UGK’s Pimp C, Remembered By Sway Calloway

MTV News correspondent interviewed late rapper in prison and after his release.

Sway Calloway, a veteran correspondent at MTV News, knew and had interviewed UGK’s Pimp C, who passed away suddenly in Los Angeles this week.

Rest in peace, Pimp C. It’s sad to hear that another one of our soldiers has passed away. I just want it to be known that I really admired that man for being a general for the South, representing Southern culture and hip-hop for so many years when people around the rest of the country didn’t recognize it. I can also appreciate his zest for life: He exhibited swagger, flamboyance, confidence and pride. I think a lot of us can take those qualities and apply them to our everyday lives and help improve who we are as people.

The first time I met him, he was still incarcerated at the Terrell Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, south of Houston. We were filming “My Block: Houston” and he was serving out the remainder of his prison sentence — although he didn’t know at the time that he’d be out in just a few months .

It was an exclusive interview and I couldn’t imagine what he would be like, based on the music I grew up listening to. I found him to be a very multidimensional person, soft-spoken. I asked him what was it like for him going from being a rap legend to being locked up? He was adamant to relay that there is no glory in being incarcerated, where you have to live by another man’s rules. It wasn’t a place he could create much. He said that other things had become priorities — like survival and sanity — and he didn’t want to encourage anybody to end up there. To tell the truth, he seemed like he was very balanced in dealing with his situation, and he appeared to be mentally disciplined.

At that time, 2005, the Houston hip-hop scene was on the brink of exploding, with new-school and veteran artists like Slim Thug, Mike Jones, Paul Wall, the S.U.C. and Scarface, to name just a few. However, thanks to Bun B’s grind — appearing on many songs and videos by many different artists — there was no bigger hip-hop movement at the time than the “Free Pimp C” movement. In videos, magazines, songs and on concert stages across the country, you either saw the slogan or heard the chant. Pimp C’s name remained relevant, and UGK were the undisputed champions of the South.

I asked Pimp C how must it feel, not being able to enjoy all the attention. He let it be known that he liked what the younger artists were doing, that they’d figured out a way to blow up and make money thanks to the doors being opened by pioneers like him. At the time he felt honored, in a sense, that the younger guys idolized him and paid homage in their music. Obviously, he expressed his desire to be released and to do things differently based on what he’d learned from his mistakes.

He also said he was very grateful that Bun B had taken it upon himself to ensure that Pimp C’s name had relevance and longevity while he was in jail. He went on to explain that Bun B had great foresight: It was Bun who had to convince Pimp to appear on what turned out to be the biggest song of their career, Jay-Z’s “Big Pimpin’.” Throughout Pimp C’s incarceration, Bun also reportedly took a percentage of his earnings and put it aside for when Pimp was finally released. That’s true loyalty.

I was privileged enough to be the first person to interview UGK together after four years of separation in the Rap-A-Lot label offices — courtesy of the label’s J. Prince but made possible by Bun B. That day was truly magical because of the enormity of the event for the South and hip-hop in general. Also, it was something special to interview these iconic figures and witness their dynamic in person after years of listening to their music. It was almost like UGK had become Southern folk heroes.

In my career, I’ve conducted Tupac’s and Biggie’s last interviews. I’ve had the late Big Pun and the late Big L freestyle on my radio show with my partner King Tech, “The Wake Up Show.” We played Bone Thugs-N-Harmony on our show for Eazy-E because his “Ruthless Radio” show was in the time slot before ours. We even orchestrated the first Wu-Tang Clan concert in L.A. to feature every member (getting all of them in one place at that time was nearly impossible).

Now it’s time to say thank you to another one of our fallen soldiers for all that he’s given us through his music. I don’t even want to speculate about the cause of Pimp C’s death because at the time that I’m writing this, it is still unknown. I’d rather reflect on his attributes and how we as fans, family and friends have benefited from his presence in our lives.

Just as we shared the common unity as we all chanted “FREE PIMP C!,” we share in the grief over his untimely death. He had a lot of game to offer through his music, but he also had a lot of game to offer about life. Our condolences go out to his family, friends and fans — and Bun B. And if you miss Pimp C, then find him through his music. Keep the legacy alive!

— SWAY