Diamonds & Wood
3 in the Mornin'
Touched (feat. 3-2)
F**k My Car
That's Why I Carry (feat. N.O. Joe)
In 1996, already two well-regarded albums in, Pimp C (Chad Butler) and Bun B (Bernard Freeman)—the two Port Arthur, Texas, MCs who made up Underground Kingz—were at something of a crossroads. “We didn't feel like rappers for a long time,” Bun B tells Apple Music. “We made rap music and we did concerts or whatever, but we didn't have all the luxuries that you would see on TV. We never had high-budget videos. We never had tour buses or any of that shit. For us it was a constant hustle. It was a grind.” A year or so out from their sophomore effort, Super Tight, the pair was at odds with Jive Records, a label Bun says would take liberties with the music they submitted for albums, including replaying production from scratch when they couldn’t clear a sample. Things got so contentious that a handful of young executives who’d go on to become music business legends, including Wendy Day, Barry Hankerson, and the illustrious J. Prince, tried to intervene. It was Prince, in fact, whose interference made the most difference.
“We had no idea what a record company relationship was supposed to be,” Bun says. “All we knew was we had to keep making music. We were constantly falling out with them and finally a phone call came and it’s, ‘Okay, what do y'all want to do?’ ‘Well, we want to do this album, but we don't want y'all bothering us. Just leave us alone and let us make a goddamned album!’” For their good faith, Jive was rewarded with Ridin' Dirty, UGK’s third official album and the one that would go on to sew their legend into hip-hop history. Within it, the group was able to maximize the production of Pimp C (who passed away in 2007) and N.O. Joe, highlight the lyrical dexterity of the great Bun B, and also showcase the strength of their community at the time, including friend and collaborator Smoke D, who was recorded while serving prison time. Ridin' Dirty would go on to exemplify what Pimp C would call “country-rap tunes,” announcing to the world that the South most certainly had something to say. Songs like “Pinky Ring,” “Diamonds & Wood,” and “F**k My Car” spoke directly to the South's get-money culture, packaging local Texas slang and Southern values in a way that empowered those to come.
“I think in terms of artists, that's the one that I really hear having such a huge impact on them—as writers, as producers, moving through the world as Southerners,” Bun says. “It instilled a lot of pride in people. It encouraged people to chase their dreams and believe that not only could they do this music thing, that they didn't have to act or look like they was from anywhere else.” Below, Bun B shares some of the things he learned as UGK came into their own with the generational masterpiece that is Ridin' Dirty.
Old Ways Aren’t Always the Best Ways
“I had never seen or heard of Pro Tools before we used it to make Ridin' Dirty. N.O. Joe was like, 'Well, this is one of the first albums to record in Pro Tools'—apparently where we were working, the guy was beta-testing it. It made it faster to track music out. And then the idea of being able to punch in vocals, cutting and pasting hooks—this took hours out of the recording and the mixing process. But then the whole idea of being able to punch in I felt was almost like cheating. I was literally one of the first people to actually be able to use it, but I always felt like anything that you say in the studio on the mic, you should be able to replicate that in real time in the real world. I didn't want to use any of those things to my advantage as an MC, as a recording artist, because I felt it was a disadvantage to me once I would go out into the real world. Over time I stopped being so stubborn about it.”
Be Open to Advice From Strangers
“We were in New York in Battery Studios and I was laying vocals. A guy came in. He had braids. I didn't recognize him. And he just walked in the studio. And then he and Pimp started talking. I'm like, 'Who the fuck is this dude that just walked in the studio?' I go out and it's D'Angelo. One of Pimp's big machines was the [sampling keyboard] ASR-10. D'Angelo was like, 'Oh yeah, I use the ASR-10. I did my whole album on it.' Pimp’s like, 'Yo, I'm barely using this machine. If this dude is doing everything that he said he did with this machine, I haven't really even tapped into it yet.'”
