Sunday, December 14, 2008

Bun B -- II Trill

Rating: 3/5 stars

Pros: Bun brings out the best in many of his A-list guests.

Cons: Pimp C's mic presence is sorely missed.

Bottom Line: UGK was more than the sum of its parts; Bun's career may have died in that Hollywood hotel room too.

Recommended Tracks:

Damn, I'm Cold

Swang on 'Em

Childhood friends from Port Arthur, Bun B and Pimp C formed the rap duo UGK in 1987. While they never achieved the commercial success of contemporaries like Outkast, they were just as influential.

Over the ensuing two decades, they were joined at the hip. When Pimp C was incarcerated in 2002, Bun B did innumerable feature yelling "Free Pimp C" to keep his memory alive. He released one solo album (2005's Trill) while Pimp was in jail, but otherwise steadfastly refused to rap without his partner.

Tragically, Pimp died of a mix of sleep apnea and a drug overdose in Hollywood hotel last year. And for the first time, Bun is releasing a new album (II Trill) without his life-long partner to lean on. It's Mick Jagger releasing a record without Keith Richards.

II Trill leans heavily on the UGK template that birthed a generation of Houston rappers -- songs about cars, girls and gangstas over laid-back bass-heavy beats. But Bun was always the more thoughtful and lyrical of the duo, and pointed social commentary emerges throughout.

He's become on of rap's elder statesman, the sheer length of his career giving him an air of wisdom and gravitas: "On these cold and black streets hunting / And a young black man can lose his life over nothing / If I got to go, please let it be for something real / cuz this bullshit hood shit is getting people killed."

What's missing is the energy and charisma Pimp brought to UGK; Bun's monotone delivery wears over 16 tracks. To compensate, the album is flooded with guest appearances from seemingly every Southern rapper. It's no coincidence that Bun sounds best when trading bars with energetic rappers like Lil' Wanye ("Damn I'm Cold") and Young Buck ("If I Die II Night").

But there's never a doubt about who his real partner will always be, as Bun delivers a sad refrain that rap fans have become all too familiar with: "I guess I just assumed we had more time / for us to make more music and write more rhymes."

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