I’ll be honest (probably more honest than most) — I didn’t know who UGK was before 1999. You could’ve handed me a copy of Vol. 3… Life And Times Of S. Carter, pointed to track 11 on the back cover, and said, “This kid right here is the next big thing out of Brooklyn. Jay just signed him. His name’s pronounced ug-kah.” Unless I just flat out didn’t trust you, I’d have no reason not to believe you (though that rap name sure would’ve sounded like a loser).
Radio in my hometown of Los Angeles, around that time, had plenty of local material flooding its airwaves — Dr. Dre (and his newly-discovered protégé Eminem), Snoop, and Kurupt all had hit records out, and a potential N.W.A. reunion was all the rave (yea, about that…). Sure, there were Southern rap records that would break through every now and again — some had undeniable cross-over appeal, some had outshining guest spots from West Coast legends, some were classic records that superseded regional boundaries. But, L.A. radio stations — and probably all major city radio stations outside of the South — weren’t putting aside time during long-drive-home-rush-hour for a duo out a Texas town not called Houston which couldn’t even get promotion from its bum-ass record label.
To be even more honest, it wasn’t until 2000 that I really got to know about UGK, when a visual was given to “Big Pimpin’”. There was Jay-Z, spitting rapid-fire on a cruise ship while Dame Dash poured liquor I couldn’t afford over women I couldn’t afford. Then there was Bun B, spitting even more rapid-fire than Jay, mispronouncing “scenario” just for the sake of not leaving out both sorry and scary hoes from consideration of whom he can’t fuck with. And lastly, there was Pimp C, delivering molasses-slow rhymes (at least in comparison to Jay and Bun) with an undoubtedly Southern accent that seemed to replace the last letter on every word with a “H” (as in “Smokin’ ouh, throwin’ uh…”). And that white fur coat… who would rock such clothing in the midst of a Florida summer? Probably the same type of dude who would brag about his hands-free phone while holding a phone to his ears.
When I think of how to describe Pimp C, his opening bars from “Murder”, off ’96′s Ridin’ Dirty, always come to mind: “It’s Pimp C, bitch, so what the fuck is up?/ Puttin’ powder on the street ’cause I got big fuckin’ nuts!” In the span of two bars, Pimp provided examples of five of the reasons why our elders (more than likely) collectively hate rap music. First, he introduced himself — on how many Beatles’ songs did John Lennon say his own name? Second, he insults his listener — likely a listener who just spent money to support Pimp’s cause (more so the case in ’96 than now). Third, he drops the F-bomb, with another one coming mere seconds later. Fourth, he glorifies drug dealing, by attributing the cause of his trade to the size of testicles… which leads perfectly into number five — he speaks candidly about his genitals. Most rappers not named Todd Shaw would need at least a full song to evoke all of these reactions out of their listeners.
But, if you could look past his outlandish boasts on the mic about partaking in illegal activities of all sorts, you’d find lush musical backdrops, driven by the funkiest of bass lines and the bluesiest of guitar licks, sometimes with vocals sung by the man himself. People that hate the type of music that Pimp C made would probably dismiss him as not being “musically talented” — little would they know just how wrong they were. Being on the late train in becoming familiar with Pimp’s discography made me that much bigger a fan of his — very few hip hop artists in ’96 were making music like him, and even fewer are nowadays.
Chad Butler took his craft way more seriously than he ever took himself. Bun B noted on “The Story” (off his solo debut Trill) how hesitant Pimp was to jump on “Big Pimpin’”, fearful of how UGK’s core audience would’ve taken to it. There’s no greater shame than the fact that Pimp’s death came just as UGK was starting to get recognized for their own achievements, with “International Players Anthem” (off their #1-charting self-titled double album) receiving a Grammy nomination. If there’s any positive spin that we can put on his untimely passing, it’s that, after a career spanning nearly two decades, Pimp C went out on top. To that I say, “Smoke something, bitch!”
