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The Kings of Underground Hip Hop – All About the Legendary Rap Duo UGK

UGK (Underground Kingz) is one of the most influential hip hop duos to ever emerge from the southern United States. Consisting of Chad “Pimp C” Butler and Bernard “Bun B” Freeman, UGK left an indelible mark on hip hop music over the course of their 20+ year career. Known for pioneering the “dirty south” sound and laying the groundwork for future southern rappers, UGK earned widespread critical acclaim and commercial success before Pimp C’s untimely passing in 2007.

Pimp C and Bun B – The Duo Behind UGK’s Legacy

Hailing from Port Arthur, Texas, Chad Butler (December 29, 1973 – December 4, 2007) and Bernard Freeman (born March 19, 1973) met during childhood and bonded over their love of hip hop music. Chad took on the stage name Pimp C, while Bernard performed under the name Bun B. Their combined talents formed UGK (Underground Kingz) in 1987.

Over the next two decades, UGK would balance street credibility and commercial success better than just about any rap act. They illuminated the diversity of southern hip-hop while appealing to fans across the United States and abroad. Although Pimp C’s death in 2007 ended UGK’s run, Bun B has carried on their legacy as a solo act by building on the foundation he established with his partner.

UGK’s Discography – Southern Hip Hop Trailblazers

UGK recorded six studio albums before Pimp C’s passing. Their early work proved pivotal in establishing the “Dirty South” as a hotbed for hip hop. As the 1990s progressed, UGK earned more mainstream recognition and paved the way for future southern stars.

Here is an overview of UGK’s studio discography over the years:

  • The Southern Way (1992) – UGK’s rough debut introduced the duo’s signature style. Songs like “Cocaine in the Back of the Ride” established their street credibility.
  • Super Tight (1994) – UGK’s breakthrough sophomore album featured more polished production. Standout tracks like “Front, Back & Side to Side” helped Super Tight become an underground classic.
  • Ridin’ Dirty (1996) – Widely considered UGK’s magnum opus, Ridin’ Dirty took their distinctive southern sound to new heights. Singles “One Day” and “Diamonds & Wood” became signature songs.
  • Dirty Money (2001) – After a 5-year gap between albums, UGK returned in fine form. Dirty Money continued to highlight Bun B and Pimp C’s creative chemistry.
  • Underground Kingz (2007) – UGK’s eponymous fifth album found them at their commercial peak, scoring their first #1 album. Standouts included “International Players Anthem (I Choose You)” featuring OutKast.
  • UGK 4 Life (2009) – Released after Pimp C’s death, UGK 4 Life served as a fitting finale for the legendary duo. Hit single “Da Game Been Good to Me” gave them one last hit.

In addition to studio albums, UGK frequently collaborated with other rappers. They were featured guests on acclaimed songs like Jay-Z’s “Big Pimpin’,” Three 6 Mafia’s “Sippin’ on Some Syrup,” and many more.

The KINGS of the Underground – UGK’s Musical Style and Influences

UGK emerged from southern hip hop hotspots like Houston and Port Arthur in the late 1980s. They forged their signature style by fusing the aggression and attitude of east coast hip hop with distinctly southern production flavors. Their music blended funk, blues, soul, and gospel influences parsed through the lens of hip hop.

Lyrically, Pimp C and Bun B gave unflinching accounts of street hustling and pimp culture in the south. But they balanced this gritty subject matter with moments of levity and humor. Their charismatic flows and chemistry made even their darkest tales compelling.

As UGK rose to prominence in the 1990s, they became trendsetters for “country rap tunes” and the general “Dirty South” style. They incorporated regional slang and influences ranging from zydeco to crunk. Although widely copied, UGK’s flavor has never been truly duplicated. They remain kings of southern gangsta rap to this day.

UGK’s Collaborations – Chemistry That Boosted Careers

One of UGK’s calling cards was collaborating with other rappers, particularly rising southern stars. UGK frequently lent credibility to fledgling artists and boosted their careers.

