Makaveli – The 7 Day Theory” and Big L’s “The Big Picture”, the vast majority of posthumous releases reek of cheap exploitation and are testament to the greed of those that surrounded the rapper. Dead rappers might get better promotion but they also find themselves victim to the artistic necrophilia of those who were closest to them. Puffy’s shameless raping of Biggie’s corpse has produced few highlights and tons of ignominious failures while Afeni Shakur has done her best to destroy her son’s legacy with an endless parade of mediocre, patched together albums turning her son from revolutionary to a cheap global brand. Even the best of these works often are simply tossed off odds and ends from other recordings while the worst are horrific Frankenstein creations pieced together from old verses and “collaborations” from artists the deceased would have never worked with had they lived. It’s a gross and disgusting practice that highlights the worst of the industry. Perhaps, it’s a tribute then to Bun B’s brotherly love for his partner-in-rhyme, Pimp C, that “UGK 4 Life” comes across as a legitimate UGK album and not a post-death exploitative abortion.
If 2007’s “Underground Kingz” was a sprawling, exploratory double album designed to highlight UGK’s vast versatility as artists, “UGK 4 Life” is a return to Bun B’s and Pimp C’s roots as the album is their tightest and most focused since 1996’s seminal classic, “Ridin’ Dirty.” The album mines the time-tested UGK formula of slow, grooving funk chords, Pimp’s southern-fried nasally choruses, tongue-twisting sex raps and hazy odes to the finer herbs to great rewards. The albums sound cohesive and fleshed out delving into the meat of the UGK brand which should make UGK loyalists extremely happy, a feat that often eludes posthumous releases like Dwayne Carter Jr. avoids similes beyond a third grade comprehension.
The album is right in the group’s wheelhouse and part of what it makes such a great listen is that the album miraculously seems contemporary and manages to avoid cheap nostalgia and tired “I’ll Be Missing You” tropes that an album like this might normally demand. The album seems keen to avoid the obvious fact that Pimp C is no longer with us and other than the ghostly invocation on the intro of Pimp C declaring UGK to be “back from the dead” (Seriously?! Do famous rappers just record these type of creepy statements in bulk, just in case, they wanna pull a Lazarus on wax after their unfortunate death? I don’t want to seem insensitive but damn...) and a Snoop Dogg “Rest In Peace” shout-out, you wouldn’t know that one of it’s chief architects had passed away in the process of recording the album. In fact, Pimp C is the dominant presence on the album. Pimp brings his trademark scatological charm to the proceedings in full force and at times, it feels Bun is a spectator on his own album. This isn’t a weakness. This might be Pimp C’s finest lyrical performance of his career and Bun B is wise enough to get out of Pimp’s way considering this will ostensibly be the last original verses we will ever hear from Chad Butler in our lives. Bun is savvy enough to realize that this is Pimp’s swan song so out-shining him on the last record would be in bad taste. I had figured that since Pimp died in the midst of this album’s production that “UGK 4 Life” would be a de-facto Bun B solo album with a few extraneous Pimp C verses tacked on so the opposite proving true only adds to the album’s overall enjoyment as well as adding a potent poignancy to the record.
That’s not to say the album is perfect because it’s not and while Pimp C’s voice is dominant what it probably lacks is his song-writing. While Bun B has always been considered the vastly superior rapper of the two, Pimp has always been the group’s chief producer and song-writer. Bun has always given credit to him as the group’s artistic leader and without his guidance the album manages to lack a little bit. While the album is overwhelmingly enjoyable, it’s lacking in a show-stopping centerpiece song like earlier UGK classics like “One Day”, “Pocket Full OF Stones” or “International Player’s Anthem” to push the album from merely really good territory to instant classic status. All of the songs cook (even the maligned Akon collabo “Hard As Hell”) but the album seems purposely understated and it lacks perhaps the balls-out panache that made “Underground Kingz” so successful. Where the former seemed to consciously be an attempt to craft a sprawling epic to perhaps make up for lost time between previous albums due to Pimp’s gun incarceration, “UGK 4 Life” seems to be primarily obsessed with not just sex but the gross, icky side of sex. The side that nobody told you about when you were watching Sex Ed videos in health class. Songs like “Harry Asshole”, “Feelin’ You”, and “She Luv It” seem to revel in the scatological and grosser details of sex. Pimp seems obsessed with describing his sexual contests in graphic detail such as noting the hair on a woman's ass to endlessly comparing oral sex to food.
Ultimately, this album as a fitting swan song to the UGK legacy and it would be my hope that this is the last album to come out under the UGK banner. Public figures rarely get the proper send-off and even when they do, they are often tempted to comeback for one last hurrah in the limelight. The last image, the public should have remembered about Michael Jordan, should have been his jumper over Byron Russell to win the 1998 NBA Finals and not have been him wrapped in Wizards jersey sadly fighting a losing battle with his dying athleticism. Hopefully, Bun B is smart enough to realize that you can’t rape your friend’s image if you ever really cared about them. You honor your friends by letting them rest in dignity and remember that one day you’re here baby and the next day you’re...