The Game Belongs To UGK: Celebrating Two Decades Of Ridin’ Dirty

The following was written a magazine feature that never went to print for unrelated reasons. Was as much of an honor to work with Simone Amelia on the copy as it was to speak with Bun B for over an hour and a half on the phone while sitting on a park bench in Los Angeles. July 2016.

The Game Belongs To UGK: Celebrating Two Decades Of Ridin’ Dirty

  UGK’s third studio album was bigger than Pimp C and Bun B themselves.

UGK’s third studio album was bigger than Pimp C and Bun B themselves.

For countless reasons, Ridin’ Dirty hits as close to home in 2016 as it does when it was first released on July 30, 1996. This doesn’t surprise Bun B, nor would it bewilder Pimp C if he were still physically among us today.

Coming together to form the Underground Kingz in the late 80s, the two Port Arthur, Texas-born musicians knew exactly what they were seeking to achieve when they walked into the studio for their third go-around at a full-length project, creating what unknowingly at the time would inspire two generations (and counting) of what has become quintessential Southern hip-hop.

The album solidified UGK’s permanent place within the culture, with the group unapologetically speaking for an entire region and paving the way for the artists that came after them, much like the leaders within the East and West coast music scenes were doing. However, pioneering the uncharted Southern frontier for hip-hop was not an easy task, with Pimp C and Bun B running into various sets of challenges along the way, such as proving themselves simultaneously as innovators of the genre and as masters of the craft.

Twenty years ago, on the record’s release date, a commercial aired on television promoting the project without involving the creative input of Pimp and Bun. When the pair saw the advertisement for the first time, both were perplexed as to why the record company associated them with what was, in their minds, an unapproved visual incorporating a scene with a desert and a limousine, the furthest two components of UGK’s day-to-day reality. That disconnect between the music, the mission and the industry grew into what would become a challenging and reoccurring pattern, with the pair having to consistently balance not compromising who they are, while also not angering the record company or resulting in their music being shelved.

“I may have records that are going to get more radio spins than others, but that’s not the kind of music that resonates with people as deeply as records such as ‘One Day,’” Bun B says. “That’s what you want to do as an artist. You want to touch as many people as deeply as possible in the moment. Ridin’ Dirty, for us, was the first time we were able to do that. We were able to do what we wanted to do, and say what we wanted to say, and that’s why the album best represented us.”

Throughout its thirteen-track duration, the duo exhibits how they had their eye on what was really going on in their neighborhood, with an intention of educating others on how to lead certain lifestyles in a smart and spiritual way. Discussing the life they knew and the life they wanted, the album touches on subjects such as poverty, police brutality, relationships, God and poverty, showcasing UGK’s unprecedented ability to spill their souls on a record without losing any street cred.

“Though the record company thought we were young and naive, we had to take complete control and they had to trust us,” he continues. “We understood where we were from and we knew how to translate and communicate that to people better than anyone else could. You can’t tell me how to talk to my people about this trill s**t, you just can’t, I’m sorry.”

Ridin’ Dirty specifically was a very insular conversation directed at a specific group of people that didn’t necessarily have anyone speaking to them, or for them,” the emcee reflects. “When you were in the streets, you lived this lifestyle and you made that choice, so while we couldn’t do anything about that, the best thing we could do was make sure you were navigating the streets correctly.”

The group’s strength was in their dedication to not misrepresenting themselves and provided the lack of opportunity to release properly executed and budgeted music videos, the duo relied on visceral lyricism and dynamic production to best tell their story. The image of the desert and the limousine became a metaphor speaking louder than that particular advertisement did, serving as a reminder that with freedom, comes responsibility and UGK held a responsibility to always keep it real, while also inspiring a greater, timeless message.

“We tried to make music people could actually live to, not just party to,” Bun B says. “Pimp’s interpretation was that the record was a weekend in the hood. On Friday, you got your hustling done, Saturday you partied and on Sunday, you reflected.”

While Bun B jokes not to fault him for what he said when he was younger, the two succeeded in building their confidence up early on. The homegrown confidence found in their risk-taking, both behind the boards and on the mic, allowed them to forge the path for recognizing not only was it acceptable to be Southern and still be a lyricist, but that it was the best of both worlds to not have to choose between being one over the other.

“It’s not about what the album did for us, it’s about what the album did for other people,” Bun says. “It’s no surprise this album still makes sense years later. We tried to tell the truth, and the truth remains.”