The trill is back. Bun B never left, not completely, but it's fair to say he's been on something of a sabbatical. He took up teaching, and outside a very small handful of features—both as a solo artist and as UGK courtesy of unreleased Pimp C verses—he largely receded from the rap game. It would've been easy to figure it for a soft retirement. His last album was in 2013; it had Epilogue in its title; the last song on that project is titled "Bye!" With roughly three decades in the game under his belt, Bun certainly had his right to hang it up.
Thankfully for us, he still has some bars in him. Before the album dropped, Complex caught up with the Trill OG during a recent office visit to talk about his excellent new album Return of the Trill, how he got his spark back and who helped him along the way, and if this project is just an isolated affair or if it signals a full-on comeback.
(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Return of the Trill is your first album in five years. What made you step away for a little bit and what made you come back?
Well, it just wasn't really fun for me. Trying to do music after Pimp C passed away was not necessarily hard to do, but I didn't really enjoy it and I wasn't really getting anything out of it. I was giving myself over to it but I wasn't getting anything really out of it. So I started doing other things. We were teaching at Rice University. We were writing for Rice Magazine.
Yeah, how was that? That was a great look. Professor Bun!
Oh, it was a wonderful opportunity. Some of the brightest kids in the world go to Rice University, it's the No. 15 ranked university in the country. And there's a certain dynamic that Rice has in the city of Houston because the entire university is surrounded by trees and for years they've kept a lot of the local culture off campus. So having me come in and teach was kind of a culture exchange program. Bringing Houston onto Rice's campus, so to speak. So we were enjoying doing that kind of stuff but then my wife was like, "Look, there's a lot of music being made right now but it's really just young people talking to young people. They don't really have any older people that are giving them game and advice and tutelage... You still got some good rhymes in you. You can still rap."
Mrs. B put the battery in?
Yeah, we were still doing features and guest appearances and stuff like that, but I wasn't really motivated to do a whole album. I was like, "If we're gonna do it, I got to do it in a way where it's an enjoyable experience. I don't want to just be rapping for the sake of rapping." She said, "Well, why don't you work with somebody that you actually get along with in real life like a K.R.I.T. or somebody." We talked to K.R.I.T. and he was in an amazing creative space because he was just completing his double album. From the first song we did we knew that if we were gonna do music again this was gonna be the jump-off point for working with him. It ended up turning into an amazing experience.
Did he provide the spine for what the project became?
Yeah, he's definitely the musical coordinator for this album. He not only produced a nice video album, he was also very open to bringing in other producers so that we could have an album that's not just one sound. It has different sounds. It has different levels of input. It brings out different things for me writing wise. We brought in people that I had a relationship with but hadn't done anything with in a while, like Big E Beats or Mannie Fresh. We also incorporated new producers like P Barber and October 1st, guys like that. Everything we did didn't necessarily make this project. So we still got some heaters, you know what I'm saying? On lock.
Do you feel charged up when you get back into a rhythm?
We did over 50 songs. This is probably the third edition to what we originally planned to put out. We started off recording certain types of music, then we had an album idea, then we incorporated some other stuff. Then we had another album idea, then we were like, "You know what? Let's not throw all our eggs in one basket. Let's just put out something solid, concrete, [that] represents us, but doesn't really step too far away from what people know or expect from us. Then we'll test the waters with some of this other stuff later."
This was really a way of getting back into the scene. Letting people know that I'm still valid as an artist, but then also this is our first album in the digital age. So we don't want to put some big records on this album then have a misstep or two, because we're new to how the system works. So we put together what we thought was a concrete lineup of music with a strong list of features.
How's it been going with you getting the feel for a new landscape in terms of releasing music?
The same people that listened to me then are ready to listen to me now, it's just a matter of figuring out how to get music to people who don't necessarily buy their music digitally. Most people, if they can't find it in a CD, for my generation at least, they'll just stream it. That's fine with me, but they need to know where it's available for streaming. For the people that do want to buy a physical product, we have to figure out if that's something we wanted to make sure was available to them, which at the end we decided it should be. So we figured we'd use this album as a way of getting into the industry again and figuring out how to maneuver in the industry. I think we've got a good idea of how to do it, specifically how to reach our target base. After this project I think it'll be a lot less stress and pressure on how to reenter the industry.
You mentioned having a lot of good features on here. I was excited to see Wayne on there, whenever you guys link up it's always something fire.
Yeah, Wayne's an amazing writer above all. I would say 75 percent of the new rappers are the children of Lil Wayne. I mean, most of them even got "Lil" in their name. A lot of them have different hair because—Wayne's hair is like everyone else's hair now, but it wasn't when he first started growing his dreads. A lot of people have the face tattoos. A lot of today's current artists' base is built off of them growing up on Lil Wayne. It's very easy to see how much of an impact Wayne had on the newest generation of writers. To see kids want to be like him and achieve to be like him, it's just been amazing to watch. He's a legend in his own right right now and I think he's gonna go down as one of the best rappers ever.
