The posthumous rap album is perhaps the most vile of Hip Hop banalities. Too often deceased artists are stripped of their identity, their voices ripped from decomposing throats and slapped alongside collaborators they never liked and beats they never would have touched. It’s brand building at the expense of consistency. Jadakiss [click to read] was only half right. Dead rappers do not simply get better promotion. They become products, lifeless shills devoid of artistry. So it’s a blessing that such crass compromises are almost completely absent on UGK 4 Life, the first and final UGK [click to read] album since the untimely passing of producer/rapper Pimp C [click to read].
Surviving rhyme partner Bun B has gone to great measures to follow a blueprint that may have existed in Pimp‘s head. There is no sappy sentimentality and no explicit attempts to eulogize to the fallen rapper in song. In fact the uninitiated might not even realize they are hearing a ghost, were it not for a single “R.I.P.” adlib from guest Snoop Dogg [click to read].
Featuring all original verses and songs, 4 Life is a purposely understated album, especially on the heels of 2007’s sprawling Underground Kingz [click to read]. That album seemed like a major catharsis for Pimp, who aired out demons brought to light by his then recent prison term and had an eerily prescient fascination with his own mortality. Death and jail are mostly absent on 4 Life. Here he is again the Pimp of Too Hard To Swallow, one who almost entirely gets by on brash trash talking and whose idea of artistic development is a newfound (and very vocal) passion for unshaven vagina. Bun too, is doing what he does best – effortless wordplay with just a hint of social commentary.
In effect, the album is a gift to UGK purists. The guests are mostly limited to UGK‘s inner circle and thematic peers – Too Short [click to read], E-40 [click to read] & B-Legit, Eightball & MJG [click to read], Goodie Mob‘s Big Gipp, Boosie & Webbie [click to read] – and the production laced primarily by Pimp and understudies like Steve Below and Cory Mo. The sound only strays from the classic UGK sound of Hammond B-3 organs vamps and stuttering 808s far enough to touch on the late ’70s/early ’80s Soul aesthetic that Pimp himself had been exploring in his last years of his life. The only major blemish is “Hard As Hell” an uncomfortable collaboration with Akon [click to read] that was recorded prior to Pimp‘s passing and probably would’ve been better off left in the vaults.
Though admittedly, the Pimp is missed. Bun has often acknowledged Pimp as the groups main songwriter and his absence is sometimes felt structurally here. Ron Isley, Sleepy Brown and Raheem Devaughn are welcome guest vocalists but less than adequate substitutes for Pimp‘s soulful swagger. And one can’t help but wonder the self-harmonizing he would’ve brought to the seemingly unfinished hook on “Game Been Good To Me” [click to listen] or imagine if the contemplative and dismembered interludes “7th Street” and “Texas Ave.” had been fully fleshed out to form an emotional centerpiece as resonant as “One Day” or “Living This Life.” But these are minor contentions. Bun and company have done a remarkable job of synthesizing Pimp‘s vision given the circumstances. UGK 4 Life needs no formal Pimp C tribute because the album itself is a grand testament to his legacy.