Happy 25th Anniversary to UGK’s second studio album Super Tight…, originally released August 30, 1994.
You could be forgiven for thinking that UGK’s debut album was 1996’s Ridin’ Dirty, the sleeper hit that sold a lot of units and brought UGK (Bernard “Bun B” Freeman and the late Chad “Pimp C” Butler) to a level of attention beyond the extremities of southern rap. Alternatively, they might have only appeared on your radar at the start of the millennium after the Port Arthur, Texas group were featured on big singles with Three 6 Mafia and Jay-Z.
Ridin’ Dirty was in fact their third album, and if you are only familiar with that record onwards you are missing out on UGK’s earlier product: their debut album, Too Hard To Swallow, the EPs The Southern Way and Banned (all released in 1992), and Super Tight…, which came out in August 1994.
Super Tight is probably the closest of their earlier efforts to Ridin’ Dirty in terms of sound and confidence, but in another sense they are quite different. Ridin’ Dirty feels louder, flashier and more polished than Super Tight, even down to the artwork. Compare the two album covers and you’ll notice Ridin’ Dirty has professional artwork that a designer has spent time putting together. The cover of Super Tight, meanwhile, is basic with little in the way of flare or finesse. And that’s exactly what is good about the album. If Ridin’ Dirty was UGK on the cusp of national stardom, Super Tight feels like it comes from a more honest and down-to-earth place.
Pimp C produces the entirety of Super Tight. It is unabashedly southern in its soundtrack, and this is given an extra level of authenticity by having New Orleans musician Leo Nocentelli play on the album. His group, The Meters, have been sampled in hundreds of rap songs, including Super Tight track “Front, Back & Side to Side,” which incorporates elements of 1969’s “Rigor Mortis.” But to have one of the group’s members actually contribute in the studio was a nice added bonus and shows a dedication to real musicality from Pimp C that some probably wouldn’t have expected.
Pimp C also skillfully flips different kinds of beats throughout the album’s 11 songs, guiding the lyrical content through moments of joy, violence and anger; there are upbeat, breezy songs (“It's Supposed to Bubble,” “Front, Back & Side to Side”) mixed among darker, more sinister ones (“Return,” “Underground,” “Protect & Serve”).
In front of the mic, UGK worked because Bun B and Pimp C are two quite different rappers. The latter is brash and in-your-face while the former is laidback (although Bun B’s deep, distinctive southern vocal tone hadn’t yet come to the surface on Super Tight). Together they made a powerful, menacing double act that contrasted and complemented each other in a similar way to how Chuck D plays the serious man to Flavor Flav’s court jester, or how Scarface articulated more eloquently the maniacal ramblings of Bushwick Bill as two thirds of Texas’ other legendary rap group, the Geto Boys.
There are also traces in Bun B and Pimp C of how the conflicting styles between Ice Cube and Eazy-E somehow worked perfectly in N.W.A. They were clearly a heavy influence on UGK and there are two songs back-to-back on Super Tight that sample the music of the notorious Compton group. Pimp C lifts Eazy-E’s voice from “Boyz-N-The Hood (remix)” for the brilliant, feel-good “Front, Back & Side to Side.” On “Protect & Serve”, the cautionary tale of crooked cops is enhanced with a scratched sample of Ice Cube’s “Fuck the Police” refrain from N.W.A’s most controversial song. Incidentally, WC and The Maad Circle recreated Eazy-E’s “Front, back, side to side” line a year after Super Tight in 1995 on their own classic single “West Up!,” which featured Ice Cube.
UGK followed Ridin’ Dirty with two more albums—Dirty Money in 2001 and Underground Kingz in 2007—before Pimp C died of an accidental drug overdose aged 33. UGK 4 Life was released in 2009 as a posthumous tribute to Pimp C. Bun B is still active and happy to play the role of elder statesmen respected by seemingly everyone. Pimp C’s death is still a painful subject for Bun B, as evidenced by his appearance in a recent episode of the Netflix series Hip-Hop Evolution where he broke down in tears while discussing his lost partner.