Don’t Waste Words, Don’t Waste Time
“Pimp would always say, ‘Bun B's the best rapper. I'd put Bun B up against anybody. Can't nobody out-rap him.’ But at the same time, I'm rapping to music that's too slow for my lyrical prowess. I'm constantly saying, 'Give me something that I can really rap to.' 'Murder' becomes that record where finally I get to show everything that I am as a lyricist, as an MC. I went out the night before. I was pretty— I wouldn't say hung over, but I came in the studio and went to sleep. And then they woke me up and I wrote my verse and I went in and I kind of went back to sleep. I knew it was the hardest rhyme I had written up to that point. But that was always the goal: Every rhyme had to be better than the last rhyme, because what if this is the last time anybody ever hears you spit? That's how I like to think as a writer—what are your parting words? It makes everything more important and it makes sure that you don't waste words and waste time.”
Sit Back and Watch Greatness
“I take no credit for the formulation of the musical soundscape of UGK. This is all Pimp's vision. I find places where I can contribute, where my input is necessary and at some points key. As far as music, I defer completely. I didn't say, 'I don't like this beat.' Every beat was great. 'Quit Hatin' the South,' which didn't come out until the  UGK double album, probably had been produced at one point during the Ridin' Dirty process. But then, he produced it probably three different times before we actually recorded it. He'd make a song, we'd be like, 'No, it's not time.' He'd cut it off, erase everything. Then come back a couple years later, reproduce it again—nah, still not time. He had all these different visions. It's just for some of them we weren't ready for what he was trying to present. And he was right. He would eventually bring it out and people would go right to it. It's very important that people understand that that was him. There was not a mutual decision or anything like that. I just sat back and watched him create greatness time and time and again. I had the easiest job in the world. All I had to do was show up and rap.”
Take From the Land
“Country-rap tunes [takes its] backbone from a lot of Southern music, because it's really built around soul music, blues music, zydeco music. The same way that go-go kind of is to D.C. New York rap, it has disco, but then there's also like Caribbean influence and reggae music and soca and all this kind of stuff. We don't have those cultural frames of reference. Our cultural cues come from different places. We're in the South. There's a lot of blues here, a lot of church music, like gospel plays into heavy with a lot of this stuff. You can hear it in the hooks, that ability to harmonize, because most of these guys, they sing in the choir, right? They don't learn how to sing in the studio. The way you're brought up and the vibe of where you're brought up at kind of dictates and finds its way into everything, culturally.”
Don’t Forget About the Brothers Behind the Wall
“Smoke D was an artist that we had met after Too Hard to Swallow. Situations arose and he ended up having to go to prison for a while. We had bigger plans for him. What we were doing at the time was communicating with him through these DAT tapes—we could send him tapes and leave little messages, saying, 'Hey, man, why don't you walk around and just talk about what you see.' He would send back stuff telling us what's going on. And Pimp had the wherewithal to take this stuff and to cut it into the album because some of the things he was talking about and dealing with actually had parallels to what we was talking about. The basic idea and principles were there, even down to talking about snitches. But it ended up becoming more representative of, I think, staying connected to people. This was not something that was being actively done. We see it now because of the proliferation of cell phones in prisons, but at the time, this was unheard of. This wasn't a recorded collect call; this was recorded inside the walls of the penitentiary on a legitimate recording device. The quality of his talking and his skits are the same audio quality as the album. And it all got mixed down in Adobe.”
“If you look, there's at least two years between every UGK album. This is because of infighting with us at the independent label, which translated to fighting with the big label. There were times where like for six months, eight months, we just don't answer calls for UGK. Pimp is producing music for people, I'm actually ghostwriting for different independent artists. We're living by feature work and by shows. I've never gotten a royalty check from Jive Records—only got cash advances. For us, we had to present ourselves in the best way so that the people would want to see us, promoters would want to book us, and artists would want to work with us. After Ridin' Dirty, I didn't have as much time for that type of stuff. But feature work probably tripled in terms of people wanting a song featuring UGK. Oh, and the price went up.”
Underdogs Eventually Win
“I was very loose and reckless for the first four or five years of UGK. I don't even really feel like a real rapper while a lot of this stuff is happening in the early years because we're not really getting the money. We're not getting the videos. We're not in the magazines. We're not on anybody's tours. I'm rapping and I'm doing shows, but I don't feel like a member of the global hip-hop community. We always felt like outsiders and underdogs. But now I'm starting to realize that we're all playing on somewhat of a level field, because now y'all get to see and hear us exactly like we want you to. And motherfuckers are like, 'Oh, this is serious. This is different. Something different is happening down there.'”