The joys of Bun B go much deeper than those of your typical Southern trap rapper. Ever since 1993, when Bun and Pimp C dropped "Pocket Full of Stones," listening to their group, UGK, has been a sublime experience. Swagger-filled yet brutally honest, "Pocket" — whose line "pistol-grip pump in my lap at all times" was famously sampled by Volume Ten — remains one of the more poignant treatises on inner-city socioeconomics to date.
In the pre-crunk era, before the rise of the South, the members of UGK were unabashedly country when country wasn't cool. Their accents twanged, their beats plodded, and they came from a small Texas town (Port Arthur) known primarily for its failing oil industry. Yet they had the hustle, the heart, and the determination to become mythic figures in the Southern rap pantheon — even though for the first decade or so of their 15-year career, hella people slept on UGK hard.
Yet UGK firmly stayed true to themselves. Influenced by Run-DMC, NWA, and the Geto Boys, they created a style that has become ubiquitous in hindsight. If Pimp's flashy, cocky persona was the treble, Bun was the bass; less ostentatious but equally self-assured, his baritone flows seeped like molasses around UGK's bluesy, funk-derived beats. He could suddenly switch up with double-time cadences at a moment's notice.
Bun and Pimp captured the essence of Texas' rebel/outlaw mystique — both in terms of their stance against society and their position in the music industry. Instead of describing dance steps, they frequently addressed the emotional consequences of ghetto life. Bun's verse on "Diamonds & Wood" is a classic example: "At this time of year/I'm wiping away my dead homie's mama's tears." On "Protect & Serve," he vented his feelings about harassment by law enforcement over a chopped NWA sample: "It was me at the scene of the crime? I wasn't there/Bitch, I was at home with blistered feet/Soaking my dogs with my gal smoking a Swisher Sweet."
Over the years, UGK tirelessly built its fan base, networking with everyone from Three 6 Mafia to Devin the Dude to OutKast, Ludacris, Yin Yang Twins, and Too $hort. They've become definitive examples of "trill" — that ubiquitous Southern phrase meaning "true" and "real" — yet until recently, they received little label support.
After UGK's appearance on Jay-Z's 1999 hit "Big Pimpin," superstar status seemed certain. But their 2001 album, Dirty Money, was severely underpromoted, and in 2002, Pimp C caught a gun case and went away for three years. During this time, Bun dropped the solo album Trill, appeared on Beyoncé's #1 hit "Check on It," and declared "Free Pimp C" on his numerous guest appearances. Meanwhile, Houston's scene was "discovered" by major labels that put out successful releases by artists like Chamillionaire, Slim Thug, Paul Wall, and Mike Jones — all of whom were heavily influenced by UGK.
In 2007, UGK's eponymous comeback album spawned its biggest hit, "International Players Anthem (I Choose You)," which won a BET Hip Hop Award and hit the UK Top 10. Further cementing their global mackdom was UGK's appearance on Dizzee Rascal's "Where's Da G's," on which Bun requests that fake gangsters "just tell the truth for real" over a pulsating industrial beat.
Sadly, just when the rap industry was finally giving UGK some long-deserved respect, Pimp C's accidental death in a Hollywood hotel room (from a combination of codeine and sleep apnea) in December brought an untimely end to the group. Following a posthumous outpouring of belated appreciation from media outlets, UGK's legacy as Southern rap pioneers now seems assured. But while Pimp C steers that white Cadillac with the woodgrain interior across the sky, Bun B soldiers on, a trill legend in his own time.