“Looking for the high life”
It’s 1992. The west coast break out with none other than Dr. Dre’s classic The Chronic, which established G-Funk and carefree hood life as essential hip-hop themes. Songs like “The Day the Niggaz Took Over” and “Lil’ Ghetto Boy” helped show rappers were aware of their living conditions, and didn’t just glorify them.
The south built on that and took the next step. DJ Screw already had an affinity for the sound, so it’s only natural he linked with the Bay scene and made remixes happen; as a result, the Screwed Up Click took inspiration. UGK’s two releases before this were as muddy as it gets, but this one really ran the term “dirty south” miles ahead of the record’s time. It was classic southern hip-hop, G-Funk, and even early styles of trap all-in-one.
Being what was once a completely obscure release, seeing this album reach such a degree of importance is remarkable. Twenty-five years later, it is regarded as the apex of Houston’s hip-hop scene and UGK’s most clear masterpiece. However, the real question is…what did it take for them to create something so excellent?
If that could be answered in a few words, it would be “through breaking boundaries”.
“Short Texas bring the ruckus”
As the early hotspot for southern hip-hop, Atlanta set a pretty immediate precedent for what to expect from the scene. Hypnotic flows, standout accents, and perhaps weird approaches to conscious rapping were the big selling points. However, Houston had other ideas; a widely local and hidden scene, UGK were among many approaching hip-hop in their own special way.
With a large focus on confidence and delivery, Ridin’ Dirty‘s strongest aspect was how commanding Pimp and Bun are throughout. They knew how to assert dominance as a force to be reckoned with not only in the hip-hop game, but also on the block. They knew what their situation was like and translated it to motivation; the skills displayed on this album were otherworldly, and it was clear this was the defining work of their career.
Most importantly, it’s worth taking a look at what exactly rooted the duo as some of the best to do it on this album…
Pimp C had always been the duo’s main producer, but on Ridin’ Dirty he took a backseat to work alongside N.O. Joe, who was already acclaimed for his work with Scarface in and out of the Geto Boys. This actually brought the best out of Pimp’s beatmaking, as these beats were UGK’s most layered and well-made to date. Tracks such as “Diamonds & Wood” are perfectly laid-back in sound, whereas others like “Hi Life” take the synths of G-Funk to a completely different level. This doesn’t even account for his consistent verse game, being the star of several tracks.
Bun B, on the contrary, takes over lyrically. Bun rests as one of hip-hop’s best emcees and this album proves why; just look at his verse from “Murder”. Arguably the greatest rhyme scheme of all-time.
Bun not only has the standout voice, but also the rhyming capability. He goes far too underrated in best lyricists discussions, especially with his performances on this album considered. He’s not only a master of technicality, either; his verses are often the most vivid and defining of each track, boldly stating what UGK is truly about. Visit “One Day” and “That’s Why I Carry” for even more proof of that.
The two’s chemistry reaches absolute perfection, bouncing off one another’s best qualities with no sloppiness or difficulty. This is what a true duo is.
“I’m lookin’ at H-Town”
Despite being very low-key in the moment, Ridin’ Dirty is the definition of a true classic record. One that remains stable and influential years later, and even arguably increases in popularity.
This album’s influence on the south’s sound is arguably the most important in hip-hop history. UGK was not afraid to use gritty, loud drums and fiery production to back their bombastic rapping, which is something trap so clearly took after. Even though the younger sub-genre may derive more from the likes of a Mystic Stylez sonically, its confident and larger-than-life nature traces back to this masterpiece right here.
This was not perhaps the breakthrough for UGK commercially, but it definitely proved they were the most talented out Houston. Their popular releases and collaborations came later; this was a stepping stone for such success. In the meantime, the two of them were able to bask in their newfound legacy as southern pioneers, influencing many after them.
The middle generation was never afraid to get to work with the two because of what they proved; T.I. collaborated with them multiple times while rising in popularity, and records of Drake working with Bun B exist dating back to 2009. From Big K.R.I.T. to A$AP Rocky, even the modern generation is frequently appreciative of UGK and cites them as influences. Ridin’ Dirty was the album that made this possible.
From rags to riches? Absolutely. The Underground Kingz would never do any less.