Ten years ago this week, God saw fit that a Willie Hutch sample lift up the Heavens again. And that Willie Hutch sample, a song from the 1973 blaxploitation classic The Mack, was essentially about pimping. In the give-and-take of human interaction came forth a man who referred to himself as a pimp yet played one on TV and in music. He and his friend, a gifted, no-nonsense rhymer, had carved out a niche as champions of Southern hip-hop. They were royalty, and even told us so.
There may be no more perfect rap song than “International Players Anthem” by UGK and the greatest rap duo Atlanta (if not hip-hop) ever produced in OutKast. The fact that it was tied together by a Project Pat record, produced by Juicy J and DJ Paul of Three 6 Mafia, signified something special. Never had Memphis, Atlanta and Houston (via Port Arthur) flexed their true powers in such a way. The strongest Texas had done up to that point was in 1996, when DJ Screw — another non-Houstonian by way of Smithville — partnered with UGK to release Chapter 182: Ridin’ Dirty. The strongest Memphis had achieved was two years prior, when Three 6 Mafia teamed with Young Buck and 8Ball & MJG for the “Tennessee thang” that was “Stay Fly.”
When “Choose U” belonged to Project Pat, it was a deviation from the rest of his 2002 album Layin’ Da Smackdown. Mostly entrenched in stout, bass-heavy, speaker-blowing production by Juicy J and DJ Paul, the album had one sticky soul sample from Hutch — a name synonymous with Memphis soul, even though he was born in Los Angeles and made his name as a blues and R&B singer from Dallas (of all places). Now, what UGK and OutKast did to “Choose U” was legendary. But Project Pat-tah, French braid, gold tee-fah, decidedly told his story as a taunt. He had not only taken somebody’s woman; he spoiled her to death. She got him tattooed on her arm and in a cruel twist, every child support payment his rival makes to his own lady? Ends up in Pat’s possession. A cold, beautiful game that need be recognized even more.
When Pimp C was in jail on a probation violation in the early 2000s, he heard “Choose U” and wanted it for himself.
When he came home he was like, “Man, I love this song and it was a hit and they didn’t promote that muthafucka like they should,” Bun B told XXL in 2012 in regard to how “International Players Anthem” came to be. “Choose U” was an attractive Project Pat record but his label, Sony, didn’t promote the album because not long after Pat managed to go platinum off the strength of “Chickenhead,” he went to jail. Pimp wanted the beat, no tweaks or anything.
The full story on how “International Players Anthem” came to be the greatest Houston-related rap song not named “Mind Playing Tricks On Me” involves divine intervention, a remix sampler and sheer luck. Oh, and Pimp C having to be pushed to greatness in the same fashion he had to be compelled in order to record a freestyle for Jay Z and UGK’s “Big Pimpin.” A record that was originally supposed to be just UGK and Three 6 Mafia didn’t happen because of label politics. Sony, Three 6’s label home, was enjoying the fact that the trio had managed to snag an Academy Award for their work on the soundtrack to the film Hustle & Flow. Without Three 6 Mafia’s voices on it, Jive, UGK’s longtime friend and foe, had a better idea — get OutKast.
All four verses on the song speak to certain issues of commitment. André 3000, who chose to rap without the drums, decided upon marriage and his final vow to himself before tying the knot. Even if Pimp C didn’t like the verse due to the fact that André went without the drums, it fit 3000’s quixotic and perplexing nature. Andre wasn’t a pimp like Pimp C or Bun B or Big Boi. He was the lesser of the four, an outright lover who often rapped without drums underneath him so his voice could be amplified and made clearer than in his last verse. On “Solo (Reprise),” from Frank Ocean’s Blond, there he is again — sans drums, with only piano keys punctuating every line of his. The same goes for “What A Job” from Devin The Dude’s Waitin’ to Inhale, where the drums are practically buried behind guitar work and even on the last unofficial OutKast record, 2010’s “Royal Flush.”
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The greater debate lies with who had the best verse. Depending on your mood or mental temperature, you may slide with 3000’s final conversation as a single man before tying the knot. Or you could align yourself with Pimp C's mammoth verse, which should have inspired plenty of stores called “Top Notch” with the slogan “Get the most, not the lesser.” You could put yourself in Bun B’s shoes as he flicks his teeth like Goldie, laying down commandments about knowing the game and how it goes. Or, you could dabble with the precision of Big Boi, one of the South’s criminally underrated artists, who saw the after-effects of a marriage gone south and warned less about throat babies from 2000’s “Snappin’ & Trappin’” and more about the consequences of 18 years attached to the wrong person. If your argument is rooted in the idea that crowd participation is a strong indicator of greatness, the battle is between Pimp and 3 Stacks. Because of those two, “International Players Anthem” has become a wedding staple. Well, that and its music video.
In a now oft-replicated video for many a groom party and bevy of bridesmaids, the “International Players Anthem” video may be one of the last moments we actually got a humble Kanye West. Yo Gotti tried to pull off the feat for his "Down In The DM" single; it isn’t as impressive as getting peak T-Pain in 2007 losing his mind as a choir director, a cast of pimps, vixens, comedians, Lukas Haas, Big Gipp, David Banner and more. It also does not feature Pimp C in a mink coat, which is arguably the best Pimp C on video that is not sprinkling salt on a live cow or telling you about the end result of eating so many shrimp. Much like his “Big Pimpin” video, Pimp C was the only one of the four in a mink. Why? “TV ain’t got no temperature,” Bun B recalled his brother and friend saying. Everyone else firmly agreed.
The year 2007 produced more memorable singles than albums, if you think about it. In a four-month stretch, Rich Boy gave us “Throw Some D’s,” T-Pain gave us “Buy U a Drank,” Foxx, Boosie and Webbie gave us “Wipe Me Down,” and Kanye West delivered on “Can’t Tell Me Nothing.” Yet “International Players Anthem” persists as the tried and true, “play it anywhere, watch people react” single. People have proclaimed it to be played during their nuptials, that 3000 verse is the best verse ever (forever-ever, forever-ever) and that Chad L. Butler once and for all was a gem and a rock for hip-hop from here to eternity. That song and the subsequent video are now a decade into my lifetime, and will live for eternity.