Persistence paid off for UGK. Almost 20 years after their 1988 debut, The Southern Way (released only on audio cassette), Pimp C and Bun B earned their first No. 1 album on the Billboard chart with their recently released double album Underground Kingz. This SoundScan triumph was a long time coming for the duo from Port Author, Texas. After their classic 1996 project Ridin’ Dirty topped over 778,000 units, the godfathers of Southern hip-hop began a trend of long layovers. With constant praise from peers and critical acclaim for their previous three releases, UGK seemed primed for their breakout moment in 2000 as they appeared on two of biggest songs of the year—Jay-Z’s “Big Pimpin’” and Three 6 Mafia’s “Sippin’ on Some Syrup.” Despite earning a gold plaque, the Underground Kingz’s 2001 disc, Dirty Money, didn’t live up to expectations. Things took a turn for the worse the following year when Pimp went to prison for an aggravated gun assault charge, derailing the group indefinitely. Left on his own, Bun B hit the mixtape scene with a vengeance and kept his partner’s name alive by shouting “Free Pimp C” on every song he appeared on. Then, with Bun’s solo debut, 2005’s Trill, striking gold, suddenly the UGK brand was back and better than ever. Later that same year, Pimp was released early and reunited with his partner in rhyme to begin working on what would become Underground Kingz. The long-awaited reunion album’s success, however, has been overshadowed by controversy. In July, Pimp conducted an interview with Ozone where he said, “Atlanta is not the South” and made disparaging remarks about Russell Simmons, Houston rapper Lil Troy and R&B singer Ne-Yo. That was followed by an equally inflammatory tirade on Atlanta’s Hot 107.9. With his partner laying low ’til the smoke clears, Bun B talks to XXLMag.com about Pimp C’s comments and UGK’s long rise to the top.
After two decades in hip-hop, how does it feel to have Underground Kingz debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 album chart?
It feels good. I’ve been working very hard at what I do for a long time. But at this point in my career, I’ve always gotten pride at how the people feel about me. I’ve never looked for validation from any other sources other than the people. The people spoke and said we want UGK to be No. 1. They went out, bought the product and made it happen. That’s a testament to them, not just to us as a group, but a testament to the love and the power of the people.
Do you feel like this accomplishment, especially in today’s sales lull, can be an inspiration to other artists?
I think it should be. It’s inspiration to me. Sometimes you wonder if it’s all worth it. I know there’s a lot of people out there that have been grinding for a long time and wonder if they should still be doing this. I had a conversation about this with KB Da Kidnappa from [Houston rap group] Street Military. He’s trying to explain to his family that, “I know it seems hard, but if I stay down with [my music], it’s still possible.” I believe it can for people if you stay true to what you believe, stay completely focused and you put all your energy back into what you’re doing. I think you can make this happen. [Me and Pimp C] had the No. 1 album in the country, but I’m not doing the units a lot of these other cats are doing. But at the same time, I take pride in my accomplishments and everyone should.
The album was initially supposed to come out at the end of ’06. What was the hold up?
It was just mainly the proper set up, with everybody understanding what this album was, what it mean to people and what it mean to the group. Just to really take it seriously for once and exercise all the options that a record company like Jive has to offer. We really wanted to make sure we extended every division of that record label. We tried to max out the marketing, promotion, video department, new media as much as possible. We went in and tried to be interactive as we could with all these departments and to maximize our situation. I definitely feel that with a bigger video and stronger radio single, different set of advertising, the BET special and all these different things were major contributions to this album doing the numbers it did.
“Int’l Players Anthem” featuring OutKast turned out to be one of your biggest singles. Do you feel like that record helped push you guys over the top to get that No. 1 spot?
I didn’t really [envision that] when we did it, ’cause we had already done a [prior] version, we were just having problems trying to get it cleared and run through the system because of what was going on in the Sony building at the time. But, like I said, it’s just kinda how it worked out. There was no master plan, as far as putting together “Int’l Players Anthem” with OutKast. It was a totally different song that UGK was trying to record with OutKast initially. Then Dre reached out, like, “Do I still have time to do something on this album?” Then Big Boi was like, “Yo, I did a little remix verse to this song I heard y’all got with Three 6 Mafia.” So it all fell together.
Did y’all know it was a hit when you heard the final product?
Once we heard it and put it all together, it felt right and we just went with it. The people understood it. We knew it wasn’t the average radio song. It didn’t really fit radio format. It wasn’t a dance. It wasn’t dedicated to a woman. I know the young people control the radio now or whatever. I respect that, but it was just a good record and people appreciated it. It definitely contributed to making this album as big as it is, ’cause this record is still climbing.
One of the other standout records on the album is “Quit Hatin’ the South.” Did you guys feel compelled to address the anti-South sentiments from other regions?
Not really. That was more of Pimp C’s idea than mine. I never really felt like I had to say anything. People are always going to subconsciously hate. I try not to give haters attention. But at the same time, you can only let people throw rocks for so long. You kinda gotta say something. So we just felt it was a need to stand up for the fact that we here. Just because we pro-South doesn’t mean we anti everybody else. But if you anti-South, then fuck you. So we not here trying to be anti nobody. We pro people.
How did you feel about Pimp C’s tirade about various rappers and Atlanta not being the South?
I really don’t have a take on what he said. Pimp C’s comments are Pimp C’s comments. I’m not really not here to defend anybody’s comments. I think he made it clear [in his radio rebuttal on Hot 107.9] that his comments were his. I don’t feel either way about what he said, personally. Anybody has a right to have their opinion and speak their mind. If he feels that strongly about it, then that’s what he’s going to say.
Did you guys ever speak about what he said and how it could affect the group?
It’s a non-issue. Pimp C is an individual, I’m an individual, and together we form UGK. But UGK is bigger than just Bun B and Pimp C. UGK is something that represents for the people and the streets. It’s bigger than the individual. I have individual views that I’m sure Pimp C doesn’t agree with. He gotta lot of views about things I don’t agree with. We individuals. We see things differently, but as far as UGK is concerned, UGK is a movement that stands for the people that represents for the people. We’re here to represent for them and speak for them when they can’t speak for themselves. That’s why he made it clear that his views were not UGK’s views ’cause UGK is bigger than Bun B and Pimp C. The people own UGK. I have a right to feel how I wanna feel and Pimp C has a right to feel how he wanna feel. I think everybody involved in the situation knows what’s what and UGK is still the No. 1 group in the country.
After almost two decades in the game, what’s next on the horizon for you and UGK?
Right now I’m working on my new album, 2 Trill, the follow up to my Trill album on Rap-A-Lot/Asylum. It’s going to be coming very possibly later this year. We’re already in the works. We’re ready to drop a single, but the UGK momentum is still kinda big. So you don’t wanna step on your own toes. But I got my album cocked and ready to go. So keep your eyes open.