"Dedicated To The Winners & The Losers..." - Raekwon

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

UGK - UGK 4 Life: Review


The one aspect of posthumous albums that are usually more true than any other aspect of their existence is that they are more of a testament to the leeching, sycophantic nature of those the artist has left behind than a true reflection of the artist’s greatness. Other than perhaps Tupac Shakur’s “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...


bding7 said...

for the record, his name was Chad Butler.

also, is it safe to say based on the examples you list as "show stoppers" that you aren't a big Dirty Money fan?

DocZeus said...

"for the record, his name was Chad Butler."

Lol. Did I just confuse him with guy who played Cutty on the Wire? My bad. I've been watching that a lot in my free time lately. It must have slipped into my consciousness.

And no, I'm not a big fan of "Dirty Money."

bding7 said...

And no, I'm not a big fan of "Dirty Money."

i think that's rather unfortunate, for a couple reasons. first, it's a solid album, period. secondly, it doesn't attempt to be this grandiose statement 5 years after Ridin' Dirty and two years after "Big Pimpin'," so you never feel like they're overstepping their boundaries. these two know how to make an album, and they just get after it. their work ethic (and the products of it) is hard to deny.

DocZeus said...

You know, I'll admit I only listened to "Dirty Money" once and I definitely don't remember much about other than wishing it was "Ridin' Dirty" which it certainly was not. Could this be their "It Was Written" then? You know, unfairly written off because it's not Illmatic?

bding7 said...

when i think of It Was Written, i imagine that nas was just listening too much to the people around him to help craft how the album should sound. a better comparison for Dirty Money is probably hov's Vol. 3 sans "Big Pimpin'." or, they can share that track if you like.

Badmon3333 said...

Now you got my 'Wire' jones going all over again....

Anonymous said...

Mistaking Cutty for Pimp C is one of the best mistakes I've read about in the past couple of weeks.

Anyways, this album is good, but it doesn't strike me as great or classic. Some of the very things it seems that people are praising it for as far as being a great posthumous release makes it rather "just good" UGK release.


7one3 said...

R.I.P. Pimp C

Check out this video from the UGK 4 Life album release party
Interviews with Bun B and a lot of the producers

Anonymous said...

I disagree with part of the review , as well as some of the comments. I think this is a really good cd and only time will tell if its a classic. I also disagree with the statement there is no show stopper. I am slave to my compulsion to play "I luv it" on repeat all day. This is classic UGK material on so many levels. I will even break it down for some of yall.

1) Conflict between pimp and jeezy.
They remake a Jezzy hit and makes it so much better. Remind me of a jay-z quote. "For the right price I can even make your shit better."

2)Pimp took exception to boys talkin bout they got it for 16.5 because that aint no real juk. That aint no good price. If u really got the connect, your dope should be way cheaper than that.

Basically it seems to me that boys and no real hustlers.

"I luv it" in my humble opinion is a real dope boys song.

3) I feel like that what the orginal song should have sounded like.

To wrap it up, Its sad to say that this will be the last UGK album. And I have not felt loss like when the Pimp died since Pac. I believe that The Pimp was larger than life. Despit all that its UGK FOREVER.

That wont ever dies as long as Trill niggas still breathing.

RIP Uncle Chad.

Anonymous said...

Just to follow up some. I will correct myself and say this album is great and not really good.

For trill boys Im sure it will be a classic.

The only reason I say only time will tell is ,because a classic is still relevant 10 years later. I believe all UGK ablums continue to be relevant today. I do have favorites.

1)Super Tight
2)Ridin Dirty

After I can fully listen and take in this cd maybe my top two will change. All the cd are at least extremely good and there is classic material on each one.

UGK makes great music and have inspired so many peoples favorite rappers. And then inspired your favorite rapper's favorite rapper.

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