Too Hard to Swallow
~ UGK (Underground Kingz)
Label: Big Tyme Recordz / Jive Records
Release Year: 1992
Produced By: Pimp C      Bun B
Bernie Bismark      Shetoro Henderson

Over the years, Hip Hop has seen its share of great duos. From areas as diverse as Brooklyn, New York (M.O.P.); Memphis, Tennessee (Eightball & MJG); and Atlanta, Georgia (Outkast), talented duos have captivated rap fans everywhere with their skills and artistry. In 1992, before any of the aforementioned teams broke ground, two teenagers from the Lone Star State touched down; and they began a decade-plus run on the national (and international) scene. Who were these guys? Pimp C and Bun B, collectively known as UGK.

Representing the southeastern Texas town of Port Arthur, UGK (short for Underground Kingz) was comprised of two young guns brought together by destiny. The group was founded in the late 1980’s by Chad Butler (Pimp C) and his childhood friend Mitchell Queen as Mission Impossible; and after the addition of friends Jelon Jackson and Bernard Freeman (Bun B), Mission Impossible became a quartet known as Four Black Ministers. After both Queen and Jackson left the fold, Butler and Freeman changed their name to Underground Kingz, and soldiered on as a duo. The rechristened UGK released an independent EP called The Southern Way; a copy of which landed on the desk of an executive at Jive Records. Impressed by what he heard, the exec signed the duo to a five-album deal; and in the fall of 1992, they brought their special brand of Southern bravado to the world at large, with their full-length debut Too Hard to Swallow.

Too Hard to Swallow is exquisite in its execution, and a true guilty pleasure. Musically, it’s powered by lush live instrumentation; with butter guitars, bass, and keyboards supporting UGK’s tales of debauchery and mayhem. The 18-year-old Pimp C and 19-year-old Bun B spend most of the album chasing skirts, pushing weight, and firing hollow-points at rivals, but they do it all with expert precision. Several of the songs found here are updates of tracks from The Southern Way, starting with “Something Good”, the busta-taunting opener that uses slinky guitars (played by Rap-A-Lot Records producer Mike Dean) and smooth vocals (from Bruce Lattin) to supplant the Isley Brothers sample from The Southern Way original. The Pimp C solo “Use Me Up” features the gumbo-funk groove from the Bill Withers hit “Use Me”, and it casts C as a lovesick patsy getting played by a woman, who won’t listen when his friends try to talk sense into him. “Short Texas” carries a menacing thump that’s tailor-made for rattling car trunks; and it offers a bird’s eye view of a notorious road in southeast Texas, where gunplay and drug trafficking are everyday activities. “Cocaine In The Back Of The Ride” is harder than granite, with Pimp C and Bun B taking turns spitting rugged, quote-worthy verses, over a subdued bassline kitted with James Brown and Curtis Mayfield loops. The breezy tempo of “Trill Ass Nigga” complements Bun B’s perfectly on his first solo creep; and Bun’s cold demeanor and cocky assertions will be appreciated by paper chasers everywhere. And the liquid-cool “976-Bun B” promotes Bun’s late-night hype hotline; for honeys to call when they’re ready to get smashed properly.

Of the completely original songs found on Too Hard to Swallow, most are extremely tight, and all of them are memorable. “Pocket Full Of Stones” is a dope boy soliloquy that bears a resemblance to the Scarface classic “Money And The Power”. Utilizing a hazy horn break, along with a strings and bass sample of Eugene McDaniels’ “Freedom Death Dance”, Pimp C and Bun B play two street kings who come up fast in the dope game, get imprisoned, and do it all again upon release. “It’s Too Hard To Swallow” is sinfully silky, with guitar and bass strums that nestle against the skin. And Pimp and Bun use this setting to wield their authority, and to show the world that they’re not to be tested. The battle-of-the-sexes song “Cramping My Style” makes use of both the main groove and vamp from the Isley Brothers’ “Between The Sheets”; and it finds Pimp and Bun going back and forth with Port Arthur femcee Infinity: stressing they only want to hit it and quit it, but getting summarily rejected by Infinity. “Feel Like I’m The One Who’s Doin’ Dope” is a disturbing cut similar to the Geto Boys’ “Mind Of A Lunatic”; with Pimp C having psychotic episodes, and imagining himself committing grisly, unspeakable crimes. And on the oral sex ode “I’m So Bad”, Pimp C borrows the melody from the Isley Brothers’ “I Turned You On”, demands fellatio from random women, then tells unwilling females he can fellate himself if they won’t.

Too Hard to Swallow would be the start of a long fascination rap fans would have with the Underground Kingz. Their rhythmic tracks, along with their unpretentious, everyman dispositions, endeared them to rap listeners across the United States. Though Jive Records would inexplicably give them scant promotion, and they’d get little attention from both urban radio and video outlets, UGK still found their way into the hearts of legions of fans. With only the wind at their backs, U.G.K. would sell several hundred thousand copies of this album and every subsequent release on Jive Records. Sadly, their union would end in December of 2007, when Pimp C was found dead in a Los Angeles hotel, due to a combo of sleep apnea and Codeine in his system. Nonetheless, the legacy of the Underground Kingz lives on through the listeners they’ve touched. Check out Too Hard to Swallow, and see their reign unfold from the very beginning.

Review by Syd Caesar

Listen to mp3 songs from Too Hard to Swallow below:

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