Album Preview: Bun B – ‘II Trill’

On the top floor of New York City club Spotlight Live, guests sipped drinks and dined on mini hamburgers as they prepared for the man of the hour to arrive. The crowd—from bloggers to magazine folk—were eager to get a first listen to UGK member Bun B’s new joint, II Trill. The listening party even brought out backpack rapper Talib Kweli, the legendary DJ Premier, and label impresario Kevin Liles, who posed for pictures in the middle of the disco ball-studded room.

Before the Texan rapper cued the DJ to throw on his record, he made his way towards the venue’s tiny stage, showing off his sparkling chain and black fitted with an orange “Houston” emblazoned across it. Bun kept it short and sweet on the mic, representing for his recently deceased UGK partner Pimp C by giving him a shout out. “This is a big moment for me,” he said as he stood on the stage by himself. “I don’t want to seem like I’m not nervous up here.””

If Bun was nervous, he didn’t show it. His new album shook the speakers as he made his way through the room to greet almost everyone in the spot, making sure they had a drink in their hand and asking what they thought about the tracks. The answers always seemed positive, and as it played in its entirety, II Trill revealed something for everyone: guest appearances by Lil Wayne, Mya, Lupe Fiasco, and Rick Ross, and neck-snapping beats from Clinton Sparks, Scott Storch, J.R. Rotem, and Chops. was there to get a sneak peek of Bun’s hot new record before it hits stores on May 20th, and for someone who has been in the game since ’88, Bun still makes this street opus some of his best work to date.

1. “II Trill” featuring Z-Ro and J. Prince
Produced by Clinton Sparks

Bun takes the title of this hard-hitting track and puns on “II,” incorporating it into rhymes like “Got II many killers” and “You II close to the police.” Houston-based rapper Z-Ro and Rap-A-Lot CEO J. Prince construct rhymes in the same way, flowing over an ominous choral sample and some thwacking drums courtesy of Clinton Sparks.

2. “That’s Gangsta” featuring Sean Kingston
Produced by J.R. Rotem

This track is the first single off the album, and it fits snugly with its brash synthesizers, thin handclaps, and clanging bells. Bun outlines what it means to be a true gangsta, rapping “A gangsta can have that but he ain’t got to show it / ’Cause with or without it, he’s still gangsta and you know it.” Sean Kingston croons on the catchy chorus, harmonizing in a way that makes you want to join in.

3. “Damn I’m Cold” featuring Lil Wayne
Produced by Chops

Weezy pops up on this mid-tempo banger with a flashy beat by Chops, a producer who has worked with Paul Wall and The Game. Over electric guitar twangs and an undercurrent of organ drones, the two MCs talk about their ice and trade off lines during the third chorus. Wayne hops on the vocoder for the chorus, singing smooth vocal trills that recall 2Pac’s “California Love.”

4. “You’re Everything” featuring Rick Ross, David Banner, and 8-Ball & MJG
Produced by Mr. Lee

Bun slows the pace down on this Southern posse cut, featuring a glittery candy background and a sample of Jodeci’s “Cry For You.” He makes note of the “bass kick-kickin” and each of the guest MCs steps up to the plate to match Bun’s drawling flow. Rick Ross sounds hoarse as he delivers his verse and 8-Ball follows Banner’s verse by cataloguing a slew of rappers from the South.

5. “Swang On ’Em” featuring Lupe Fiasco
Produced by Enigma

This banger is one of the best tracks on II Trill with a guest appearance from Lupe that will leave your head spinning. The song begins with a chopped vocal sample that repeats “We ride 22’s or better” throughout, and Bun addresses the listener by growling “I know you heard of me.” Lupe switches up his flow to match the rolling and punctual Southern style, peppering the tuba-laced beat with enough charisma to inspire listeners to pop this in their car stereos, drop the top, and cruise slowly around the block.

6. “I Luv That”
Produced by Scott Storch

The Storch beat makes “I Luv That” the perfect addition to a club DJ’s set list with its spacey, synth melody, and some shiny musical sparkles thrown in the mix. Bun keeps his raps focused on the ladies, using the chorus to chant, “The club is packed, the bottles is poppin’… You know we do it B-I-G, so come and holla at a playa.” This one will surely make all you club goers get busy on the dance floor.