Contributing to this Beat Drop (in addition to myself and AaronM) are Noz from Cocaine Blunts, Quan from Hater Player, Ivan from Hip Hop Is Read, Brandon Soderberg from No Trivia, and Jonathan from Screw Rock ‘n’ Roll. And, on the (very, very, VERY) special guest tip, ML is esteemed to have none other than Bernard “Bun B” Freeman, the yin to Pimp’s yang as one half of UGK, joining us. Bun chopped with up with Knobbz (credit due for providing transcribing, homie) to discuss his five favorite Pimp C productions, and provided some great insight and historical anecdotes about Pimp.
The following is in memory of Chad “Pimp C” Butler (12/29/73 – 12/4/07). R.I.P.
Bun B: The original EP version, because the album version — the record company changed the beat because the sample didn’t clear. He initially made that beat in like, I want to say the Summer of ’90, and we didn’t release it until… I want to say that record got released on Houston Home Jams on the first week of January ’92 on the radio. It’s my favorite beat because, basically, it’s the one that got us in the door. Out of all the different stuff that we were doing at the crib at the time, that was the one that was like, “You what? This is gonna be the thing.” We had already done it and sat on it for awhile and we we’re doing other styles of music. Pimp had gotten into trying to mix southern hip hop with reggae for the initial, ’cause UGK was called, at one time, 4BM, which stood for “Four Black Ministers”, and everything we rapped to was like roots, reggae or dancehall, which was the theme for the group. When we ended up getting ready to sign with Big Tyme Records, everybody had already said “Tell Me Something Good” was always our best song. And we gave him everything that we had that we were doing new and including the older stuff. That was the one he picked to run with first. We played it on the radio station. It was entered in this contest called Houston Home Jams and we got in on the last day of two weeks of people and we ended up winning that day and because they got so many calls, the radio station ended up having to put the record in rotation and the rest is history. It was the first song I ever got BDS on and it basically opened up doors for us.
Brandon: Regional rap classics like Spice-1′s “Welcome To The Ghetto” and Scarface’s “A Minute To Pray, A Second To Die” utilize Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues” for the loop, but this early UGK production does it better by playing off the loop and doing all these interesting production tricks, too — the way it starts with only drums, that weird laugh in the background, quick snippets of horns, holding off on Marvin’s voice until the chorus, etc. The best part, though, is the mid-song breakdown, where the drums switch up and go front and center, accompanied only by that creepy chuckle and ever shorter horn stabs, and then Bun comes in and it feels like the song is starting over. The version of this song that ended up on Too Hard To Swallow is slower and funkier, and perhaps more typically UGK-like, but the original is more immediate and just as steeped in musicality, which is the thing that distinguishes Pimp C’s country rap tunes from the beats of many other legendary producers.
Bun B: I think when it’s all said and done, I think that ["Pocket Full of Stones"] is going to be the song that UGK is remembered for more than anything. It’s the emblematic song of our whole career, if you ask me. It’s the one that explains us better than anything. It’s the one that really reflects not only what we represent, but it’s one of our first songs where we talk about street shit, we talk about flossing and balling and shining and talk about the hustle and the grind and, at the end of the day, we end up getting caught up in it because it’s something that’s not real. Thinking that we could beat the game was never real, but because we caught the cycle, we ended up going to prison, coming back out and just starting all over again. We had different churches and whatever thinking that we were trying to glorify the trade. We were like, “No, we’re not glorifying anything. We got caught, you know what I’m saying? We didn’t get away with anything, we got caught and we’re actually still caught in this cycle and we’re trying to expose the cycle and show cats what it is. Like, you think you’re gonna beat the game, but you’re really just going to end up stuck in it forever if you hustle without a plan.” It’s still to this day — 15 years after its first release — I can get on any stage in America and perform that song and people go apeshit. In most cities, if not all cities that I’ve performed in, it would be a crime if I didn’t perform that song out of everything else in the 6-album discography, not to mention soundtracks and various feature songs and all this other stuff that I’ve done, to not perform “Pocket Full of Stones” on stage for whatever reason is pretty much criminal.
