Bun B (Bernard Freeman)
b. Port Arthur, Texas 1973
Pimp C (Chad Butler)
b. Port Arthur, Texas 1973
1988: The Southern Way. 1992: Too Hard To Swallow. 1994: Super Tight. 1996: Ridin’ Dirty. 2001: Dirty Money. 2002: Side Hustles.
2007: Underground Kingz
Like most people not up on southern rap, my first experience with UGK was in early 2000 when “Big Pimpin’” came out, and I kept thinking “Who the fuck is Ug-kuh?” At the time, I thought one of them was UGK and didn’t know which one. I also wondered why they were on the song, but stopped thinking about it when I heard Pimp C’s verse, which was pretty fucking great. It turned out to be a classic single, but I didn’t give the guys another thought, even after BET’s Rap City started programming a lot of southern rap around late 2000, until Spin did one of those “hip” magazine genre/sub-genre starter kits and name dropped a bunch of southern rap albums they thought were the best. The only ones I recall from the article were an 8 Ball and MJG record, and Ridin’ Dirty.
Around the time Houston started poppin off nationally (2005), Bun B put out a solo album, Trill, and succeeded in keeping UGK on people’s minds while Pimp C was incarcerated by getting almost every Texas rapper to either appear in the video for or rap on “Draped Up”. I fucking loved the song, and originally though it was another Paul Wall track since him and Mike Jones were the ones with the biggest exposure at the time, fresh off of “Still Tippin’”. Then, around the time I joined allhiphop.com and started reading blogs and just stopped isolating myself from current events in general, news of a new UGK album emerged and eventually I, though I don’t remember when or why, saw the youtube clip for “Int’l Playa’s Anthem” and got pretty excited for its release, which was compounded when I did a youtube search and saw the video for the awesome underplayed first single off the record, “The Game Belongs To Me”. (I wonder how Project pat feels about him failing to do anything with the exact same Three 6 Mafia beat in 2002?)
Like I usually do, I browsed iTunes for their discography and then Soulseek’d their best of CD, which I had on obsessive rotation for most of July. What got me about the songs were they sounded like I hoped they would, warm, soulful, spaced out, and gritty. I was so tired of the lame, sterilized southern production on the charts (only exceptions of late have been Rich Boy, Three 6 and Lil’ Jon) that it was a welcome change since it seemed the recently nascent south was already falling off in 2007 after 4 years of mainstream success. I was happily surprised that it didn’t suck, and that a good chunk of the compilation was great. It was clear which tracks were older, and judging by the lack of material from Dirty Money, that that record was the one bad album they made. My jaw dropped to the floor when I heard “Murder” and realized that East Coast bias prevents people from recognizing talent that doesn’t fit their own opinion of good, as Bun rips his verse and chocks it full of agile rhymes and assonance and about 50 different descriptions on how you’re going to get shot and bleed and drip “red jelly” out your “Pelle Pelle’s” and etc.
Not too long after I absorbed the record and planned on downloading Ridin' Dirty, Underground Kingz leaked and I copped it from mininova. From the onset of “Swishas and Doshas”, which is a fucking incredible opening track and song in general, I knew it’d be a great album and in between checking out an old Kool Keith record and Three 6 Mafia album from 2004, I obsessively listened to it, making a weird experience of still digesting years old recordings and aspects of a group simultaneously with their new, more “current sounding” stuff.
After a while, I came to appreciate and defend Pimp C to people who didn’t understand that, yes, he can rap, and yes, he’s fucking great. The kind of people who fap their e-dicks about Papoose and whatever lame NY rapper is supposed to be amazing according to their east coast bias. Shit, he’s Pimp C, bitch, he’s from the sooooooooooooouth. Pimp C’s role, besides basically being the RZA of UGK, is to exude attitude and charisma, while Bun is supposed to be earnest and technically proficient, which he often proves to be. Though sometimes it may sound like he’s “trying too hard’ or “robotic” or whatever allhiphop.com message board complaints people have, he displays enough fluidity and ability to be smooth and kill beats on tracks like “Murder” that any perceived problems with his flow (that are, like most cases, because of a strong southern accent that people outside the south can’t seem to not confuse with bad rapping) are unfounded.
