When it comes to the Port Arthur, Texas-based duo of UGK (which is an acronym for Underground Kingz, and consisted of Pimp C and Bun B) I’m pretty unfamiliar with their body of work. The first song I ever heard from the duo was “Pocket Full Of Stones” from the Menace II Society soundtrack. I didn’t care much for the song which is why I probably never really checked for them. UGK really didn’t get my attention until I heard them on Jay-Z “Big Pimpin'”, and a decade later when I heard Bun B drop solid verses on Reflection Eternal’s “Strangers” and a Statik Selektah project. So a few years ago when I saw their debut album Too Hard To Swallow in the used bins for a few bucks, it was clearly my queue to start getting familiar with the Texas emcees.
Too Hard To Swallow is UGK’s official debut, released on Jive Records, but 7 of the songs from the album were originally released on the duo’s EP The Southern Way, which was released on the independent label Bigtyme Recordz in April of ’92. Legend has it that there were a handful of songs that Jive deemed too explicit and left off the final cut of Too Hard To Swallow; but Bigtyme Recordz would release the songs a few weeks prior to the album’s release on an EP, appropriately titled Banned.
Too Hard To Swallow wasn’t a huge commercial success but it did do respectable numbers. More importantly, it helped UGK broaden their audience to ears outside of the south. And while the late Houston legend, DJ Screw is widely recognized as the father of the chopped and screwed sound (which involves slowing down the record tempo between 60 and 70 bpms and applying some type of distortion to give it a “chopped” feel), Too Hard To Swallow is one of (if not the) first major label release to put this unique Texas innovation on display for the world to hear.
Pimp C and Bun B would go on to have a pretty successful career as a group and as solo artists. Tragically, on December 4, 2007, Pimp C was found dead in his room at a West Hollywood Hotel. The cause of death is believed to be related to the now popular drink known as “sizzurp” or “lean” (which is basically a high dosage of prescription strength cough syrup that includes codeine and promethazine, usually mixed with a soft drink). May he rest in peace.
Something Good (Extended Version) – UGK kicks things off with a mellow and melodic Bernie Bismark/Shetoro Henderson produced instrumental built around a loop from the Isley Brothers’ “Summer Breeze” (and a loop from Rufus’ “Tell Me Something Good” on the hook), which is pretty dope. From the jump, Pimp C and Bun B each establish their own unique voices. Pimp C makes a memorable first impression when he tells a dude who’s girl he slept with “bet it feels funny when you’re doing 69, knowing that you’re sipping on all my jimmy wine” and “when you get a kiss don’t you feel bad, knowing that you swallowed all the skeeter that I had?”. Hi-larious! By the way, was Bun B’s line instructing an anonymous someone to “take your Raiders’ cap off” a shot at anyone in particular (hit me in the comments if you have the inside scoop)? Like I said in the opening, I’m not familiar with UGK’s catalog, but from the little bit I have heard from them, I’ve always felt that Bun B was the stronger rhymer. That still may be the case, but on this song Pimp C definitely outshines his partner in rhyme.
Use Me Up – Pimp C borrows Bill Wither’s “Use Me” on this solo joint, as he describes a woman whose body, loving, and cooking (is hot potato pie the same thing as sweet potato pie?) are so wonderful its got him whipped to the point he’s giving her his credit cards, car keys and picking up her little brother from school. Pimp C drops all kinds of entertaining one liners on this one, and when delivered in his thick southern accent, they’re both amusing and enjoyable.
Pocket Full of Stones – This was the song that first introduced me to UGK. The version of the song I heard on the Menace II Society soundtrack uses a different instrumental than the album version, and I wasn’t a fan of the soundtrack mix. But the album version uses the same Eugene McDaniel loop that Pete Rock used for an interlude on Mecca And The Soul Brother; and I love the melancholy feel of it.
Short Texas – Pimp C and Bun B invite their homie, Blue Light to join them on this one, which is pretty much a warning to any out of towners who think they’re going to come to UGK’s neck of the woods to sell dope, to think again. Pimp C’s (who kind of sounds like Spice 1 on this one) hard instrumental fits the song’s content perfectly, and I love the bass line on this one.