Ivan: The jazzy horn sample used on this Southern classic evokes the same sound and feel as any great Tribe record — with a Southern twist, of course. The string and bass sample comes courtesy of Eugene McDaniels’ “Freedom Death Dance”, also heard on the intro portion to Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth’s “Act Like You Know”, as well as Organized Konfusion’s “Black Sunday”. “Pocket Full of Stones” is one of the most — if not the most — memorable and cherished production jobs in Pimp C’s discography.
Brandon: One of the craziest and most disturbing pieces of music ever? Maybe. Kanye West teamed up with the fruit that produced Fiona Apple to make some “crack music”; Pimp C did it without a shit-ton of strings and indicating musical histrionics. It’s just squashed drums, screwed vocals, a synth-line that resonates for miles behind the song’s melody, and a whole lot of open space.
Ivan: This beat oozes with groove and cool vibes — you just can’t help bobbing your neck and shoulders to this right here. Bun Beata and the Pimp provide one of the smoothest (and definitely overlooked) house party records from out the South. I often think of this track as an H-Town counterpart to the Ice Cube’s Cali classic “It Was a Good Day”.
Jonathan: Before Mannie Fresh updated it as a T.I. banger on the 2006 King album, Pimp C had already laid out the blueprint on the original “Front Back And Side To Side”. Though his was not as hard as Mannie Fresh’s remake, Pimp C more than compensated with straight-up funk. Thick, sweaty organ swells burst over thwacking drums and sinuous synth-lines, while throughout a subtle ticking keeps time. Few songs are so aptly suited to their subject matter. “Front Back And Side To Side” is built to boom out of big American cars cruising slowly down wide boulevards and baking beneath the hot Texas sun.
Noz: “Front Back” is probably the purest example of the UGK method in action. Those Eazy-E ticks multiplied by Meters’ organs. Dre slump meets gut bucket funk, 808s banging, gorilla in the trunk shit. The beat change in the middle of Bun’s verse is a must rewind moment. (And then you have to rewind again as to hear his Gulfway Boulevard menace talk.) Really just one of the most perfect hip hop beats of all time, especially if you are fortunate enough to have a car with a decent system.
Bun B: We had two remixes to “Front Back And Side To Side”. One of ‘em was more like a dancey, clubby remix and the other one was a bass remix. What happened was, if we wanted to turn in remixes for the single, we had to do it a weekend that we were in Dallas, Texas at Dallas Sound Lab studio. The only room that was available, it didn’t really have a lot of major equipment. It really only had like a Dr. Rhythm drum machine and like just a regular keyboard and I watched this dude max that keyboard and max that fuckin’ Dr. Rhythm out to the point where it’s still one of a lot of people’s favorite remixes from UGK. He took a song that was originally produced in a full service studio with whatever equipment they had available and also with the ability to rent equipment if needed, and took that fully produced song and remixed it with, like I said, just a Dr. Rhythm and a just a regular little Casio keyboard and made a remix even more stronger and more popular in certain circles as the original record. It really opened my eyes up to the fact that my brother wasn’t just a cat that could make beats, he was a real producer, meaning that whatever he was in the room with, he was capable of making a hit record with it and that’s the real meaning of a producer.
Quan: Nevermind the funk dripping out of every ounce of this, every bass pluck, every change-up, the hook wins. I’m not sure if the singing comes from a sample or if Pimp hired some singers, but the chorus line is pitch-perfect, empty, limp, achieving a biting, humorous irony that you don’t hear in too many “Fuck The Police”-tracks. And it’s just really catchy. I get the feeling that most anti-police rap songs are just hammering home the same things in the same angry way. That “Protect And Serve” has the nerve to be somewhat playfully mocking makes it stand out and it’s a testament to Pimp C’s abundant charisma.
