UGK (short for Underground Kingz) were a hip-hop duo from Port Arthur, Texas, USA. Formed in 1987 by long-time friends Chad “Pimp C” Butler and Bernard “Bun B” Freeman, they were highly respected by many of their peers, due in part to their longevity and their entrenchment in hip-hop’s underground.
UGK, from Port Arthur, TX, the neighboring city to Beaumont, TX, released their debut EP The Southern Way in 1992. It was distributed by local record label Bigtyme Recordz and only available as an audio cassette. They quickly caught the attention of Jive Records, and were signed to a five album record contract. Their major label debut album Too Hard to Swallow was released later that same year, on November 10. While it featured several new recordings, it also featured several songs that had been culled from The Southern Way. However, several songs that had been intended to be included on the album were excised at the last minute, apparently due to their overly explicit content. Five of these songs would surface two months before Too Hard to Swallow’s release, on an EP distributed by Bigtyme Recordz; appropriately enough, the EP was titled Banned.
Their sophomore album Super Tight… was released two years later, on August 30. Unlike their previous effort, it managed to break into the Billboard Hot 200, but ultimately peaked at a disappointing #95. Two more years passed before the release of their third album, Ridin’ Dirty. It performed better than either of its predecessors, and almost broke into the Hot 200’s top-ten, before stopping short at #15. Ridin’ Dirty would also be UGK’s last album for the time being, as they went on a five year hiatus not long afterward.
In the interim, UGK made a high-profile guest appearance on Jay-Z’s 2000 smash hit “Big Pimpin” and also appeared on Three 6 Mafia’s hit “Sippin’ on Some Sizzurp” later the very same year. Both of these collaborations greatly increased their reputation, and helped fuel anticipation for their next project. Unfortunately, Jive failed to capitalize on this new-found interest in the duo, as their sixth album, 2001’s Dirty Money, came and went with little or no fanfare.
Further problems arose in 2002, when Pimp C was incarcerated for an aggravated gun assault charge on January 28. Throughout the time of his incarceration, Bun B carried on the UGK name by making numerous guest appearances on songs by other artists, with every appearance either mentioning Pimp C or featuring a “Free Pimp C!” or “Free the Pimp” chant. Many of UGK’s peers did the same, and mentioned Pimp C in their own songs with or without Bun B. During this period, Jive released a Best of UGK album, as well as a Chopped & Screwed remix album.
As a result of Pimp C’s incarceration, both members of UGK began solo careers out of necessity. Rap-A-Lot Records released Pimp C’s solo debut, Sweet James Jones Stories, on March 1, 2005. Bun B later released his own solo foray, Trill, on October 18, 2005. It opened at #6 on the Billboard Hot 200, and also peaked at #1 on Billboard’s Top R&B/Hip-hop Album chart. It was quickly certified gold by the RIAA.
On December 30, 2005, Pimp C was released from prison and was scheduled to be on parole until December 2009. He released his first post-incarceration album, titled Pimpalation, on July 25, 2006.
UGK released Underground Kingz, their 7th studio album in August 2007. The two-disc, 26-track album hit #1 on the Billboard charts after selling 157,000 copies in its first week, strongly supported by the hit single Int’l Players Anthem (I Choose You). The single featured OutKast, and used a beat created by Three 6 Mafia’s DJ Paul and Juicy J, which was originally used in a song by Project Pat.
On December 4th, 2007, Pimp C was found dead at age 33 in his room at Hollywood’s La Mondrian hotel in Los Angeles, California, where he had been playing shows with Too $hort. According to the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office Pimp C died from accidental overdose of Promethazine/Codeine “syrup” combined with a preexisting medical condition known as sleep apnea, which causes a person to stop breathing during sleep. He was buried on December 11th, 2007 in his hometown of Port Arthur, TX.