Pimp C’s productions are great, and he might arguably be the best rapper/producer around, if not ever. Dude shits all over Kanye and RZA merely for being on beat and having this voice that commands a degree of respect from how defiant he sounds. Plus, the motherfucker can sang. And surprisingly, he actually outshines Bun on a couple of tracks. Most of all, as evidenced by the behind-the-scenes DVD for the last record, they’re just two really cool working class rappers who are essentially the flip side to Outkast…just as prolific and consistent, but more concise and blue collar, as opposed to the prog/artsy rap of post-Southerplayaliciouscadillacmusik ‘Kast.
Fact is, they’re immediately likable, and a look at the videos for “Tell Me Something Good” and “It’s Supposed to Bubble” reveal it’s because they’re kind of corny. They’re corny because they’re earnest, or more accurately, really fucking trill. As much as people spout clichés about “being real” almost all musicians are fake or disingenuous or behind a wall of irony or detachment. Even when Pimp is lashing out as “pussy ass niggas” from the south and east, he always reiterates that he speaks for himself and that his comments have nothing to do with UGK or Bun B as people or entities, which is pretty nuanced a stance for a dude that starts beefs with whole cities. What you see with UGK is what you get, which is rare in music, despite what rock journalists like to say about indie and emo. Its eye-opening to see actual crash photos and have Pimp C reiterate on their DVD that he “smashed up a grey one, got me a red” like he says on “Int’l Playa’s Anthem”. On one hand, he’s bragging, but more realistically, he’s demonstrating it’s not the empty fictional bragging or lazy baller-talk you get from most other rappers.
No matter how many times you hear them rap about women, coke, syrup, cars, the cops and being wistful about life, it’s always high quality and dense. Though I disagree with Pimp C’s assertion that the west coast did rap a “lil bit better” than the east coast, the influence is clearly there, and UGK’s position as respected elder statesmen in the South and a link to the first wave of southern rap from the 90’s and late 80’s/early 90’s west coast records solidifies their importance as both adaptable (young, at only 34) veterans and representatives of another era. You gotta be doing something pretty special to make me want to buy a car just to play your records.
And it doesn’t hurt to have Jay-Z put you on a single and later bite your verse for his last single before retiring (Bun’s verse from “Touched” on “99 Problems”).
Songs you should have on your iPod:
Something Good off Too Hard to Swallow
Use Me Up off Too Hard to Swallow
Cramping My Style off Too Hard to Swallow
Feel Like I’m The One Who’s Doin Dope off Too Hard to Swallow
Pocket Full of Stones off Too Hard to Swallow
I Left It Wet for You off Super Tight
It’s Supposed to Bubble off Super Tight
Front, Back & Side to Side off Super Tight
Three Sixteens of Super Tight
Feds in Town off Super Tight
Protect and Serve off Super Tight
One Day off Ridin’ Dirty
Murder off Ridin’ Dirty
Pinky Ring off Ridin’ Dirty
Diamonds & Wood off Ridin’ Dirty
3 in the Mornin’ off Ridin’ Dirty
Touched off Ridin’ Dirty
That’s Why I Carry off Ridin’ Dirty
Good Stuff off Ridin’ Dirty
Swishas & Dosha off Underground Kingz
Int’l Playa’s Anthem off Underground Kingz
Chrome Plated Woman off Underground Kingz
The Game Belongs To Me off Underground Kingz
Like That(Remix) off Underground Kingz
Gravy off Underground Kingz
Underground Kingz off Underground Kingz
Take The Hood Back off Underground Kingz
Quit Hatin’ The South off Underground Kingz
Trill Niggas Don’t Die off Underground Kingz
How Long Can It Last off Underground Kingz
Cocaine off Underground Kingz
Real Women off Underground Kingz
The Corrupter’s Execution off Side Hustles
All About It off Side Hustles
Get Throwed off Bun B'sTrill
Big Pimpin’ off Jay-Z’s The Life and Times of S.Carter
Sippin’ On Some Syrup off Three 6 Mafia’s Most Known Hits
Catch Up off Ludacris’ Back For The First Time
Where’s Da G’s off Dizzee Rascal’s Maths + English