Today I will review one of my favorite Southern hip-hop albums.
UGK, short for Underground Kingz, was a Port Arthur-based hip hop duo consisting of rappers Bernard “Bun B” Freeman and Chad “Pimp C” Butler. The duo had an impressive twenty-year career spanning from 1987 to 2007 with Pimp C’s death from a promethazine and codeine overdose.
With Ridin’ Dirty, UGK culminated nearly a decade of music-making with their best album to date. By 1996, Southern hip-hop was finally taking its rightful place on the map. At the 1995 Source Awards, André 3000 famously said that “the South got something to say” in an awards show that was eclipsed by feuds between the East Coast and West Coast, Biggie and Pac; Death Row Records and Ruthless Records. The South was supported by great releases such as Grip It! On That Other Level (1989), Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik (1994), Super Tight… (1994), The Diary (1994), Mystic Stylez (1995), On Top of the World (1995), and Soul Food (1995). Before Lil Wayne and Hot Boy$ came along in 1997, the Southern rap meccas were Houston, Atlanta, and Memphis. UGK, of course, claims Houston as home.
Anyways, about the music on this album. With 1992’s debut Too Hard to Swallow, UGK used a sample-based, minimal sound that was commonplace in early 90s hip-hop. On 1994’s Super Tight…, the duo improved with funky guitars, keyboards, and hard-hitting, live drums. On 1996’s Ridin’ Dirty, after a short intro provided by the incarcerated Smoke D, UGK immediately pays homage to Houston legend DJ Screw at the start of “One Day”. The song kicks off with a slowed-down Isley Brothers sample and hits double time after Ronnie Spencer sings the intro. The song is an instant classic that takes a hard look at the impermanence of life. It is one of many songs provided by UGK on Ridin’ Dirty in which the group digs deeper than ever before.
Back to the instrumental sound of this album. Yes, UGK references Screw on “One Day” and “Diamonds and Wood”, but they also cover a lot of other ground sonically. The beat on “Murder” is about as hardcore as can be for the 1990s, and on “Pinky Ring”, the rappers ride a beat with a slinky bassline. “3 in the Mornin'” sounds like Bun B driving a Cadillac through the deserted streets of Houston’s south side early in the morning with its deep sub bass and portent marimba. “Good Stuff” features a percussion section that only slaps harder and with more reverb when Pimp C comes on. It’s a very cool effect and is one of my favorite parts of the album.
Ridin’ Dirty starts with the best side I’ve ever heard in rap music, save maybe Illmatic or 36 Chambers. From “One Day” to “3 in the Mornin'”, UGK serves up nearly perfect rap music.
This is an album of great verses and, like 36 Chambers, the album sounds like a great cypher at times. Some of the best verses are as follows:
3-2: His verse on “One Day” is legendary.
Bun B: “Murder”, his first verse on “Pinky Ring”, “3 in the Mornin'”, and his first verse on “Touched”.
Pimp C: His last verse on “Diamonds and Wood”, “Hi Life”, “Good Stuff”, and “Ridin’ Dirty”.
This album is a true Southern rap classic and is probably underappreciated outside of Houston and the rest of the South. If you like classic Southern production, ghetto choirs, and just plain good rapping, be sure to check this one out.
Scott’s Spectacular Song Selections include: “One Day”, “Murder”, “Pinky Ring”, “Diamonds and Wood”, “3 in the Mornin'”, “Touched”, “Fuck My Car”, and “Hi Life”.