Mary’s been by four times now. The first time was part of her job. Second time, too, if you’re being generous. Here at Luby’s, a huge cafeteria-style eatery just off Highway 73 in Port Arthur, Texas, the hospitality doesn’t cost extra. When Mary comes around with her pushcart to provide ice water, extra napkins, whatever, on this Thursday afternoon in early January, the offer comes from the heart.
A warm, graceful Black woman of a certain age, Mary’s also astute enough to recognize when a patron commands attention. So on her third go round, she lingers just a bit by the table of the one with diamond jewelry and a demeanor that suggests something just to the left of traditional Southern hospitality.
On the fourth lap, she leans in for the kill: “Excuse me, honey, but one of the girls here wants a picture with you.”
Pimp C, 32, is putting a knife to his chicken-fried steak. But he’s been out of prison for just 14 days now. So while being accessed is a pain, being accessible is still something of a novelty. A shy, twittering girl is brought over, and Pimp steps up from his seat, gives her a friendly hug, and poses gamely for the camera phone. He even checks the screen afterward to make sure the snapshot came out well. The eight cops seated at a table a few feet away look up, take note, and return to their meals. Pimp notes them noting him.
Six years ago, Pimp C made a mistake. During an encounter with a woman at a mall, he flashed his gun. In Texas, that qualifies as aggravated assault. Though his sentence was originally deferred, he failed to meet his community service obligations, and, in January 2002, he began serving an eight-year bid.
On December 30, 2005, after four years behind bars, countless exhortations to “Free Pimp C!” and one Houston rap explosion, Pimp C, born Chad Butler, walked out of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Walls Unit and into a bright, chilly winter morning. His mom, his girlfriend and his group mate Bun B were all there waiting for him, as were a handful of fans that had come out to see his first free steps. Inmates watching the scene from behind prison fences shouted, “UGK! UGK!”
If you want to find Pimp today, look in the studio. Since his release, he’s been there almost every night, recording for guest appearances, mixtapes, or one of the several side projects he hopes to complete this year. Not to mention the eagerly awaited UGK comeback album.
“I’ve had four years off,” he says with utter gravity. “No more off.”
There is no good time to go to prison. “Anytime something like this happens, it’s a bad time,” says Pimp, sitting in a soft chair in his mother’s living room. “I wasn’t thinking about music or my career right then.” But for the duo he formed with Bun B more than a decade earlier, 2002 was an especially bad time to lose its musical visionary half. Pimp went away just after UGK’s fourth album, Dirty Money, hit stores. Coming off the national attention they’d received after appearing on Jay-Z’s “Big Pimpin’,” they were primed for a breakthrough.
Instead, with Pimp—who had been responsible for all the beatmaking—gone, Bun spent the ensuing years scraping. He kept the UGK name alive through a steady regimen of guest verses and live appearances, and didn’t release a solo album until last fall.
From inside, all Pimp could do was watch.
Were you concerned at all that your relationship with Bun would be compromised by the fact that you were away?
I fucked up the group. I fucked up our show money. I fucked up our guest appearance money. I fucked up our money coming from the record label. Of course I was concerned. And if you fucked with his money, it’s like you fucked with mine. He had a right to be angry.
Did you go through periods where you didn’t talk or communicate in some fashion?
The first year we talked a lot, when I was in the county. The second year, not too much—a letter here, a money order there. The third year, communications picked up a little bit. The fourth year, we got to see each other. You’ve got to realize, up until the time I left the county, in December 2002, I didn’t see Bun no more until last year. Part of that was my fault. For a long time, he wasn’t on my visitors’ list. You can’t have but 10 people on your list. I knew the man wasn’t trying to come to no prison anyway. So I wasn’t going to ask for him to come down here.
Was that hard on you?
No, not really. I knew what he was doing.
You felt okay about it?
Yeah, he was working. He was doing the best thing he could do for us. And I understood that. I knew that. He was on the grind every day. I knew how to reach him. He knew how to reach me. What was there to talk about?
“Pimp is my man because I have been through shit with him that I can’t go through with anyone else, even if I wanted to.”
On a midweek breather between weekends packed with performances, Bun is relaxing on the couch in his crisply appointed Houston home. CNN is muted on the brand-new flat-screen TV. “It’s sad to say—and my mom’s probably going to be hurt when she sees this, and my brothers may be hurt, too—but I’m probably closer to Pimp than to my own blood brothers. Pimp and I, we came up through guns and shit on the street. Parts of my life that my mother and brothers and family would never fully understand. Parts I don’t want them to understand.”