The H-Town Countdown, No. 2: UGK's Ridin' Dirty

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Roughly 84,000 rap albums have been released in Houston since 1989. We're counting down the 25 best of all time every Thursday. Got a problem with the list? Shove it. Just kidding. Friendship. Email it to sheaserrano@gmail.com. UGK Ridin' Dirty (Jive, 1996) When UGK first came into focus with their proper debut Too Hard to Swallow, Pimp C was doing the yeoman's share of the work. He was both the better MC and producer of the two, attributed to the head start he got by his oft-referenced musical upbringing. And with regards to production, Pimp reigned for the duration of his and Bun B's partnership. He just about perfected the "I'm Going To Make This Track Sound Exactly Like Short Texas, But In A Manner That Gives It Just Enough Mainstream Sensibility" formula. From 1993 to 1995, and then again for a stretch from somewhere near the end of 2005 to the middle of 2007, there was no one on the planet better at it. Bun was never going to catch him - not that he wanted to; Bun has zero production credits on no less than three UGK albums. However, by the time their sophomore album, Super Tight, rolled around just two years later, the gap between Pimp and Bun as flat-out rappers had somehow all but disappeared. It was remarkable, and it became almost impossible to discern which was the better MC. The "Who's Better, Bun or Pimp?" argument was one of the great music debates at Ronald McNair Middle School in 1994-95. Other notable debates from that time period: Did John Starks do more to help the Houston Rockets win their first championship than any Rocket not named Olajuwon? (yes); At the very beginning of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony's "Thuggish Ruggish Bone" Layzie says, "You're feeling the strength of the rump," so what the fuck does that mean? (still no clue); and "What does a boob actually feel like?" (still waiting on that one too).

Bun's work ethic was admirable. Everybody had already conceded that THTS was a classic shortly after its release, so it would have been understandable if he just sat back for Super Tight like, "Fuck it. Everyone's feeling UGK right now. I'll just do exactly what I did on the last album. I'm cool with being 87 percent of the rapper that I can be and a supporting role on a championship team."

Instead, he seemed driven to work harder by the prowess of his own ability, kinda like when Kobe came down and worked on his post game with Olajuwon, if you ignore the fact that Kobe is such a prick.

Ridin' Dirty was the natural continuation of the growth from album one to album two. Bun hit his stride as a rapper here, and everything great that he has done since can be traced back to this album. His rat-a-tat cadenced flow became an extension of his personality, and after long enough, his personality became a trademark, which is how he's become one of Houston's universally respected and iconic figures in Houston. With the exception of Scarface circa The Diary and The Fix, nobody embraced the nuances of dynamic lyricism as wholeheartedly as Bun did on this album.

You can pick out any songs you like to demonstrate this point (except "Fuck My Car"; not even Bun and Pimp could pull off the "You go, now I go, now you go, now I go" back and forth buddy-rap premise without sounding a tad hokey), but you really only need 90 seconds of one to do so. Because not only is Bun's one-minute-30-second destruction of the back end of "Murder" the best verse he has ever recorded, it is the single greatest verse by any Southern rap artist in history.

Layered multis, punch lines, metaphors, word plays; they're all there, doused with energy and ethos and cocksuredness and undeniable brilliance and influence. That scatterbrained oft-kilter flow Weezy likes to throw around that everyone tries to copy? This is the blueprint. T.I.'s bounce? Here's where it started. Jeezy's grit? Right here. Luda, Boosie, Gucci, any other Southern rapper with a horrible name? This is where they were birthed. Bun has never been more possessed.

There was no room for arguing anymore after the first three songs of this album were over: Bun had leapfrogged Pimp to become the then-second best rapper in Southern America.

This may be completely by accident, but the album covers of Swallow, Super Tight and Ridin' Dirty seem to imply this same shift. Too Hard has Bun squatting down with Pimp standing over him but leaning down in an "I'm the dominant one in this relationship" manner. Super Tight has both Bun and Pimp at equal heights on the cover. And on Ridin' Dirty, Bun has taken over the dominant position at the forefront with Pimp in the background. (Sometimes it makes me kind of sad that I know this kind of stuff, but I don't know my sons' Social Security numbers.)

And if this album only housed the complete fruition of Bun as a rapper, it still would've been a classic for sure, probably falling back to the No. 5 or 6 spot. But beyond that, and just as importantly, this is also the album where Pimp first put all of the pieces together musically. The church background, the understanding of the then super-insular customs of a still evolving Southern rap and the heavy R&B sampling; Ridin' Dirty was the first time Pimp figured out how to work it all together without compromising any of the moving parts.

This was actually the very first thing Bun mentioned when we asked him why this, above all others, was the marquee UGK album.

So you've got not only the emergence of the guy who would go on to become one of the South's best rappers of all time, as well as Houston's most culturally important MC - Scarface is better in a vacuum, but Bun has an exponentially greater understanding of the fact that sometimes being a rapper is about more than just rapping - but one of the times' finest producers creating a near perfect snapshot of the era ("One Day," "Diamonds and Wood," "Touched," "That's Why I Carry," "Hi-Life" and "3 in Tha Mornin'.").

Yeah, that's good for the No. 2 spot on the list. And really, if you want to argue that it should be No. 1, that's understandable. It's still wrong, but understandable.

References 3. Scarface, The Diary

4. UGK, Too Hard to Swallow 5. Lil' Keke, Don't Mess Wit Texas 6. Scarface, Mr. Scarface Is Back 7. Fat Pat, Ghetto Dreams 8. Devin the Dude, Just Tryin' Ta Live 9. E.S.G., Ocean of Funk 10: OG Style, We Know How To Play 'Em 11. Z-Ro, Let The Truth Be Told 12. Street Military, Don't Give a Damn 13. DJ Screw, 3 N' Tha Mornin' Pt. 2 (Blue) 14. Trae, Restless 15: Chamillionaire, Mixtape Messiah 16: Bushwick Bill, Little Big Man 17: SPM, Never Change 18: Swishahouse, The Day Hell Broke Loose 19: Chamillionaire and Paul Wall, Get Ya Mind Correct 20: Z-Ro, The Life of Joseph W. McVey 21: Ganksta NIP, South Park Psycho 22: Big Hawk, H.A.W.K. 23: K-Rino, Time Traveler 24: Pimp C, Pimpalation 25: Big Moe, City of Syrup Read the rules of The Countdown here.

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