“Houston, we DEFINITELY have a problem!” Texan rap fans may have cause for
concern right about now. Why you ask? Well, put it like this: Paul Wall‘s second
album “bricked”, Slim Thug‘s keeping a low profile, Lil’
can’t drop a dope record to save his life, Mike Jones
isn’t any better and worst of all, Scarface is threatening to
retire! Add the shame of having George W. Bush as a
hometown boy (word to the Dixie Chicks!), and
the Lone Star State is looking pretty suspect right now, especially compared to
their reign in 2005. Still, if anyone can re-ignite that region, it’s UGK. After
six long years and thousands of “Free Pimp C” T-shirts sold, UGK has a
real chance of ‘bringing Texas back’ with their excellent new double
album. Underground Kingz is the official return of this duo,
considered by ‘d-boys’ everywhere and MTV as one of the ten greatest
Hip Hop groups of all time. On their latest record, legendary lyricist Bun
and super producer and wingman Pimp C prove
emphatically that they haven’t lost a step since their last studio outing in
2001 and continue to impress longtime fans and youngsters who were probably
introduced to them on Jay-Z‘sBig Pimpin’.” In
addition, they also show the Hip Hop nation once again that when they’re not
getting crunk, getting their snap on, or pop, drop and locking it, Southern
rappers, like the best of their eastern and western counterparts, can make some
timeless music.

Admittedly, UGK is not, I repeat…not for
everybody! Only southern gangster rap fanatics and open-minded Hip Hop
heads need apply. However, if you look deeper than the endless odes to
pimping, hustling, smoking that sticky-icky and even more pimping that occupy
the immediate surface, you’ll discover two emcees with distinctive voices,
nimble wordplay, melodic production and on occasion, a social
consciousness. It’s those factors that made UGK a proud
representation of Southern rap before it became ‘in vogue’ thanks to the
breakout success of artists like Outkast, T.I. and
Young Jeezy, to name a few. 

On disc one, UGK waste no time in showing you who started
this ‘playalistic pimp ish!’ with “Swishas and Dosha.” The stellar song
has Bun B ‘blacking out’ lyrically and an invigorated Pimp
singing a beauty of a hook and turning Rick RossNoreaga
line from his hit “Hustlin”
into “I know Short Dog, the real Short Dog” saluting Oakland superstar
Too $hort. The real Short Dog himself shows
up on “Life is
a great remake of his classic hit “Life is Too Short.” Then
there’s “Chrome
Plated Woman
,” a summery groove of a song where the duo wax so
poetically about their love affairs with their rides. It almost made me
ashamed to ride the subway! Of course we can’t forget “International Players
,” the album’s lead-off single featuring the aforementioned Outkast,
a pairing that sounds even better on record than it did in theory with Andre
stealing the show as usual.

Underground Kingz sounds like the sonic ‘house party’ celebrating Hip
Hop perfection when suddenly three ‘gate crashers’ arrive. “Gravy” isn’t
the most exciting joint, “Trill N***** don’t Die” is so-so and “Like That (remix)” is
embarrassingly misogynistic, even for UGK! Thankfully Bun
and Pimp C get back on track with the riotous energy
of “Grind Hard”
featuring an impressive Young T.O.E. and “Take The Hood Back,”
a riveting block banger where Slim Thug, Pimp C
and co. assist in a venomous tirade from Bun B at all the
haters who stay “hustling backwards and playing dirty pool in the game!” The
centerpiece of the first half has to be the militant yet bluesy vibe of “Quit Hating The South”
featuring Willie D and soul icon Charlie Wilson. It’s
a song that celebrates rap’s forefathers, defends UGK’s home
turf, scolds East Coast playa-hating and concludes by challenging East Coast
emcees to a record sales duel. It’s audacious, irreverent…and brilliant!

Sixty one minutes later, disc one proves that UGK should’ve
been satisfied with thirteen songs that would’ve been a masterpiece worthy of
their native Port Arthur. Instead, they come back with at least another 60
minutes of thug passion, and honestly, it’s hit or miss. “How Long Will It Last?,”
another duet with Charlie Wilson and “Still Riding Dirty”
featuring Scarface, are both moving songs celebrating and
questioning the lifespan of their hustle. Then in a flash, they smash the
clubs with “Stop-n-Go,”
a record produced by Jazze Pha that’s guaranteed to be a
sure-fire hit. Sadly, it’s not long before things get somewhat spotty in
the second CD. “Two Type of Bitches” for example, has the potential to
plead somewhat of a case, and the surprise cameo from UK grime specialist Dizee
is a great move. But in the end, you can only say the word
‘bitch’ so many times on a record, and that drags the song down (the
unidentified pimp’s rant at the song’s end doesn’t help
either). Ironically, “Two Types…is immediately followed by its polar opposite in “Real Women,” a
joint that actually gives props to the ‘fairer sex’. “Real Women”
also has another surprise cameo with celebrated NY wordsmith Talib
who’s extraordinary with a verse full of tongue twisting
lyricism that even Bone Thugs-Harmony would admire! The
biggest surprise though, is Big Daddy Kane and Kool G
in raw form on the Marley Marl produced “Next Up.” On
this gem of a track, UGK do what many established New York
rappers should’ve been doing: hooking up with some legendary veterans and
really settin’ it off! Great moments like these are repeated on tracks
such as “Cocaine,”
a vivid commentary on the history of the infamous drug capped by an incredible Bun
verse. Or “Hit The Block” featuring T.I., a Swizz
produced joint that may rank among this album’s best
tracks. Unfortunately, sequencing and filler tracks (i.e. the original “Like That”)
lessen the impact of the second CD’s hottest songs. The biggest example
being “Hit The
,” a great song that’s unwisely left at the very end of the
double LP as a bonus track, and worse yet, behind two superfluous versions of “International Players
with guests Three Six Mafia (one is the
original, other is chopped & scewed).

So, with that said, the million dollar questions are these. Overall,
did UGK make a fantastic double album with Underground
? YES! Do Pimp C and Bun B
sound fresher than they ever have? Absolutely! Does the South still
have something to say? Without a doubt! But…is UGK’S new
set a classic? Well folks, not exactly. Like 2Pac’s All
Eyez On Me
and Biggie’sLife After Death before
it, Underground Kingz will probably be considered a classic by most
hip hop masses based on at least 14 great songs and the artist’s esteemed
reputation, but in actuality, it is, at the very most, a flawed, bloated
masterpiece. Truth is, if UGK had cut their output in
half, they would have had the true definition of a ‘classic’ long player on
their hands. Ultimately, what UGK is a real contender for
2007 album of year, and that’s nothing to sneeze at. Don’t mess with (Port
Arthur, Houston) Texas!