AaronM: Pimp basically just looped Bill Withers’ “Use Me” for the 1992 UGK track “Use Me Up”. Here, he uses the churning keyboards as a foundation for the beat, and adds soaring organs and hard, metallic drums, along with some subtle twangy guitar riffs. Pimp’s chorus fits the song’s theme and instrumental like a glove.
Brandon: Pretty much everything about Pimp C’s production brilliance is contained in this beat. It starts out with this wonky, stumbling funk melody like “Pocket Full Of Stones” or “Use Me Up”, then there’s this crooned chorus courtesy of the Pimp himself. The drums are hard as fuck but live-sounding, too, and then there’s about twenty other things hiding in the background. A real thick, ugly synth pulses in and out, some countrified organ plays under the hook, the drums are boom-bap hard but sound live, too, and there’s some fascinating interplay between Pimp’s prominent hook and another soulster answering him. Pimp C’s production work is like his rap persona — a mix of sincerity and shit-talking, warmth and ice-cold aggression.
Buhizzle: This track walks that fine line between being musically lush and hard-hitting that is so characteristic of a Pimp C production. Fans of Young Buck probably already know the hook from Buck’s sophomore album (though, with slightly different wording), but, if your a fan of Buck, then you should be a fan of Pimp regardless… unless you’re just a G-Unit stan… in which case, you’re probably not much of a fan of Buck’s anymore, so nevermind.
Jonathan: Every great Pimp C beat is thick, slow and low, and few things come thicker, slower or lower than his beat for Big Mike’s “Havin’ Thangs”. Butler contributed his own sneer to the hook; his nasal singing offset perfectly the grimy interplay between the crisp organ washes and the dirty, rippling low end. The chorus dares you to deny Big Mike and Pimp c their rightful acquisitions; the beat backed up their pugilism.
Ivan: The first time I played Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, I recognized some of the same sound effects used on “Break ‘Em Off Somethin’”. The beat is emblematic of a segment in hip hop culture during the mid-’90s — a point at which Master P and No Limit were at the top of their game.
AaronM: At this point it’s cliche, but it’s still worth mentioning — “One Day” feels eerily prescient with Pimp C’s passing. His passing really made me appreciate what he did behind the boards. His instrumental sets the song’s tone, constructed around mournful wah-wah guitar riffs and a thick bassline. Pimp adds programmed shakers, tambourines and 808s for that Southern feel. Singer Ronnie Spencer sounds eerily like Ron Isley, and his cooing chorus and occasional interjections complement the song perfectly.
Ivan: I’m a fool for any track that samples some good ol’ Isley Brothers. Pimp C flipped a loop from “Ain’t I Been Good to You?” to craft an evocative narrative of life, death and avoiding the big house. “One Day” is the kind of track you’d assume would find its spot at the back of an album. Instead, UGK added it as the kick-start to Ridin’ Dirty and it worked just fine! This is hip hop and soul at some of its finest.
Jonathan: The key to this beat is the guitar. Pimp C uses its hushed, brooding chords like a bassline, and, unlike guitar-wielding rap producers, Pimp makes the instrument the rhythmic center of the track rather than a melodic feature or incidental coloring. But it’s not like a rock guitar, either; your average rock band would have little idea what to do with a chord progression so subdued and repetitive. If anything, like much of Pimp C’s production, it hearkens back to the instrumentation on which early soul or blues tracks were built. The direct, soulful rapping makes “One Day” one of UGK’s most beloved tracks, but those lyrics would not sound quite so good without the straightforward and emotional beat beneath them.
