Longevity and wisdom can be powerful tools in music. If the world were perfect, every artist would get better with time, and improve on their previous efforts. We’ve seen this happen plenty of times before within hip hop (i.e. Kendrick Lamar or Travis Scott). In my opinion, artists like Kendrick and Travis haven’t necessarily put out a bad project in their discography, but they’ve definitely further expanded their talents on each of their subsequent releases, thereby adding something new and fresh every time they come out with music.
There are times however where some musicians never return to their former influential self (*cough cough* Eminem). Unfortunately, ever since the split of UGK, legendary rapper Bun B hasn’t been able to capture that same infectious attitude that made him and the late great Pimp C so iconic. Gone are the glory days of the 90s where hip hop was at its purest form lyrically. Nowadays, artists like Bun B are playing catch-up, finding every which way to stay relevant and impactful within their respective genres. With the never-ending influx of auto-tune crooners invading the industry, it’s tough for any 90s rapper to find any nostalgic flow without feeling too out-of-date, or too derivative of past songwriting. People from that era have tried to re-grasp that rawness, such as Jay-Z on 4:44, or Dr. Dre on his 2015 album, Compton (both were critically acclaimed projects).Other newer artists have taken that famous boom-bap style, and added extra flavor to it, like Joey Bada$$ on his breakout album, All American Bada$$, where the Brooklyn native sprinkled in a little 70s and 80s funk to his beats, therefore adding an extra kick to his basslines.Music changes daily though, and with that comes the need for newer and better things, which is why guys like Bun B have such as tough time keeping up.
On the Texas native’s newest LP Return of the Trill, Bun B does little in the way of expanding that 90s Houston sound that made him and Pimp C so infamous. In fact, most of the Trill series has been widely critically panned, namely because of its bland beats and lack of personality. So saying that something like this is returning only made this newest record more predictable. Even before Pimp C died, Bun had a tough time holding his own on some of his solo efforts. It seemed as if the most famous thing he did after UGK was using the word “trill” in many of his songs, leading to Travis Scott incorporating the word in his own music (i.e. “3500”).
On Return of the Trill, Bun B has a feature basically all 14 of his tracks, except maybe one. There’s a variety of rappers that show up on this record, whether it be Big K.R.I.T, Lil Wayne, or Run the Jewels. Rather than bring added depth to the street rap sub-genre, Bun instead uses his newest project as a last ditch attempt to find someone, anyone, to help fill that void that’s been missing since Pimp died. Largely, this was an unsuccessful endeavor, especially when you account for the fact that someone like Wayne is trying to find his own place back within hip hop.
For the most part, the closest Bun came to having perfect chemistry with anyone happened to be with K.R.I.T. Bun probably thought the same, as K.R.I.T. was featured the most on his newest project. Those were some of the brightest moments on the record, with K.R.I.T. giving his usual infectious choruses on tracks like “Recognize,” “Outta Season,” and “Myself.” K.R.I.T.’s southern drawl and contagious personality spreads to Bun, and both bring some much-needed nostalgia without feeling too tiring.
Sometimes though, nostalgia and derivative stylistic decisions can be the death of certain albums. The Wayne track, “Rudeboi” is borderline unlistenable because of Bun’s awkward attempt of sounding like some Jamaican street dealer, and it’s even more ridiculous when Wayne’s auto-tuned vocals try to use that accent. Joey definitely did something like this on “Ring the Alarm,” but that record have much more pizzaz to it, and the chorus had more of a serious street feel to it.
Normally however, this album stays in creative purgatory, never being too awful to laugh at, or good enough to praise. Bun B offers no interesting perspective into street life, and raps about drugs and guns in the most plainly possible. Even the song featuring Pimp C, “U a Bitch” only has the legend talking on what seems to be a telephone. The added effect only furthers people’s notion of what once was.
“Never Going Back” featuring English rapper Giggs (who’s also featured on Drake’s More Life) is the closest we get to an interesting tidbit involving Bun B’s street life from the past, and why he’s made some of the decisions he has. Most of the time however, you could probably listen to any rap album from the 90s, and understand exactly where Bun is coming from at this very moment. Travis’s Astroworld from August does a much better job of capturing that unique Houston sound, and he did it through psychedelic production, and tasteful odes to past legends.
Sometimes, rappers are just meant to be with someone else. Slim Jimmi and Swae Lee showed that they are incapable of working solo on their newest project from a few months ago. Big Boi hasn’t been the same since Outkast ended either. Sadly, Bun B enters that group, as the Texas native never really pushes his sound to new levels, and never shows any sign of memorability. Return of the Trill is as lifeless as it is dismal, which is unfortunate to see, especially for a legend like Bun.