rill” means a lot of things.
The word itself is a combination of the always amorphous “true” and “real” superlatives that get tossed around a lot in rap. It’s a high compliment, a uniquely “southern” quality that somehow evokes a pastiche of an underdog’s struggle, a loyal, local epicenter and a dash of the untamed, young, pre-studio sound that someone like—oh, let’s say Houston’s Scarface—never lost.
Trill, for our purposes today, is the anxious, odd, but certainly worthwhile solo effort from the suddenly visible Bun-B.
Not to try and catch everyone one up, but Bun-B flying solo is a relatively recent trend. He was/(is?) a quietly respected veteran of post-Golden Age southern rap (think early ‘90s) and one-half of the double-helix of southern rap, UGK (the other guy in UGK, Pimp-C is in jail … this is really important later).
For most of the decade previous, Bun-B and Pimp C lived in creakingly dangerous narratives, chuckling knowingly about brutality and the seemingly grey-black world they lived in. Their violence was small street corner drug deals going awry, kids dying in house fires, and dark, savvy nods to the layered Texas car culture. Like 8Ball & MJG, they walked along the periphery of fame, and were, to borrow the words of Jadakiss, “too hard for MTV, not black enough for BET.”
It doesn’t matter much now; the younger generation of the south’s stars (T.I., Young Jeezy, etc…) is putting Bun-B on guest appearances at a breakneck pace. “Free Pimp C!” is the chant of choice. He’s name-checked everyday in interviews. Time has shown UGK to the higher echelons of respect and history. Their legacy cements itself.
Trill suffers without it. Bun-B alone is a strong, convincing speaker with an oaken voice and a classic ease with enjambment. His raps are even-tempered, he never gets wild when describing violence or bitter when recalling the past: “You got money, doing good, and they be all in your face / And disappear like Sue Storm soon as you catch a case / It’s like clockwork, homeboy, the shit never fails.”
But instead of an updated, lived-in robe of smoky hi-hats and rumbling blues, the album jumps around from style to style, hungry for a hit single. “Retaliation Is A Must,” is an accidental gem. Though the words sound familiar, “We don’t want no dope / We don’t want no cash / We don’t want no excuses / We just want your ass,” the melody is snarling, deep horror-core organ smashes. It’s unique because it’s a way we haven’t heard Bun-B before, it’s a little awkward because it chops out some of Bun’s best skills—his diction and veteran drawl have to ride shotgun to the music. There’s no Pimp C to pallet cleanse. It turns out that all Bun-B all the time is like Big Boi all the time—cool as hell but not entrée level in depth.
The disc’s best track is perfect Bun-B boilerplate because it’s filled with other voices. “Get Throwed” sounds like Atlanta/Texas 3030—streamlined Blade Runner-guitar flicks, post-modern G-Funk twilight beeps, and bass kicks. It’s UGK’s post-cryogenic sleep song and Jay-Z and Young Jeezy tack on sublime verses at the end. Oh yeah, Pimp C guests too. It’s a serenely resonant track and strong evidence that Bun-B can be a man, just not the man (Jay-Z, Scarface, Ghostface) who carries the song on his shoulders.
Trill is, at the end, a lot of things. Worthwhile in its concept and overall execution, it’s mostly just a long-awaited, patchwork style playground for Bun-B’s voice. It may not be the “truest” thing in his history, but it’s sure one of the realest.