Along with Beats, Rhymes And Life, Ridin’ Dirty celebrated it’s twenty-six birthday this past Saturday. Happy Birthday, and I hope you all enjoy the read.
With the abundance of hip-hop artists that seemed to be coming on the scene daily back in the mid-nineties, it was easy to miss or overlooked an artist here or there. UGK aka Underground Kingz, was one of those groups that I overlooked. I became familiar with UGK back in ‘93 from the remix of “Pocket Full Of Stones,” which was on the Menace II Society Soundtrack, and even though I wasn’t listening to secular hip-hop in ‘99, there was no way of not hearing their monster collab hit record with Jay-Z, “Big Pimpin’.” It wouldn’t be until well into the new millennium that I’d bump into used copies of the Port Arthur, Texas duo’s first two albums, Too Hard To Swallow and Super Tight. I enjoyed enough of the music from the two albums (especially Super Tight) to add UGK to my list of catalogs to track down, and a few years ago I found a used copy of their third album and the subject of today’s post, Ridin’ Dirty.
UGK would lean (no pun intended) heavily on Pimp C and N.O. Joe to provide the soundscape for Ridin’ Dirty. Oddly enough, UGK didn’t release any singles from Ridin’ Dirty, but it would still manage to earn the duo their first gold plaque and become the best-selling album in their entire catalog; and many consider it their best work.
This is my first time listening to Ridin’ Dirty, so without further delay, let’s jump into to. And continue to rest easy, Chad “Pimp C” Butler.
Intro – Ridin’ Dirty opens with soulful organ chords and our incarcerated narrator for the evening, Smoke D (who also spit a few bars on Super Tight), shares a few words about living behind bars, before the first song of the album starts.
One Day – The first actual song of the night is built around an interpolation of a portion of an Isley Brothers record (the same one used for the instrumental for Boss’ “Recipe Of A Hoe”), which creates the bluesy mood for UGK and their guest, 3-2’s dim content about how fast life can change or even worse, end. 3-2’s (who also receives a co-production credit next to Pimp C for this track) request to be buried next to the local convenience store (Come N Go) is both comical and sad to think someone could be so hopelessly enslaved by the streets that they’d want their dead body to dwell next to their slang spot for the rest of eternity. Bun B and Pimp C’s verses aren’t any more uplifting, as they reminisce about dead homies and incarcerated friends, before Pimp C sends my fatherly anxiety through the roof when he mentions his homie’s son who died in a house fire. The content is dark, but like all great records, whether dark, inspiring or fun, the object is to make you feel something, and UGK accomplishes that with this song. Back to the Isley Brothers for a second. Since the instrumental is built around one of their records, I assumed that the falsetto male vocalist singing the hook and adlibs was the incomparable, Ron Isley. So, when I opened the liner notes and read “Ronnie Spencer” as the guest vocalist and not Mr. Big, I nearly shit on myself. This guy (Ronnie Spencer) sounds exactly like Ron, down to the “Well, well, wells” and “La-da-da-da’s.” I mean, he sounds great, but the plagiarism is troublesome.
Murder – This one begins with a heavily accented gentleman (sounds Puerto Rican or Cuban) unleashing a slew of “mofos,” but his accent is so thick, and his words are so mumbled, other than the “mofos,” I have no idea what he’s saying. Then Pimp C lays down a funky bass line matched with simple but hard trappish drums for he and his partner in rhyme, Bun B to flex over with drug dealer inspired rhymes. Pimp delivers a solid verse with his turn, but Bun completely obliterates this instrumental. This was dope.
Pinky Ring – This track has Curtis Mayfield Super Fly vibes written all over it, which makes sense, considering it’s built around a loop from his “Future Shock” record. Fittingly, Bun and Pimp talk their pimp/player shit all over the track, while Pimp and Kristi Floyd sing a Curtis Mayfield-esque hook. Every time I hear Pimp C mention that “twenty-ounce steak and some fried side of shrimp” I start salivating.
Diamonds & Wood – This one begins with a few more words from Smoke D. Then Pimp C invites a few of his musician friends to reinterpret a portion of a funky Bootsy Collins record (“Munchies For Your Love”) to create a dark bluesy groove. Pimp and Bun use it to lament the street life, sharing all the stresses and struggles that come with it, while guest vocalist, Reginald Hackett, somberly croons on the hook to drive home the duo’s pain. I don’t know what “diamonds up against that wood” means, but I know this record is fire.
