UGK's renaissance is one that's been more implied than real, with a decent portion of their best work finding appreciation in weird, non-hip-hop related quarters. (Besides grime, Texas based hip-hop is the second most likely form of hip-hop to find large scale coverage in Wire, a magazine whose primary interests are most often tied into things like improv noise and avant garde tone poems.) And while UGK spent 2007 capitalizing on the inroads that Ridin' Dirty had paved for them by releasing the definitive album of their career, the same year also saw Bun B burying his partner, following Pimp C's cough syrup related death. Like most rappers, Pimp had left behind a decent amount of unreleased recordings, most of which were at some level prepared for what became UGK 4 Life.
UGK 4 Life has the same aspects of Frankenstein construction that all posthumous albums do: disconnect, a surplus of guest stars (ranging from Akon, Too Short & Raheem DaVaughan), but it's still got a firm grasp over what UGK always did best. Bun B, with his rambly, back-straightening delivery of lines like "Chukka deuce. Holla at your boy", following up Pimp C's whispering of hissy-fit insults--this wasn't a duo of men who sounded anything like one another, it was a couple of guys who really liked working with one another, men who shared similar interests: sex, drugs & money, and the parties that combinations of those three would create. And while there's a name check towards Robert Crumb on "Hard As Hell", that sort of quippy aside is there as icing, a fringe benefit for the hardcore who might have questioned if there's anything for them to be found on a song where Akon and Pimp C strangle the syllabic content in a song about having a really fantastic erection. Besides the content and delivery, the other thing that always made up UGK's work remains consistent: the bass is loud, and it's just a little slower than you're used to. The tempo forces a sleepy, lazy quality upon E-40, B-Legit, 8 Ball & MJG's guest appearances on "Used to Be", burying a predictable guitar sample behind the vocals and beats, daring the vocalists: you better bring something, or else this song is going to be about a crappy Aerosmith cover band. And while some of those lyricists fail, it's not wholly surprising. After all, Pimp C uses the album's closer to point out that your career can't be called as such if you're back on couches after a platinum hit. (E-40? We're still trying to make that dog hunt?)
At the bottom of it, Bun B's pre-release warning about that album--that it was going to be a "weird" one--isn't totally accurate. Sure, some of the guest spots are wasted--only god could explain the appeal of Raheem DaVaughan--and the rock guitar samples are store bought crap, but neither of those mistakes hurt the sound enough to make it weird. No, the only argument that credits strangeness would be this: an album, constructed out of the leave behinds of a man who died two years ago, a duo, destroyed forever by that same death--it shouldn't sound this good, it shouldn't be this striking, it shouldn't work as well as it does. Songs about a distaste for hirsute genitals, songs about erect penises and bubbling volcanoes of man milk, they should send one knocking over the tea in the race to claim that Pimp's talents were wasted on half-ass obscenities.
But they don't. They can't. For all its brevity, for all its kitschy transitions, for all its bravado and bombast, UGK 4 Life ends up being the best epitaph that the group could've delivered, the coda that a decade of overblown doomsday poetry has failed to understand.
This shit doesn't mean anything if it ain't fun.
-Tucker Stone, 2009