Quan: It’s generally pretty hard for me to talk about Pimp C beats because you can’t just say “Here’s the sample, here’s how he flipped it” like usual. Pimp C is a masterful composer who consistently turns out layers of lush, rolling funk that requires some semblance of knowledge of music theory to talk about that I don’t have. But then even in “Murder”, one of the closer things you’ll get to a traditional hip hop loop from Pimp C, you still have to marvel at the subtlety of his composition. This mean bassline no doubt anchors the song, but it’s really everything that he lays around it — “oohs” and “aahs”, whistles, incoherent posse chanting — that make the song. These elements are so quiet that they’re almost not there but they are, so it creates this hollow, kinda haunting feeling. Even the scratched sample for the hook is incoherently fuzzy and you can only guess that it should be saying “Murder” but who can be sure. So it’s there, but sort of not there in a sense, and adds to this chilling ghostliness that you feel in your gut. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Bun rips this beat apart either.
Bun B: It was a Wes Montgomery sample and it was one that he had been wanting to interpolate for years, but he wasn’t really sure if people were gonna understand him fucking with Wes Montgomery. Pimp C was a real big fan of Wes Montgomery and Coltrane and Miles Davis and different people like that and always wanted to incorporate those different elements into a lot of our music, and that was one of the ones where he was able to fully insert something and present it the way he wanted to present it and interpolate it exactly the way he wanted to interpolate it. At that point, he had the keyboards, he had the guitars, he had the bassist and he was able to recreate the music and flip it and produce it the way he wanted to, and I was really proud of him for that, because I knew that that was something that was real close to him.
Brandon: This isn’t really a “beat” and there’s not necessarily “rapping” over the top of it, but it shows just how slow and musical Pimp was willing to let UGK’s music go. This is The Meters’ immediacy meets “Maggot Brain”-spaciness mixed with Philly soul or Motown session player intricacy. And it doesn’t scream out “experimental” or “foray into soulfulness”, it just makes perfect sense at the end of Ridin’ Dirty and reminds you of the mournful aspects of the record that get more implicit — but don’t disappear — once “One Day” screeches into “Murder”.
… also known as …
Noz: Sleepy Brown’s debut The Vinyl Room is probably the most overlooked R&B album of the ’90s, and Pimp’s involvement is even more under-appreciated. As far as I know, his three co-productions on here accounts for the only straight forward soul music he produced, which is unfortunate. One of the beats, “Simply Beautiful”, was originally a UGK track entitled “Bump & Grill” that was featured on the I Got The Hook Up soundtrack. “Simply” more or less turns down the drums a little and adds some light organs, and it becomes a full on soul ballad. The point being that UGK were literally just rapping over genuine soul records. Always.
Ivan: Listen closely to the beat and you’ll hear the melody to Run-D.M.C.’s “Rock Box”. Adding the patented flavor of southern-brand kicks and hi-hats, Pimp C blended a rock-hop classic into his own unique concoction of crunk.
Buhizzle: Just when I thought I could be the whiz-kid to uncover the fact that the melody to “Rock Box” is tucked under this smokey Pimp production… though, I can’t say that I’m disappointed by being one-upped by hip hop sample god Ivan. I will take this opportunity to say that Grey Skies — the only LP to be released by Crooked Lettaz, consisting of a pre-”David Banner” Lavell Crump and partner-in-rhyme Kamikaze — is an incredible album. And nothing else on that album sounds like “Get Crunk”. And I love “Get Crunk”.
Jonathan: Damn, when I’m in the right mood, I start to think the wah-wah on this track is the best use of the effect since Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile (Slight Reprise)”. It sounds like Pimp C’s voice does — drawled and swaggering. And even though this isn’t a UGK track, the bassline sounds like Bun B — commanding and authoritative, the ideal counterweight for its freewheeling partner. This single, from David Banner’s before-he-was-famous duo Crooked Lettaz, sound nothing like the early ’00s crunk coming out of Atlanta, but it still smacked as hard. Like “Front Back And Side To Side”, it was virtually remade (by Mr. Lee) years after its release, in this case for the harsher, more digital Paul Wall track “Sippin’ Tha Barre”. It was the latter that I heard first, and, though I now prefer the more organic-sounding Crooked Lettaz tune, a beat like this could be revived once every decade and I would not mind in the slightest.