Cocaine In The Back Of The Ride – Over a decent Bernie Bismark and Shetoro Henderson instrumental, the duo continue to brag about their successful careers as street pharmacists. I’ll never understand why rappers love to snitch on themselves on record. Regardless, this was a decent listen.
It’s Too Hard To Swallow – For this almost title track (why the hell did they have to throw an “It’s” on there?), Bernie and Shetoro slow things way down, as Bun B and Pimp C use it to talk their “tough guy shit” on. The instrumental is way too mellow and boring to make their “rah-rah” rhymes sound even remotely convincing.
Cramping My Style – Bun B invites guest female emcee Infinity, to help him with this duet. Infinity uses her verses to explain to Bun that she needs to be more than just a booty call if they’re going to have anything; Bun response by letting her know he’s looking for sex without commitment, or as he eloquently puts its: “you just might see me again but not soon, you can keep the wedding I just want the honeymoon”. Bun drops a bunch of clever one liners on this one that will make you chuckle at least a little bit. Bernie and Shetoro loop up arguably hip-hop’s most sampled record (the Isley Brothers’ “Between The Sheets”) for the backdrop. And as many times as I’ve heard the loop used, their interpretation of it sounds fresh. This was dope.
Feel Like I’m The Who’s Doin’ Dope – Pimp C gets another stab at a solo joint on this one. Speaking of stab, Pimp C’s rhymes are pretty gory on this one, as he recalls a brutal dream that has him acting like a murderous dope fiend. I’m not a huge fan of Pimp C’s backdrop, but something about his vividly detailed and morbid rhymes are pretty entertaining. Does that make me a psychopath? If Jive didn’t find the content of this song too explicit I’m afraid to listen to the songs that were left off of the final cut of Too Hard To Swallow.
I’m So Bad – This has to be in the running for the dumbest song of all time. And coincidently, the song’s concept is built around one of the dumbest boast of all time, courtesy of Cool James, who claims (on “Clap Your Hands” from the Walking With a Panther album) that “I’m so bad I can suck my own dick”. Pimp C used that LL line for the hook and builds the instrumental around a loop of the Isley Brothers’ “I Turned You On”, so at least that part of the song was decent.
Trill Ass Nigga – Trill is slang for “real” or “authentic”, and there is no question that UGK was the first to use and make the term popular in hip-hop abroad. On this solo joint, Bun B spends his verses trying to convince the listener of just how trill he is. At this point, Bun B’s flow wasn’t nearly as polished at it would become later in his career. I couldn’t really feel Bun’s rhymes or the boring Bernie and Shetoro instrumental.
976-Bun – Another Bun B solo joint. I’m not feeling this one either.
The following song is listed as a bonus track on the cd version of Too Hard To Swallow:
Something Good (Pimp C’s Remix) – This song is pretty much the same as the original, with a chopped and screwed twist to it and a few changes to the lyrics. The most questionable lyric change is on Pimp C’s second verse, when he talks about bangin’ a chick in his homeboy’s Caddy. On the original he says: “I hit it from the back and the girl just threw me, told me pump it harder and she scratched me on my booty”; but on the remix he says: “I hit it from the back and the girl just threw me, turned me on my stomach and she scratched me on my booty”. What kind of freaky shit was Pimp C into that he would have a woman lay him on his stomach and scratch his ass? I’ll leave that one alone. This mix is not terrible, but I prefer the original.
In case you were unaware, I listen to and collect a lot of music, with a strong concentration on hip-hop. One of the reasons I started this blog was I felt it would allow me to thoroughly take in and digest some of the pieces that I overlooked or missed over the years, and possibly discover some gems. Now, I can’t quite call UGK’s debut Too Hard To Swallow a gem but UGK does bring enough to the table for it to be considered a diamond in the rough.
UGK doesn’t cover any new territory on Too Hard To Swallow, as their content doesn’t go beyond money, drugs, murder and pussy; but the duo manage to make the first two-thirds of the album entertaining with decent to solid production, an occasional clever rhyme, humorous punchlines and unique slang, all delivered in their thick southern drawl. Too Hard To Swallow would have been stronger as an eight song EP, since the last four songs should have been scrapped; as is, it makes for a strong first impression; and I’ll be checking for the rest of the UGK catalog.