By Steve Weinstein
By Bryan Bierman
By Lindsey Rhoades
By Chaz Kangas
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Jena Ardell
By Jesse Sendejas Jr.
By Katherine Turman
Thanks to sad coincidences, the latest from both Bun B and Prodigy—not so much parallel narratives as subtle varieties of disturbance—stake out oddly similar territory in this weird year for hip-hop. One man has to go away; another has to go it alone.
As seen in these pages, Prodigy's 25th hour is over: His three-year prison bid on a weapons-possession charge has begun. What's left is his infamous blog (an obsession with the Illuminati figures heavily) and H.N.I.C., Pt. 2. Simply put, the record is defined by a prison: the space between Prodigy's ears. The Mobb Deep don sounds beyond frayed, barely restraining his byzantine gangster paranoia ("Secret government that worship an owl/Practice witchcraft to harness their power") while scratching out his own self-convinced logic evoking both grief ("Veterans Memorial Pt. 2") and menace ("ABC"). Everything and everyone around him, especially himself, is suspect: "I was fast asleep/I was wide awake." Sid Roams and the Alchemist—producers behind a combined 10 of the album's 14 tracks—update the Infamous sound with layers of whooshing snares and queasy, eerie synth blades. As Prodigy's mind warps to bleaker shapes, these shadowy backdrops sound like the only things appropriate for such an abyss.
Resources, inner and otherwise, make all the difference for Bun B. Like Prodigy, he's part of a broken duo: He waited four years for Pimp C, his best friend and UGK partner, to finish out a jail sentence, only to mourn his death this past December after less than two years home. But Bun's second solo album, II Trill, is psychologically up-market, with genuinely well-appointed guest spots (that Webbie and Lupe Fiasco both sound comfortable on the same album speaks volumes) and hungry young producers offering their best tricks: Watch as Mouse steals the exact same strings from "Back That Azz Up" for "Pop It 4 Pimp." Bun still drips together phonetics like a web, flipping between blue-collar anaphora and cool rhetoric. (On clergy: "Good book in your hand/Robe on your back/Steppin' out your 2008 Escalade Cadillac.") When he trades verses with a blessedly focused Lil' Wayne on "Damn I'm Cold," it's a reminder of just how technical he can get: Hearing him pile up assonance mid-verse is like witnessing a blizzard filling a landscape in seconds.
The album certainly doesn't avoid Pimp's death: "Angel in the Sky" appears in the third act and walks the gospel tightrope between genuine and, say, "soaring" sentiment. But the record doesn't yield entirely to loss, either. Bun sounds like a man too busy to mourn.