Its not easy being a Southern rapper these days. With the airwaves of mainstream radio becoming overcrowded with the ringtone rap of such groups as D4L and Dem Franchize Boyz, backpackers and hip-hop purists are quick to point the finger at nearly every rapper south of the Mason-Dixon Line. I guess they forgot about UGK?
Theyve only been in the game for the past fifteen years. If you havent yet experienced the smooth baritone of Bun B, or the hilariously obnoxious accompaniment of his counterpart Pimp C, you are in sore need of a late pass. Chances are you have heard their collaboration with Jay-Z in Big Pimpin.
Shortly following this track, Pimp C was sentenced to eight years in prison for aggravated assault. Bun B held it down with several impressive guest spots during this bid, but the group hasnt released a studio album since 2001s Dirty Money. Pimp is out on parole now though, and the duo has reunited to release one of the most solid hip-hop albums of the decade in Underground Kingz.
Even those who have yet to discover the underrated genius of the Port Arthur, Texas tandem have surely caught ear of singles, The Game Belongs to Me, and International Players Anthem. The latter track features a guest spot from Outkast, including an especially impressive verse from Andre 3000. It is not only the best rap single of the year, it may be the freshest mainstream track since Drop it Like its Hot.
However, unlike far too many modern hip-hop albums, Underground Kingz is definitely not just a few hot singles with a bunch of filler tracks. The album starts out on an unmistakably southern tone with Swisha and Dosha. The listener is greeted with Bun Bs deep baritone, Know what Im tawmbout? Like we always do about this time, shortly followed by Pimp Cs opening verse: I got candy in my cup, candy in my gar, candy on my wrist, candy on my car The opening track is indicative of the unapologetic materialism UGK has displayed since 1992s Too Hard to Swallow.
There have been many rappers to boast of wealth, pushing weight, and pimping hoes over the years. However, not only is UGK in another league when it comes to this style, they are one of its true pioneers. Theyve been doing it exceptionally well since the early 90s, and the tandem has only developed further since the early albums, rather than fall off.
Underground Kingz in no way deviates from this style. The album is a sprawling two disc opus dedicated to the gaudy and over the top lifestyles of prototypical southern players.
The album manages to successfully appeal to the modern hip-hop world while simultaneously paying respects to those who laid the foundation. There are guest appearances from fellow southern rap legends in Too $hort (on the remake Life is 2009), and Scarface makes a guest appearance, crooning in a faux gospel chorus for Still Ridin Dirty. The duo even manages to collaborate with East Cost legends Big Daddy Kane and Kool G. Rap on Next Up, a stellar track combining two contrasting styles of rap music beautifully.
However, Underground Kingz is more than an album for fans of rap veterans. There are also collaborations with Slim Thug (Take Tha Hood Back), Rick Ross (Cocaine), and Talib Kweli (Real Women). UGK pulls of a particularly difficult task, by staying faithful to the classic formula that they pioneered, while also remaining relevant in a 2007 rap world dominated by much younger rappers.
Underground Kingz is an album of dualities. It is classic yet modern, materialistic yet introspective. It appeals to pimps driving Cadillacs through the streets of Houston, and backpackers riding the subways of Philadelphia. It is for this reason that Underground Kingz is one of the top five rap albums of the 00s. Its another jewel to be added to an already impeccable catalog, proving that even fifteen years deep, Bun and Pimp still know how to get it done.
9.5 / 10
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