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 UGK are not together because the State of Texas says they can't be ...

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 Pimp scared of the "Pimpin'," and UGK's future in doubt ...

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— by Shaheem Reid, with reporting by Sway Calloway

They're one of the greatest rap groups of all time, and their fans would kill to get their hands on a new album. And yet, mainstream audiences are only vaguely familiar with them, and unfortunately, no one knows when we'll see them together again.

This is no Eric B. and Rakim or EPMD: We're talking about Port Arthur, Texas' UGK. Bun B and his brother-from-another-mother, Pimp C., haven't spoken face-to-face for months, they won't see each other for at least another few weeks — maybe longer — and Bun is not only working with a whole 'nother group, but on a solo LP as well.

Still, the duo have not broken up. The split isn't of their own choosing: UGK are not together because the State of Texas says they can't be.

"I don't want to concentrate on the 'if.' I got to look at it like I'm going to be here for awhile, and if good things happen and I come home early, then good — and we'll move from there."
"It's an 'if,' " says Pimp C, sitting in the visitors' area of the Terrell Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice south of Houston, about the possibility of getting out of prison sooner than the eight years he's been sentenced to. "I don't want to concentrate on the 'if.' I got to look at it like I'm going to be here for awhile, and if good things happen and I come home early, then good — and we'll move from there. If not, I'll sit here a little bit longer. But one thing is for sure: I don't have a life sentence. I don't even have a double-digit sentence. So I'll be back. It's just a matter of time."

Pimp's incarceration has put UGK on indefinite hold. He was arrested in January 2002 for falling behind in his community-service obligations from a previous aggravated-assault charge.

Pimp's problems with the law began in the late '90s, just when UGK were hitting the height of their career. Originally, the duo were a foursome called 4BM (short for Four Black Ministers), also including Mitchell Queen and Angel Eye Johnson. When the last two guys dropped out around 1990, Pimp — who is the group's producer — and Bun relaunched themselves as UGK. The name came from a song called "Underground Kingz."

"We dropped [Too Hard to Swallow, which became the group's major-label debut] on February 21st, 1992, and it sold like 40,000 copies in two and a half months, mostly in the Texas region," Bun says of the duo's kick-start. "Lake Charles, Louisiana; Jackson, Mississippi; places in Texas — those were primarily the first cities to support us. Because we were small-town cats, we spoke from a small-town mentality, and a lot of the small-town people felt that and latched onto it immediately."

"Pimp C and Bun B, they legends and heroes — not just in Houston and parts of Texas, but across the South," says Paul Wall, a native of Houston, UGK's adopted hometown. "They not only pioneers for Southern music above all, but they're pioneers for the gangsta music and the culture that we live here in Texas. They was speaking the truth on that type of stuff for the longest."

"They laid the foundation for the South and they never really got their credit," David Banner says. "You know how Jay-Z is to New York? UGK was Jay-Z to us, but they never got any credit [nationally] until they did a song with Jay-Z [1999's "Big Pimpin' "]. Pimp C by far is one of the tightest producers ever."

Jay-Z featuring UGK
"Big Pimpin' "
After showing what they could do on their own, UGK were quickly picked up by powerhouse Jive Records. For the next four years they solidified themselves as rap legends with 1994's Super Tight and, two years later, their crowning achievement, the galvanizing Ridin' Dirty. Despite little promotion from their label, meager album sales and virtually no video play, UGK made many critics' top-pick lists and their respect in the streets and the industry was unscathed.

The respect level Jay-Z had for the duo was so high that he reached out to them to guest on "Big Pimpin' " from Volume 3…The Life & Times of S. Carter.

"It's funny because he called me on the phone," Bun tells of his first conversation with Jay. "And my phone rang and the number was blocked. I was like, 'Yeah, who this?' And he was like, 'This is Jay-Z.' I was like, 'I don't know who this is, but quit playing on my phone.' And I hung up."

NEXT: Pimp scared of the 'Pimpin',' and UGK's future in doubt ...
Photo: Jive

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