The H-Town Countdown, No. 4: UGK's Too Hard to Swallow

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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 sheaserrano@gmail.com. UGK Too Hard to Swallow (Jive, 1992) How cocksure is Bun B? The first time we spoke with him regarding the UGK albums that made The Countdown -yes, that's "albums," plural, meaning another UGK LP will pop up by the end of this list; aren't you clever for figuring that out? - he didn't ask to know what albums made it, let alone where they ranked. He even went so far as to explicitly ask to not be told what landed where so he could be surprised. Devin the Dude also didn't ask where he settled in. When we let him know that Just Tryin' Ta Live fell in at the impressive 8th spot, he seemed genuinely and affectionately pleased, responding, "Ah, man, I sure do I appreciate that." He sounds the same way when he talks as he does when he sings, by the way. His words just buzz out in cadence. We kept expecting him to follow up his response with some rhyme about tits and weed. He didn't. We didn't give Chamillionaire a chance to ask where Get Ya Mind Right landed, instead opening the conversation with how it finished in the Top 20. When we told him that it beat out his official solo albums - even the one that won him a Grammy - he seemed totally okay with that. He also seemed fine with our assertion that Mixtape Messiah was the best work he's ever done, confirming that he too feels he's at his best when he feels he has something to prove.

Ganksta NIP and KB Da Kidnappa of Street Military both asked what spot they earned. Admirably, NIP even lobbied for a higher spot, citing himself as the founder of a subgenre of rap and thus deserving of at least a Top 15 placement. We laughed because we were nervous, and then placed him at No. 21 because that's exactly where he belonged. Keke brushed us off, even after we tried to play to his ego by repeating that he made the fifth best Houston rap album of all time over and over. This further justified his ranking, somehow. As soon as we mentioned The Countdown to Trae, he boomed "What's your No. 1 pick?" He didn't even concern himself with whether or not any of his albums made it (which we should've anticipated). We had not planned on telling anyone who landed in the top spot, but sitting there on his couch, exactly two feet away from him - perfect punching range, in other words - we panicked and blurted it out. He was not displeased. Then we listened to him argue that Jadakiss is a great rapper (his words) even though his albums almost always are terrible (our words). Rappers are funny.

But the second time we spoke to Bun B about The Countdown, we asked him specifically about what

Too Hard to Swallow

, UGK's monumental debut* album, has come to represent. Bun's response: "When I listen to it now, I hear how raw and unfiltered it was; everything we were and everything we wanted to become." Two things here:

1) For certain, who do you know that talks like in everyday conversation? It seems like something Morgan Freeman would say in The Shawshank Redemption. Everyone should be allowed to talk to Bun for five minutes at least once in his or her life. This is how he discusses everything. It's really something. 2) This is just about the perfect synopsis of this album. Read on...

What UGK Were:
  • They certainly were raw. Listening now, it's obvious how much Bun has evolved as an MC. Aurally, his flow is less tightly wound than it is now (sort of the opposite of how that usually goes) and thematically, it's more freewheeling than it eventually became. When Bun sets his sights on something now, he crushes it into oblivion. (We first saw signs of this on Ridin' Dirty, UGK's third full-length album.) This is why new bloods like Drake regularly tap Bun for features. Also, because he's cool as eff.
  • Pimp, on the other hand, drips onto the first track with all the fashion and sway that his sound would ever possess. It was amazing, even moreso in retrospect. There's no arguing that Pimp was the better rapper at UGK's onset, with Bun catching up fully by 1994 and surpassing him by 1996.
  • And they certainly were unfiltered. You needn't look any further than the album's first song, "Something Good," which samples the similarly titled Rufus track. This is actually more clever than you'd anticipate. Both tracks deal with similar themes (pride and a love of things that are good, mostly). Bun B just happens to discuss it within the context of kicking the shit out of you while Pimp C frames it with references to your drinking his semen when you 69 your woman because he's already skeeted inside her. Chaka Kahn was probably none too pleased with UGK's adaptation.
  • The duration of the album continues in suit, with Pimp providing the flair and Bun providing the substance.

What UGK Became:

  • It's not inaccurate to refer to UGK, and by extension, this album, as transcendent.
  • Their fingerprints can be seen all across rap's landscape. Headliners in the South regularly big-up the duo. (For obvious examples, see T.I.'s "Front, Back," or, really anything from King.) It's completely possible to tie every album of significance from the South since 1992 back to Swallow. And if you're feeling particularly self-righteous, you might even be able to argue that it's also responsible for some albums that came before it.
  • Even far, far away MCs tugged on UGK's coattails. See Jigga's famously referenced "Big Pimpin'" for a substantial example, or even the Washington, D.C.-based Wale's "Chillin'" if you want to show how hip you are.
  • The album even foreshadows UGK's own future albums. They've all since dabbled heavily in country rap, focusing on pimping, pussy, levels of trillness (yes, that all started here), regional pride and so on. Also, THTS samples no less than nine songs, a staple of any UGK album. (UGK 4 Life, the farewell UGK album, samples six.) Not to mention their own understanding of the importance of paying mind to rappers that came before them ("976-Bun B" is a clear homage to Royal Flush's 1991 album 976-Dope.)
  • Too Hard To Swallow is the rare debut album that hinted at the significance its creators would eventually possess. And it's still only the second-best UGK album ever.

*Seven of the tracks on THTS were imported from The Southern Way, an EP UGK released only on cassette in 1988 through Bigtyme Records. So calling it a debut is a bit of a misnomer. We point this out solely because jbell would've eventually done so in the comments section had we not. References 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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