UGK’s Pimp C: An Underground Legend Who Defied The Mainstream

'I didn't want to do it,' MC told MTV News in 2005 about 'Big Pimpin',' the duo's landmark collaboration with Jay-Z.

Pimp C, who was found on dead Tuesday (December 4), and his loyal UGK partner Bun B reached their highest peak in 2007 as far as mainstream love was concerned. The Port Arthur, Texas, natives’ latest album, Underground Kingz, debuted at #1 on the Billboard albums chart, they were voted into the top 10 of MTV News’ Greatest Hip-Hop Groups of All Time, and their single “Int’l Players Anthem” was easily their most successful song. It was the culmination, and you could say coronation, of years of respect from their peers and the press for gritty verses and enduring opuses.

Pimp (real name: Chad Butler), who produced much of the group’s catalog, was the eye-catcher of the duo because of his flashy ways. Minks, diamonds, grills and Bentleys were the minimum for him. But despite all of their influence, respect and success, UGK rose up from the underground and often resisted mainstream compromise.

“We dropped [Too Hard to Swallow, the group's major-label debut] on February 21, 1992, and it sold, like, 40,000 copies in two and a half months, mostly in the Texas region,” Bun B told MTV News in a 2005 interview about his group’s origins. “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.”

“Pocket Full of Stones” was the overwhelming crowd favorite from the release. “Everybody in my family was clockin’ loot,” Pimp rapped. “Sold my Cadillac and bought a Lexus Sports Coupe/ I got a house on the hill, got a boat on the lake.”

During the next half-decade, UGK would garner a reputation as one of the most sonically reliable acts in rap, with back-to-back classics: 1994′s Super Tight and 1996′s Ridin Dirty. While multiplatinum plaques evaded them, UGK were heralded in the streets as if their albums were diamond-certified.

Pimp and Bun, friends for most of their lives, were not just Southern superheroes or ghetto superstars — the absence of artifice in their music and the integrity in their voices inspired the new generation of MCs that we hear today. Nearly every artist from the South will say they have been influenced by UGK.

“You know how Jay-Z is to New York? UGK was Jay-Z to us,” David Banner told MTV News in 2005. “Pimp C by far is one of the tightest producers ever.”

And while down-bottom heavyweights such as Banner and Lil Wayne might say UGK laid the foundation for the South, Pimp and Bun’s reach extended far beyond any one region. Jay-Z loved the group’s grit so much that he asked UGK to appear on one of his biggest-ever singles, 1999′s “Big Pimpin’.” Pimp C was hesitant at first.

“It sounded like a pop record to me,” Pimp told MTV News’ Sway during a prison visit in 2005. “I didn’t want to do it. It scared me, because I didn’t know how people was going to take us going in that direction. But I remember Jay telling me, ‘Look, family: It’s going to be the biggest record of your career. If you don’t do it for yourself, just do it for me.’ That was good enough for me, so I jumped on it.”

Superstardom eluded Pimp and Bun because they weren’t able to capitalize on their momentum. Feuding with their label, Jive, led to them not dropping another album until 2001, long after “Big Pimpin’ ” had made its big splash.

A year later, UGK’s most lengthy hiatus began when Pimp was sentenced to eight years in jail for aggravated assault. With Pimp incarcerated, Bun B proudly held his team’s banner by igniting the “Free Pimp C” movement in Houston with hats, T-shirts and shout-outs conveying that message. While Bun flourished as a solo act with a myriad of guest appearances, underground freestyles and his acclaimed LP, Trill, neither he nor the fans doubted that UGK would ride again.

The ever-flamboyant Pimp was released from prison in December 2005 and made his impact felt almost immediately. Artists such as Ludacris, Chamillionaire, Scarface and Gucci Mane all called on him for guest verses. His latest solo album, Pimpulation, came out in July 2006 (The Sweet James Jones Story was released in 2005 while Pimp was incarcerated). Pimp also introduced the combination of Lil’ Boosie and Webbie, who have had a string of big street bangers such as “Wipe Me Down.”

Recently, C caught some controversy because of his forceful comments on topics such as drug rap, Atlanta, the South itself and New York rap, but his O.G. love remained intact. His death is obviously a shock, and most of the people MTV News reached out to on Tuesday to speak about UGK’s legacy were too distraught to comment. He’s definitely another hip-hop legend gone too soon. Pimp C was only 33.

The “C” in Pimp’s name stood for his real name, Chad. He and fellow Port Arthur, Texas, native Bun B — real name: Bernard Freeman — met in high school. Pimp, whose rap alias was Sweet Jones, loved music from an early age, and the influence of his trumpet-playing father (who played with soul legend Solomon Burke) had a profound influence on the music he went on to make. The sounds he heard as a child, which ranged from Motown to Bobby “Blue” Bland, served as muses for Pimp’s beats and rhymes — influences that will be heard in hip-hop forever.

MTV News will have more on this story as it develops. Head here for an in-depth feature on UGK from 2005.