3 In The Mornin’ – UGK sticks with the street theme, but unlike the previous joint that had a reflective perspective, this song finds Pimp and Bun, along with their guest, Big Smokin’ Mitch, celebrating drug dealing, weed smoking and lean drinking. The Sergio produced instrumental is decent, but the content, as well as 3-2’s annoying hook, is very forgettable. This song is followed by an interlude that finds a gentleman who identifies as DJ Bird and an uncredited male, instructing the listener to “flip that motherfucka over” if you’re listening to Ridin’ Dirty on cassette, and if you’re listening on CD, to “let that motherfucka roll.” This applies to almost none of you, whom I’m sure are listening to this via a DSP, but whatever.
Touched – The second half of Ridin’ Dirty begins with Smoke D getting into his homophobic bag. N.O. Joe then continues the mellow energy that ended the first half of the album with this borderline boring synth backdrop that Pimp and Bun curiously, use to issue threats of physical harm to anyone who attempts to try these southern boys, while 3-2 gets off yet another horrible hook.
Fuck My Car – UGK dedicates this one to all the ladies they feel are only interested in having sex with them because of their fancy rides. That must be a humbling revelation, but I’m sure they’re still okay with taking the pussy that comes with it. Oh, the song? It’s passable.
That’s Why I Carry – The Puerto Rican cat from the beginning of “Murder” returns to vehemently express his love for UGK, before going on another rant about, only God knows what. He’s interrupted by Bun B who goes on a short angry rant of his own, before N.O. Joe nearly puts me to sleep with this aimlessly drowsy synthesized hot mess of an instrumental. B and C don’t help matters, either, as they spew stale rhymes about “playa haters and bitch ass niggas” and all the reasons why they carry heat in these streets. In the words of Charles Barkley: “This was turrible.”
Hi Life – More penitentiary commentary from Smoke D, followed by a decent N.O. Joe produced instrumental (with co-credit going to Pimp C). Pimp and Bun continue their discussion of street politics, that randomly includes C calling out shady pastors in the pulpit, while Bun gets off arguably his best verse of the album, as he explains the reasons hood dudes resort to crime: “Who gives a damn, when you can’t afford the turkey or ham? Living off of ramen noodles, beef jerky and spam, now that’s sad, but that’s a fact of life, all I can see in front of me is up for grabs, come off your slabs, ’cause poverty’ll push a nigga over the brink, over the edge, especially if you don’t know your ledge.” It’s not a great record, but a vast improvement from the previous three songs.
Good Stuff – Sergio gets is second and final production credit of the night, as he reinterprets The Fatback Band’s “Backstrokin’,” while UGK gets flossy all over it. Next…
Ridin’ Dirty – Our mumbling Puerto Rican homie returns for one last unintelligible rant, before the deliciously jazzy instrumentation (built around portions of Wes Montgomery’s “Angel”) comes in for UGK to pay homage to driving illegally, or as we used to call it up here in the north, “drivin’ hot.” Whether legally or illegally, this makes for great music to roll to.
Outro – After one last Smoke D interlude (this time he’s giving penitentiary etiquette), UGK reprises the instrumental from “Diamonds & Wood,” slowing it down a bit and transforming it into a bluesy eight minute plus jam session, complete with monster wah wah guitar solos, that Pimp C uses to give his shoutouts over. This jam session could have gone on for another half an hour as far as I’m concerned; it’s that good.
After enjoying UGK’s first two albums, I was looking forward to hearing how the duo would progress on Ridin’ Dirty. On their third release, Bun B and Pimp C continue to show growth as lyricists and develop a solid chemistry, which is on full display for most of the first half of the album, but things seem to stall at the midway point of the album. Except for the title track and the extraordinary “Outro” (which might be my new favorite “Outro” of all-time), the production on the second half of the album is lackluster and UGK’s bars start to sound hollowly redundant. Ridin’ Dirty isn’t a terrible album, but it didn’t live up to the expectations I had for it based on UGK’s output on their two previous albums.