7. “My Block” featuring Jazze Pha
Produced by Jazze Pha

Bun represents for his block on this bass-buzzing track, featuring some thick drums and a minor keyboard melody. He raps, “We don’t hustle ’cause we want to / ’Cause we have to” and Jazze shows up on the chorus to chant “This is my block.” The track fades out with the squiggly noise featured on Ciara’s “1, 2 Step,” and Bun creates an anthem for anyone “from the West to the East” to big up their home turf.

8. “Get Cha Issue”
Produced by Bigg Tyme & Qwest

This funky song shows a more serious side of Bun, with some political raps about everything from sinners to crime to the war in Iraq. Bun raps, “Motherfuckers is dying out here / And police ain’t killing them” and “Bring motherfuckers back from Iraq.” Although he waxes political on this one, he makes his message clear as he chastises the irresponsible masses of the world.

9. “Good II Me” featuring Mya
Produced by Bigg Tyme / Co-Produced by Bun B and Intl Red

Rap-Up cover girl Mya delivers a sassy chorus on this battle of the sexes. Bun lets his lady know that he will give her whatever she wants to keep a smile on her face, rapping “If you want pasta, we’ll fly to Milan” and “Girl, anything you wish, I’ll make it come true.” Mya lets him know what really matters to a lady, singing “I don’t care what you did to them / Just be good to me,” breaking it down on the bridge that leads to some nasty guitar shredding at the end.

10. “Pop It 4 Pimp” featuring Lil’ Phatz and Webbie
Produced by Mouse

“Pop” has that signature down South sound, boasting burning synthesizers and a spiced-up sample of Juvenile’s “Back That Ass Up.” The track is a celebration and a call to all the women across the world, and Bun makes sure that “Las Vegas” and “H-Town” women “gon’ pop it 4 pimp.” Lil’ Phatz and Webbie shine on the chorus and provide a much diverse feel to the song.

11. “Underground Thang” featuring Pimp C and Chamillionaire
Produced by Cory Mo

Pimp C makes a posthumous appearance on this Latin-flavored future radio banger. Bun reinforces the fact that he rules in his domain, spitting “It’s an underground thang / ’Cause I’m an underground king.” Cham sings in his gutsy baritone on the chorus and Pimp C raps in double-time, churning out lines like “Atlanta was a country,” giving this jam the UGK touch that its fans have come to love.

12. “If I Die 2Nite” featuring Lyfe Jennings & Young Buck
Produced by J-Rock

The beat features some rich piano hits, and Bun uses this track to show where his priorities lie, stating “I’d rather do a bid, at least they could see me behind glass.” Lyfe breaks it down on the hook, repeating “Baby feel my pain / Make sure my niggas ride for me,” making this song endearing as it is sincere.

13. “Another Soldier” featuring Mddl Fngz
Produced by DJ Khalil

Trembling organ notes mingle with a guitar bass line on “Another Soldier,” a group cut that features menacing rhymes from all of the rappers. Bun barks out “Bun B is drawing spit, while you six feet under” and “2 nines, 4 clips / Prayin’ that you niggas slip.” Later on the track, he rhymes, “Don’t ever play us for a joke / You’ll get your bitch ass smoked.” This one is as intimidating as it gets on the record.

14. “If It Was Up II Me” featuring Junior Reid
Produced by the BlackOut Movement

Junior Reid wails on the chorus like his does on The Game’s recent “One Blood,” crying out, “I see my people every day on the floor.” Bun discusses how the projects are a mess, pointing out the apathy in the hood and how “minds be collapsed.” He ends the track by talking about how it is time to educate the people and spend more time with the kids, stating that “since nobody else gon’ do it, it’ll have to be me.”

15. “Angel in the Sky” featuring Lil’ Razah
Produced by Cozmo

A soft piano begins this sentimental tribute to Bun’s fallen partner Pimp C. With a sample of Stevie Wonder’s “A Ribbon in the Sky,” Bun gets personal and deep by reminiscing about how it all began for UGK, admitting “You know I miss my friend / But he’s looking down from above,” and that “My heart still hurts.” He ends his verses by letting listeners know that “I still cry.” This is the most touching and emotionally honest Bun may have ever been on a song, and it could not be more elegant than this.

16. “Keep It 100”
Produced by Chops

II Trill’s closer is an anthematic and triumphant conclusion to this whopping record. Layers of synthesizers and hi-hats race as Bun chants, “All day and all night / Make that anytime you see me / I’ma keep it super tight.” He lets his fans and foes both know that “It’s UGK for life.” If this album is any indication, it’s that Bun B will keep the UGK name alive, solidifying his reign as the king of the underground, with or without his fallen brother.

–Steven J. Horowitz in New York