I think [Wayne's] gonna go down as one of the best rappers ever.
Wayne is definitely influential, but UGK, I'd say are 50/50 with Three 6 on influencing a lot of what's going on right now, at the very least sonically.
Oh, absolutely. I think the Three 6 Mafia sound can't be underestimated in its level of influence. I think that's why a person like Juicy J was able to find his ground in the new school of artists. It's beneficial to me as well. Sonically, we are kind of the precursor to a lot of what people are doing right now. I think No Limit should get a little credit for that too. Just that double time, kind of aggressive, really being more energetic than anything else. I think a lot of that has influenced what we see a lot of today. But then there's also artists who are not only retrospective but introspective, like a Kendrick, Chance the Rapper, Big Sean, guys like that. I like to think that lyrically we left the bar open for people to not just make music to be entertaining, but also to inform people as well.
I always go back to ASAP Rocky's album cut from his second album, "Wavybone." It almost felt like a new UGK song, which was a cool homage.
We have a lot of young artists who really want to pay homage and pay respect to what we put down before. We appreciate it, man. For me, I'm always excited when people tell me that Pimp C was a big influence on them. You can hear it in people's music and people's sound. People that are students of Pimp C, the way they carry themselves publicly kind of gives it away for them. You know what I'm saying?
There's a new album that just came out that's basically a love letter to Houston: Travis Scott's ASTROWORLD. Have you listened?
Yeah, definitely. It's a different album, sonically; I expected a lot more up tempo. But seeing now, looking at it as his collective piece of work, and wanting that to be something that was a little bit more reflective of Houston than maybe some of his previous music. I give my hats off to him, because he's in a place where he doesn't have to do that and people will still accept him and his sound.
There's this feeling of being where we're from there's adamancy of wanting to make sure that the hometown feels represented. I think he went out of his way to do that. From calling the album ASTROWORLD to doing a whole verse like "man" and different stuff like that. Even sampling a Big Tuck record. Big Tuck is from Dallas. That record was huge in Houston. It still is. If you play that record in the club right now, "Get Money," the club's gonna jump off.
I'm really proud of what Travis has accomplished. Not just as an artist, but I don't think he gets enough credit for what he's written for other people, what he's produced for other people. He's extremely well-rounded as an artist. I think he's one of the perfect people to carry H-Town into this new generation of musicians.
I kind of wanted to see you on there.
I would have loved to be on there too. But he's got to do what feels right to him and what makes sense for him. I'm just happy that someone like him is still being productive and making good music. Maybe on the next one he'll find some room for me. I'm with that. Even if I never do a song with Travis he should know I'm very proud of him for what he's accomplished.
Is there a track that jumps out at you and you'd hop on a remix?
I always like "Butterfly Effect" personally. I would have loved to have gotten on the remix of that. Might have missed the window for that. I think "Butterfly Effect" really sets the tone for this music sonically. There's a lot of songs that fit into that tempo and that rhythm. That's why I like it so much, because it was so different energy-wise. Because everything else was very up, up tempo and very aggressive, and that song is just very calm and very reserved. Which is a different side of Travis. I really liked that.
You took five years off. Now you're back. What's your opinion on the state of the game?
I think it's a great time for an artist to benefit financially from his art, which has always been a problem in hip-hop culture. It still is somewhat, but making good music was never really a problem for hip-hop. Most of the people that work within the culture make good music. The problem is always being who benefits from the music? Who financially gets the compensation for the music. Hip-hop has always dealt with terrible contracts and people who were very young that just wanted to get in the industry, and just make music, and not really be concerned about the monetary side of it.
Back then the only way you could make money was actually sell an album or sell a single. Now there's all these different residual places where they can get this income from. Whether it's streaming, whether it's somebody buying it for a commercial, a movie trailer, putting it in a movie, on a TV show. Instead of just putting out one album and getting paid one time, nowadays you can put out an album and get money from different places. It's just a matter of being smarter about how you construct your deals and how much of your intellectual property you can keep in your ownership. That being said, as an OG, there's a lot of young artists now who don't have anyone that really speaks to them about the industry or about real life and gives them any direction. It's really just the young leading the young. Which isn't always a bad thing, but there's something to be said for when young people have someone in their corner giving them some game.
That's part of the reason of why I came back. I know there's a lot of things that need to be talked about and touched upon. People are wondering why young artists don't talk about it. A lot of them don't have one, a frame of reference, and two, aren't really in a position. So many of them have corporate sponsorships now that if they voice their personal opinion they'll lose some of that money. I'm not really in that position right now. As an OG I should be the one that's biting the bullet so that the younger people can navigate it better and figure out how to speak their truths into this world, but still be able to capitalize off of their art and make money off what they do.