Bun B's II Trill

It wouldn't be a Houston rap record (or a U.G.K./Bun B joint, for that matter) without a car song or two, and II Trill sports a good one in the Lupe Fiasco collaboration "Swang on 'Em," which marches forth on a brass-band like synth-horn riff and drum cadence.

I also dig the intro track, from the aforementioned J. Prince intro to Z-Ro's hook, in which his baritone, somehow ethereal, comes descending out of bombastic storm-clouds of synth like, I dunno, God, or something.

Not everything is as successful. The Jazze Pha collaboration "My Block" doesn't do much for me, and I really liked the last one ("Stop-N-Go"). Bun's on point lyrically on "If I Die II Night," but the synths are overcooked, and I think "Pop It 4 Pimp" is a much better banger than the Scott Storch-produced "I Luv That." "You're Everything" is the big pan-­Southern summit, guest verse-a-thon, sporting everyone from Rick Ross to David Banner and 8Ball and MJG. Once again, there's too much of that fat "Draped Up"-style synth.

Not that that synth is inherently bad — it was deployed with devastating effect on "Draped Up" and also on II Trill's closer "Keep It 100" — four minutes, 37 seconds of Bun alone, barking out pure fire on the mike to yet another revamped old-school U.G.K.-style track from Chops.

So it occurred to me there in the Trilleria Louis Vuitton: II Trill is twice the record Trill was, the same way Super Tight was twice the record U.G.K.'s major label debut Too Hard to Swallow was.

And you get the impression that the next record won't be a falloff, because for people like Bun B, in this world of desire, plenty is never enough.

I remember Steve Earle was at his most miserable and drug-addicted when he had fulfilled every dream of his youth. On the title track of his now out-of-print "vacation in the ghetto" album The Hard Way, he even articulated those thoughts:

"I woke up this morning and I took a look around at all that I got.

These days I've been lookin' in the mirror and wondering if that's me lookin' back or not.

I'm still the apple of my mama's eye,

I'm my daddy's worst fears realized.

Here of late all this real estate don't seem all that real to me sometimes."

Earle put his demons behind him a couple of years later, released his greatest album ever in Train A Comin' and has gone on to release four or five more great records and several more good ones.

This is not to imply that Bun is in the throes of any kind of addiction — it's just an attempt to explain that he has that same hunger and temperament. I watched him mill around the well-wishers gathered at the party, and every now and then he would take himself off to a corner and survey the room alone. Was he wishing Pimp was there to help him savor the moment? Probably. Most definitely.

But I also couldn't help but think that, even with his rejoinder to me to "partake," even on this night of triumph when the champagne flowed, the flashbulbs popped and the very air in the room seemed to be spun of gold, he was thinking, "Is this all there is? What am I going to do for an encore?"

And that is the true hallmark of a real artist.

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