Noz: Pimp’s underground Live From The Harris County Jail was presumably a work in progress, aborted when he got locked up, and it’s an interesting look at his process. He riffs on old soul hooks over sparse and somber production sketches. “Got A Thang” is his Funkadelic vamp and is a total downer. J. Prince and company completely butchered much of this album for the Rap-A-Lot release The Sweet James Jones Stories. This track was fortunately spared by a pretty fantastic bluesy Mike Dean interpretation, but it’s still not seeing this original. Hopefully, whoever has charge of his archives also has the good sense to let us hear his music how he left it.
AaronM: The CD credits for this album really show Pimp’s incredible capacity for production and show how far he’s come since Too Hard To Swallow. Instead of simple loops and 808s, Pimp brought in a crack team of session musicians to replay elements of Allen Touissant’s funk classic “Hercules”. It all adds up to perfect riding music, and that’s coming from a white Jew from the suburbs. I couldn’t imagine a better backdrop for Bun and Pimp to floss and brag spectacularly about their rides.
Brandon: This is a stubborn beat. It revels in its out-dated-ness, the 808s, the synthesized horns, and the overall tinny sound of the whole thing, but it’s perfect for a song in which Pimp C brags of “risk[ing] everything to be an underground king”. There’s also a sense that like most Pimp C beats, it grows more immaculate and more complex as it goes on. Like the funk music that obviously inspired Pimp’s production, this beat is all about layering and a bunch of stuff going on at once, but working together, too. That really cool, glam-rock piano intro comes back a few times but never really totally goes away because a soft touch of piano punctuates the entire song and pokes its head out between robotic bass and funk guitar swipes.
Download: UGK – “Quit Hatin’ The South” featuring Willie D and Charlie Wilson (off Underground Kingz)
Bun B: It was a [Kenny] Lattimore sample. It’s literally a sample that we’ve wanted to rap to probably since about ’94, and he would always pull it up and he never kept it. He would always reproduce it every time. While we were doing the Super Tight album, he produced it, and then was like, “No, it’s not time yet.” He cut off the ASR. Then we were doing Ridin’ Dirty. Produced it again and he was like like, “No, not time yet.” He cut the machine off. I was like, “Jesus Christ.” [Then] Dirty Money. He produced it again. Still, it just wasn’t time. Ended up going to prison, coming back, he was like, “Now, it’s time.” And it’s definitely a lot of people’s favorite song off the double album, Underground Kingz. Like, in the South, it’s most people’s favorite song off that album. And like I said, the beat is something that we’ve been sitting on for years. He had an ear for these things. He knew the time and he knew exactly when people would be ready for these kind of things and he was able to do it. That was a credit to his ear, because if we had done it on say, Super Tight or Ridin’ Dirty, it may not have been as impactful content and lyric-wise as it was when we decided to do it on the Underground Kingz album.
Buhizzle: Charlie Wilson has a hell of a voice — he may not be able to hit the highest of notes, but when he does hit a note, he hits it hard. Before 2007, and since The Gap Band’s hey-day, his talents were really only being put to use by Snoop Dogg — Charlie laced the hook for “Snoop’s Upside Your Head” off Tha Doggfather, and added some always-welcome “ooh-wee”‘s to the Justin-Timberlake-featured smash “Signs”. My already-peaked interest in UGK’s self-titled double-album grew even higher after seeing that Charlie would be featured not once, but twice. Neither of the two tracks failed to disappoint. If anything, hearing Charlie’s voice on a more serious track like “How Long Can It Last”, another song that has taken on new meaning since Pimp’s passing, was a refreshing change of pace from The Gap Band’s many party-starting jams (like “Party Train” and “Burn Rubber”). Credit to Pimp for utilizing Charlie’s talent in such a way. Also, a well-done job slyly inserting a muffled female vocal sample in the background — very Kanye West/Just Blaze-ish in its execution.