As not to offend anyone, I’m no longer calling these album retrospectives “Old School” or whatever the hell I was calling them before. Got the feeling a few of you were feeling kinda old hearing records that came otu when they were in grad school “old school.” Face facts, pimpin–you’re gettin old!
Anyway, it’s not called Take It Back. I should try to get a sponsor like EJ’s Neat-O Stat of the Night or something.
The other way, Big Walt told me he went about copped UGK’s Ridin’ Dirty. Many of you know I’m a big fan of Walt’s, so I was glad to see that he’d copped one of the albums that rocked my adolescence. But then I thought that maybe I should listen to the album again and see if it still hit me as hard as it did when I was 15.
And it does. But in more than one way.
Save for the OutKast collection, there’s an argument that Ridin’ Dirty is the greatest record the South has ever produced. It’s better than anything Scarface did, much better than any of the four Goodie Mob albums…just a magnum opus.
It’s also spectacularly misogynist. I mean really bad. But in nearly all cases, the misogyny is executed flawlessly. I’ll get back to that in a few.
The hook of UGK has always been that they’re uncompromisingly gangsta lyrically and spit over hardcore funk beats. But two things–the beats tend to have an infectious melody and almost always have a sing-songy hook. The trick is that neither sounds pretentious or soft. It’s the path that Dr. Dre really broke with The Chronic, but UGK brought that to the South and did that with a less poppy sound than the G-Funk stuff from the early ’90s.
Oh yeah, and Bun-B is one of the baddest mu’fuckas on planet Earth. Pimp C might be the most influential Southern producer ever. They also have the greatest chemistry outside of Atlanta. They might even have more chemistry than OutKast, but in a less impressive way since Bun and Pimp are different in style but not in subject matter (unlike Dre and Big Boi, who are entirely different).
But it’s on Ridin Dirty that they’re in perfect sync. And it’s on Ridin’ Dirty that Bun went from just being nice to being stratospherically good. Pimp’s beats were never better, which is key because he made a big stylistic shift between the previous record, Super Tight… and Ridin’ Dirty. Super Tight… was grounded in what was his trademark then–fire organ licks. Ridin’ Dirty leaves the organ alone and goes all over the place, much of which comes since Pimp outsourced a lot of the production to N.O. Joe.
(I’m rambling because I could talk about this record forever…moving on.)
I was going to start this look at the record by going through the standout tracks, but I really can’t think of how to pick out just a couple of those. “One Day” is great, even though it’s not breaking any new ground (and does not list Ron Isley in the liner notes, so I don’t believe that’s him on the hook). “Diamonds and Wood” is great for summertime riding, but not great for any reason in particular. Just works, yanno? “Good Stuff” samples the R&B classic of the same name to make a danceable record that compromises absolutely nothing, can make asses shake, and will make a system knock.
There are two absolutely spectacular moments on here, though–“Hi-Life” and “Murder/Pinky Ring.” The former is Pimp’s shining moment and the latter Bun’s.
A frequent criticism of UGK is that Pimp C is little more than a passable emcee. I can’t agree with that. But I also say that as someone who firmly believes Too $hort is one of the greatest rappers of all-time. It has nothing to do with his dexterity with words or his ability to craft a spectacular narrative. What makes Pimp so good is that he’s so self-assured and believable on every track–check “Short Texas” on Too Hard to Swallow for one of the best examples–even though he’s usually saying something I find morally reprehensible. “Hi Life” showed an extension that few would have expected. His verse about everything from dealing with his family to frustrations with church to being afraid of having AIDS is sweeping, scattered brilliance. And it’s all because he doesn’t seem to be faking anything. If he is, he’s a helluva fuckin’ actor. Without question, his verse overshadows Bun’s, and Bun’s is pretty good.
But here’s the thing–Bun dropped a verse on “Murder” that may be one of the greatest ever by anyone from anywhere. It’s rapid fire, it’s got a trippy rhyme scheme, it’s powerful, and it’s absolute genius. I can’t take a quote from it because you can’t take one line and not use another. Plus, dictating it would totally strip the power of hearing it. If you wanna hear the verse, I’ll help you get the song. Good lord.
“Pinky Ring” comes next. I look at them as the same song because the transition between the two is seamless, almost as though Pimp meant for them to be seen as one song. In fact, they’re on the same CD track on Trill Azz Mixes, the mixtape that was released while we were all waiting on Dirty Money. Between these two songs, you see why Bun is so revered. Where he’s overpowering on “Murder,” he’s loose and bouncy on “Pinky Ring” while being no less effective, interesting or amazing. Because of these two tracks, Bun’s performance on Ridin’ Dirty is up there with any spectacular one-man performance you can name. And it is easily the greatest improvement a rapper has ever shown from a previous album. If a home run hitter made that kind of improvement, we’d think he started using HGH. It’s that damn good.
There’s one more moment that has to be mentioned, and it’s the one that really makes me thnk about some things. “Fuck My Car” is about chicks that want cats for their cars and not their personalities. Musically, it’s brilliant. N.O. Joe ripped this on the boards, and Pimp and Bun are as passionate and genuine as ever.
The problem, of course, is this is ridiculous misogyny to the nth degree. But goddam, it’s so well written and well-produced that I’d be lying if i didn’t say it was worth praise. The only problem is that it’s not. Pimp offers “unless your pussy makin ten thousand dollars a week/the only way I’ll see you in my passenger seat/you bitch!” Bun’s not so bad, but he’s got a couple moments.
Oh, and I agree with a lot of what they say on here. Not denying it. Not so keen on how all of it’s said, but there’s truth in the madness.
What does that say about me? Good question.
Looking back, this record is better than I thought it was in ’96. In ’96, I didn’t know what Bun would sound like on an album without Pimp. Pimp is to UGK what Dre is to NWA and all them other cats he works with. He sets the tone. But it’s more with Pimp because he structures the songs, comes up with most of the hooks, and establishes a foundation that Bun can run wild over. A better analogy might be that Pimp is to UGH what Townshend is to The Who. It’s always been Pete’s band and Pete wrote most of the songs, but he did so in a way that allowed Enwistle and Moon to run wild over his rhythms. He’s in charge but not in a egomaniacal sort of way.
Trill showed that Bun needed that. He sounded so restrained at some moments on his solo debut. He got cliche on many moments. He didn’t take a single chance, and the album suffered as a result (still really good, though). Listen to Ridin’ Dirty then listen to Trill. Just that quickly, you’ll be able to see how important Pimp C is, even if you think his flow is simple.
So that’s it. Ridin’ Dirty will still set off whatever you’ve got going. It’s flawed in some of its messages, but it’s flawless in its execution. It deserves to be on any list of classic hip hop albums, great albums of the ’90s, or whatever you’ve got. Unfortunately, there are moments where it feels like I’m imploring people to praise A Birth of a Nation.
But I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was incredible. I’ll let you know when I figure out what that says about me.