Mouse, also adds an irritating layer of synthesizers that heightens the audible displeasure. Thankfully, "You're Everything," which samples Jodeci's "Cry For You," is an improvement from the aforementioned songs. Still, it takes an all-star lineup of Rick Ross, Eightball & MJG, and David Banner to overcome a sloppy, and somewhat amateur, implementation of a famous sample.
Shortcomings aside, II Trill's rich content and conceptual material mesh perfectly with the wonted Houston aesthetic hip-hop fans have come to expect from the region. Rarely is the complexity or duality of an individual presented in full-form on a hip-hop album. But with age comes wisdom and maturity, and on II Trill, Bun B certainly showcases both attributes while staying true to the streets that made him.
The Verdict: B