July 22, 2008

Underground Kingz (UGK) - The Southern Way (1992)


Texas rap duo the Underground Kingz, who usually referred to themselves as UGK because Kinko's charged the group per letter for printing their show flyers, is made up of Bun B and the late Pimp C, who accidentally overdosed in 2007 on codeine syrup while suffering from sleep apnea. Prior to his unexpected passing, UGK had slowly become the, well, kings of Texas-based hip hop, rivaled only by fellow pioneer Scarface (late of the Geto Boys).

The crew was started by Chad "Pimp C" Butler in 1987, originally as a four-man group who called themselves the 4 Black Ministers, but eventually two of the men would disappear into obscurity. Even though they surely performed at multiple venues, no actual recorded music was made available until 1992, when they released The Southern Way on Bigtyme Recordz, a label that was clearly destined for greatness. Only available on cassette tape, this EP found its way to an executive at Jive Records, who saw the potential of two guys talking maaad shit in Texas accents, and they found themselves signed almost immediately to a record deal. All the label did was essentially retool The Southern Way and include some newly recorded tracks for their actual major label debut, Too Hard Too Swallow, but if we're being technical here, this is their true debut.

UGK's storied career would continue to build at a gradual pace, with occasional high-profile guest appearances (such as on Jay-Z's "Big Pimpin'") combined with everyday local legend-building, thanks to the tiresome efforts of Bernard "Bun B" Freeman to publicize the crew even though Pimp C's mouth got him into trouble on more than one occasion. It certainly helps that their musical output seems a lot more inspired than your average Houston-area rap artist: the difference is that, while UGK talk about a lot of the same shit (hoes, grillz, cars, Houston, random acts of violence, Radiohead), their musical backdrops speak volumes. Their beats, put quite simply, are not what you would expect the average Southern rapper to spit to, and yet Pimp C and Bun B did so with ease.

A quick side note before we begin: the album cover pictured above is not the original artwork for The Southern Way. As I mentioned before, this album was only released on cassette tape: however, in 2007, The Southern Way was apparently re-released with tons of bonus tracks, which doesn't sound like quite a feat when you consider that there were only seven songs on this album to fucking begin with.

But I digress.

1. COCAINE IN THE BACK OF THE RIDE
You can tell right from the jump: this isn't your average rap album from the South. Pimp C comes off as a guy that just recently discovered cursing and wanted to share his findings with the world, but for a guy whose flow is unpolished, he still sounds okay. Musically, this track is pretty fucking good, and it easily detracts from the fact that Bun B sounds like he's trying to imitate Pimp C. That Curtis Mayfield sample is an interesting choice, as well.

2. SHORT TEXAS
This is impressive. Bub B and Pimp C come off as already-established artists trying to maintain their standings in the hip hop rankings, so much so that you may not have realized that this was one of their first songs ever. The beat is fucking amazing, and both artists knowingly calm the fuck down prior to spitting their verses. You won't even care that this song is over six minutes long for no good reason, except that I suppose it makes long car rides seem that much shorter.

3. TELL ME SOMETHING GOOD
Takes its sweet-ass time getting started, but once it does, you'll either be offended or laughing your ass off to Pimp C's ridiculously vulgar first verse. You can probably guess what song gets sampled from the title of this song, though, and I gotta tell you, that was a turn-off for me.

4. TRILL ASS N---A
A Bub B solo track that sounds alright, I suppose, but it's nothing special.

5. 976-BUN-B
Another Bun B solo cut, but this one works, if only because it's so goofy that it's impossible to not like. I could have done without the "Fly Like An Eagle" sample, although The Steve Miller Band is pretty fucking gangsta, so I guess I can connect the dots.

6. USE ME UP
Essentially a Pimp C version of "976-Bun-B", and works just as well, especially since the tales of random sexual encounters sound more natural coming from Chad.

