"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' Flip 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 B 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's "Big 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 C singing a beauty of a hook and turning Rick Ross' Noreaga 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 2009," 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 Anthem," 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 Rascal 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 Kweli 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 Rap 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 B verse. Or "Hit The Block" featuring T.I., a Swizz Beats 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 Block," 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 Anthem" 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 Kingz? 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's Life 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!