One day you’re here, and then you’re gone
Two years ago, Bun B met Pimp C outside the prison where Pimp had just finished serving four years. The pictures from that day just kill me: these two guys, who’d been through the absolute worst dregs of the music industry alongside each other, finally reunited, finally ready to take the world over now that the sound they’d pioneered together had swept the world. Pimp and Bun always had one of the most fascinating group dynamics in rap. Bun was the voice of hard-won wisdom, his virtuosic gravelly authoritative boom-rumble dispensing common-sense truisms without ever resorting to preachiness or cliche. Pimp, on the other hand, was the snarling nihilistic live-wire, the one who sneered the group’s most vivid threats and come-ons. Even after serving time for aggravated assault, Pimp still acted like an unreformed knucklehead, talking shit on his peers in interviews without thinking twice about it and even instigating a low-level subliminal feud with Young Jeezy over cocaine prices earlier in the year, one that never really ignited probably because Jeezy wasn’t willing to outright dis a legend like Pimp. Because besides being a volatile force, Pimp was also a musical visionary, a kid who translated years of musical training into rap beats, sliding mournful organs and slippery blues guitars under slow-thumping drums, creating a fuller, more expansive sound than just about anyone else in rap at the time. And Pimp was also responsible for some startling, beautiful moments of lyrical clarity, moments that felt even more powerful because Pimp was so outright oblivious to notions of rap positivity. On “One Day,” Pimp even had, for my money, the single most poignant line in the history of his group: “My world a trip; you can ask Bun B, bitch, I ain’t no liar / My man Bobo just lost his baby in a house fire / And when I got on my knees that night to pray / I asked God why you let these killers live and take my homeboy son away.” Pimp and Bun lent each other power and context: two overwhelmingly different people who nonetheless supported each other through years of bullshit, who seemed eternally devoted to each other. I don’t know if I’m ever going to be able to look at those post-prison photos again. Pimp C died this morning. He was 33.
It’ll probably be a while before we know much about Pimp’s death. Right now, only a few details have emerged. LA firemen responded to a 911 call earlier today and found Pimp dead in bed at the Hollywood hotel where he was staying. On Saturday night, he’d performed with Too Short at the House of Blues in LA, a show I would’ve loved to see. And that’s it, that’s all we know. I feel the exact same sense of overwhelming disbelief that I did when I found out ODB died four years ago. Like ODB, Pimp was an unpredictable and sometimes self-destructive figure whose life didn’t necessarily get a whole lot easier once he became famous. Like ODB, he got out of prison shortly before dying. Like ODB, he was often frank about his drug use. And just like with ODB, I didn’t ever think Pimp would actually die. UGK spent its entire lifetime dealing with record-label bullshit; the duo had only just finished up the contract with Jive Records they’d signed in 1992. That label had never managed to turn the duo into major stars even though they had a huge, reverential regional following pretty much from the beginning. After they recorded “Big Pimpin'” with Jay-Z (a move Pimp was initial reluctant to make since he was worried it would alienate his core audience), the label pushed Dirty Money, their next album, back for two years and completely failed to build on the success of the group’s biggest-ever hit. And then Pimp went to prison just as Southern rap was enjoying its commercial ascent, staying there while Houston rap found its improbable spotlight moment in 2005. Even as he sat in prison, though, Bun turned his name into a hometown rallying cry. Pimp actually made good on his post-prison chance to build on that goodwill; he released a pretty good solo album in 2006, and then UGK released on of this year’s great albums, topping the Billboard charts for the first time in their careers. And now he’s dead, just as everything was starting to click. He had a whole lot more great work left in him.
Pimp was one of the greatest producers in rap history. His slow, murmuring organic funk beats left a sonic template for many of the greatest albums of the last fifteen years; it’s hard to imagine how stuff like the classic run of Dungeon Family albums or, say, T.I.’s Trap Muzik would’ve sounded without him. He was also an indelible vocal presence. He always held his own with Bun B even though he had nothing like his partner’s unreal technical command. He sang some gorgeous hooks. He gave some riveting interviews. With UGK, he released six albums, and every last one of them is worthy. The best of them, Ridin’ Dirty, is one of my favorite rap albums of all time. He did some amazing things, and he will be missed. I can’t believe he’s really dead.
Voice review: Dave Stelfox on UGK’s Underground Kingz