7. BONUS CUT
This is actually the radio version of "Tell Me Something Good", which is fucking hilarious: Pimp C's offensively vulgar first verse on the original track is technically cleaned up on here, in that he doesn't curse (all of the verses are reworked as such), but somehow, his rhymes sound even more vulgar, because it isn't just the naughty words that make a song sound explicit. Personally, I thought it was hysterical that Pimp C retained his lines describing his fucking some other dude's girl, and then bragging that whenever the other guy goes down on his chick, he's really tasting Pimp C's "jimmy wine" on his tongue: even for a cleaned-up radio version, that imagery is dirty as hell. And for that, kudos.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Don't get me wrong: The Southern Way is ignorant as fuck. But this isn't the type of album that the average person will buy blindly: oh no, you know exactly what you're getting into with a UGK disc. As a debut album, this isn't bad at all: its production values clearly run the gamut from ten dollars to eleven-fifty, but what they lacked in proper funding, UGK made up for with the musical selections and the flows (not necessarily the rhymes). I can completely understand why UGK scored their major label deal almost immediately after the last copy of The Southern Way was sold out of a car trunk, but for the life of me I still don't know why they were signed if Jive Records had no fucking clue what to do with them. But that's just me.

BUY OR BURN? Trick question: you can't actually buy this album. (I couldn't even find a good picture of the album cover online: did you really think you could go down to Best Buy for this one?) Since all of the tracks were reworked for their major label debut, Too Hard To Swallow, you may just want to track that album down instead (or wait until I possibly get to it), but for fans of Southern rap in general, or if you want to know what music from the South sounds like when it doesn't suck, this is an excavated gem.

BEST TRACKS: "Short Texas"; "Cocaine In The Back Of The Ride"; "Use Me Up"; "976-Bun-B"

-Max

11 comments:

  1. AnonymousJuly 22, 2008

    Max, your blog rocks. Either I'm pleasantly entertained reading your take on albums I've heard, or I'm discovering albums I missed, like this one and the DJ Shadow one. Props.

    How about some De La Soul next? Or are there so many skits your brain would explode?

    Also, on a weird coincidence, I listened to Long Live the Kane for the first time, then checked your site and it was the first new post. Creepy.

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  2. AnonymousJuly 23, 2008

    UGK are overrated, man they get positive reviews everywhere, but WHY


    Rapreviews.com gave two or three albums 10 out of 10, i mean, come on, both suck lyrically, and the beats arent outstanding, for example II TRILL, Buns new album got 9 out of 10, a joke

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  3. AnonymousJuly 23, 2008

    Word. I give you props for reviewing this album despite your obvious East Coast bias. I was put on to UGK a few years back and they were "acquired listening taste" for me as well.

    Keep up the good work!

    btw: I also recommend a purchase of UGK's "Ridin' Dirty"...Obvious after listening to that album why Jay-Z reached out to them...

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  4. Jimmy Wine!!! That is right up there with Jesus Juice!!!

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  5. UGK were alright when they started in the early 90's....... ok Max?

    Now, something serious: I was reading "UGK", I' ve been thinking "Texas", I was hoping "Geto Boys, Rap-A-Lot" for the further review... and De La showed up...

    Time for the "Real Bad Boys from Houston".

    -Kay-

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  6. AnonymousJuly 24, 2008

    if this is how you review a southern rap album, don't even bother yourself... and to the guy who said UGK is overrated: shut the fuck up dumbass!!!!

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  7. Here is a link to Tell Me Something Good off of this Album. Many people think they've heard it but they haven't: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EugKr_0x1Ss

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  8. AnonymousJuly 19, 2009

    to the guy who said ugk is overrated, dude u cant expect ugk to do new york rap, there from houston, rappers in houston had a different vibe than the east had, besides there music was made to be played in parties

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  9. pimp c is the reason that got me into his shit

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  10. i got this and too hard too swallow. just gotta love ugk and everything they done in their early years in the game.

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  11. Fuck your bñpg, this review is a piece of shit like your whole website. you basically just putting out there your already determined opinion even before you review the shit, man im from tx and i respect real rap shit but come on man fuck this ovious waste of your life. PIECE OF SHIT WEBSITE BY A APIECE OF SHIT GUY

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