Notable early collaborations included Houston’s Big Mike on the breakout single “Playaz From the South” and Memphis underground icon Koopsta Knicca on “Like a Pimp.”

As UGK rose to greater prominence, they collaborated with virtually every major player in southern rap. This included acclaimed tracks with OutKast (“Int’l Players Anthem”), Three 6 Mafia (“Sippin on Some Syrup”), and Scarface (“Bet That Up”).

UGK also boosted the careers of next generation southern stars like big-timer T.I. (on “Front Back”) and mogul Master P (on “Rock, Roll”). With UGK’s coveted stamp of approval, these acts gained more respect and recognition.

Outside the south, UGK collaborated with rap titans like Noreaga (“Thugged Out”) and Jay-Z (“Big Pimpin’”). These co-signs served as crucial validations when southern rap was still fighting for mainstream visibility in the 1990s.

On Tour and On Screen – UGK’s Performance History

In addition to their prolific recording output, UGK became legendary road warriors during their two decade run. They toured constantly between their own headlining shows and serving as featured guests for other artists.

Major concert tours included:

  • The Southern Way Tour (1993)
  • Dirty Money Tour (2001-02)
  • The Finale Tour (2007) – Cut short by Pimp C’s passing

UGK brought explosive live energy to massive events like SummerJam and Hip Hop Honors. They also stole the show at key southern music gatherings like Houston’s historic Prince’s Court and the Sprite Mix Show tour.

UGK even brought their talents to the big screen by contributing music to films like “Menace II Society” and “Superfly.” More recently, the legacy of UGK was immortalized in the documentary “Bun B’s H-Town Takeover.”

Kings in Life, Legends in Death – UGK’s Personal Lives

Beyond the acclaim and fame they earned as rap stars, members of UGK cultivated distinct images as individuals:

Pimp C became almost as well-known for controversy as creativity before his untimely death in 2007 at age 33. His struggles with addiction and incarceration often made headlines. But musically, he was a gifted innovator known for his inventive slang and production skills in addition to rapping talent.

Bun B has built a reputation as hip hop’s elder statesman in the years since UGK’s dissolution. Respected as much for intelligence and integrity as artistic talent, Bun B has become an ambassador between hip hop generations as a solo artist, teacher, and advocate.

During UGK’s active years, both members used their fame to give back to their native Port Arthur. Today Bun B continues this tradition through community activism, charity events, and his teaching at Houston’s Rice University.

Diving deeper into the duo’s backstories:

Pimp C

  • Real name – Chad Lamont Butler
  • Born in Port Arthur, Texas in 1973
  • Formed UGK with high school friend Bun B
  • Struggled with addiction and mental health issues
  • Served prison time from 2002-2005
  • Married Chinara Butler in 2005
  • Died from an accidental overdose in 2007

Bun B

  • Real name – Bernard Freeman
  • Born in Port Arthur, Texas in 1973
  • Co-founded UGK with friend Pimp C in 1987
  • Married Queenie Freeman in 2003
  • Became a solo artist after Pimp C’s death
  • Current professor at Rice University in Houston
  • Respected hip hop ambassador and lecturer

The Legacy – UGK’s Popularity and Influence

At their commercial peak in the early 2000s, UGK earned multiple gold and platinum certifications. They scored a #1 album with their self-titled fifth offering in 2007. Individually, Bun B has sustained a successful solo career in the years since Pimp C’s passing.

But beyond sales metrics and charts, UGK’s true influence can be measured through the artists they paved the way for. Nearly every southern rap superstar – from T.I. to Lil Wayne – credits UGK as pioneers who made their own success possible. Elements of UGK’s signature style remain embedded throughout hip hop to this day.

Through shared struggles, demons, and undeniable creative chemistry, UGK crafted a legacy as one of hip hop’s most important duos. Their influence only promises to grow with time. UGK forever – underground kings immortalized.