By Clayton Purdom | 4 June 2008
Here is a record heavy with precedent. In name II Trill evokes Bun’s previous solo effort, 2005’s, you know, fun Trill, and in chronology it comes swiftly after the double-disc exegesis of last year’s Underground Kingz. That record was a herculean act of actualization, an exposition of everything UGKesque about being in UGK, all UGK sounds and UGK words, and so called Underground Kingz, a.k.a. UGK. Few records have ever deserved to debut at number one more. It wanted to be nothing more than that which it invariably was and became: the definitive recorded document of Bun B and Pimp C. I suppose its legacy in this regard is now assured.
II Trill, on the other hand, recalls neither one of its prequels so much as it does T.I.’s King (2006), via its exhausting slew of singles nor guests, its chintzy dirty South sonics, and its unabashed grab for hip-hop greatness. In passing one may spot a bum track, but front-to-back and turned loud enough one finds that II Trill (like King) has been rigorously refined. No second is misplaced. Each track bangs confidently, individually, and thoroughly. The only real similarity to Underground Kingz is that singular artistic intent, encyclopedically solipsistic and vice versa, although the vainglorious egotism of yore is here supplanted by an avid universality. Bun B is attempting to alchemically transform his time-worn Houston bounce into mainstream swagger, and through sheer effort he almost wills it so. For example, the first five tracks contain (respectively) rolling regal bombast, acidic slow-mo faux-reggaeton, Lil Wayne, baleful self-aggrandizement over a keyboard line that seems to be screwing and chopping itself, and some zany “in the club” braggadocious bullshit. Elsewhere we find up-tempo romanticism, a quaintly misogynist “Drop it Like It’s Hot” interpolation, and, like, Webbie.
In other words, the gang’s all here! II Trill‘s carnivalesque air is, largely, a self-fulfilling success. Each guest—and they are legion—delivers extravagantly, in particular a smart sprint from Lupe Fiasco who wisely realizes that rapping over a martial brassy beat while Bun B talks shit about cars is an offer akin to that of a piggy back ride by Shaq. Something about the notion of this project seems to elicit the strongest from each of its contributors. Bun B is, after all, a sort of rapper’s rapper, held in high esteem behind closed doors but not really universally agreed upon outside of them. As usual, a lot of Bun’s charisma here comes simply from that voice, at once calm and bellowing, swift on the beat but cocksure enough to hang back, booming. Since allowing himself room from the UGK title during Pimp C’s early-00s incarceration, he’s developed a strong grasp on material outside of shit-talk and car rap, and throughout the album he expands from the catchphrase misogyny and glib homophobia of UGK to express a worldview something like compassionate conservatism.
This is all kinda interesting and worth debating, but the real star of II Trill isn’t Bun B—it’s II Trill itself. The record attempts nothing: it doesn’t stretch or break a sweat but celebrates its easy victory ecstatically, like some asshole Olympic sprinter racing against a middle school track team. Take that metaphor as you will. The record outclasses its competition, shows that everyone involved is still capable of strong hip-hop that doesn’t have to incinerate us like Hell Hath No Fury (2006) or New Amerykah or even The Bake Sale, just be good raps and good beats in the exact manner that we already define those things. I wish he were free to do more—certainly the man is capable—but I’m grateful that Bun B continues to define the lowest common denominator in the most gracious possible way.