As Rocks Off continues our countdown of UGK's Most Insightful Tracks, it's important to point out that this isn't a "best of" list. Perhaps this is a safer route, but it doesn't make the list any less important. Especially as we break into the Top 5, the joking in Part 1 subsides and things get serious. We begin to venture into the most emotional and inspiring tracks in UGK's catalogue.
To catch you up, last Friday, we released rankings six through 10.
10. "Da Game Been Good To Me" 9. "Swishas and Dosha" 8. "Ain't That a Bitch" 7. "Purse Comes First" 6. "Hi Life"
Let's finish strong. UGK's Top 10 Most Insightful Tracks, Pt. 2.
Hands down, the most insightful words to come out the late Pimp C's mouth were "country rap tunes." It was original and incredibly capturing of the times, when people didn't really know how to describe what form of hip-hop the South was generating for the world. To the the unfamiliar Yankee ear, Southern hip-hop can irk, but perhaps more unsettling to outsiders, Southern record sales and radio domination can cause contentious dialogue between regions of America.
What did top-selling author Paulo Coelho write? "If someone isn't what others want them to be, the others become angry."
"Quit Hatin' The South" couldn't have encapsulated the concept of country rap tunes and Coelho's writings in song better, and frankly, it was what needed to be said at the height of a changing hip-hop landscape. Better yet, it needed to be said by an undeniable force in hip-hop.
This track was insightful because it educated whoever listened that hip-hop is a moving and unforgiving bulb. It shifts and it'll leave you in the dark faster than it gave you light. Hip-hop is cyclical. And it's our turn. The bluesy beat and Pimp C's elbow in your mouth lyrical assault was an unexpected pairing to make the kind of statement it made, but it worked.
Bun's insight was more mellow, but hard-hitting in its content eloquently establishing him as a student of hip-hop's roots, someone who supported the music when its spotlight shone furthest from his ZIP code and calling for mutual respect. Willie D echoed the sentiment.
I've been down with rap music since Cold Crush and Melle/ Before MTV put Run-D.M.C. on the tele/ Back when Whodini tried to tell ya about ya friends/ Nigga I was giving rap all my time and my ends/ Bought damn near every record the muthafucka dropped/ West coast gangsta music, East coast hip-hop/ Now it's our time to shine and the tables is turned/ Them muthafuckas aggravated 'cause we gettin some burn
Perhaps when it comes to the subjects of envy and hate, "Diamonds and Wood" cannot be surpassed in its nail-on-the-head, 5:15-long outpour about the two-faced phenomenon that takes hold of one's closest friends when success is apparent, or when your baby momma holds your child hostage and outright wants to destroy your life.
The beauty of "Diamonds" is the weight the simplest of phrases hold with its audience. They have so much impact on the listener, and that was probably due to their ability to resonate, focusing on timeless subject matters -issues that don't have any expiration date.
"I got a baby but his mama act like he ain't mine/ Wicked women use children to live on/ Want to hurt and try to hate because she know the thrill is gone," Pimp C spits.
Baby-mama drama is a universal syndrome and impacts all walks of life. It doesn't favor one race or ethnicity and that's a big reason "Diamonds" penetrated deep into the barrio, ghettos and suburbia alike.
Who could forget the nodding of understanding everyone gave at the track's preface: "Chokin' like a mother fucker got a bone in this throat, let's me know, they can't stand it. But...fuck 'em"
If we were rating the best entrances to a song of all time, well, you already know.
The thing about being insightful is that it doesn't have to be this articulate or profound rant. Sometimes it just has to state the obvious and kind of be the first to do it in a powerful way. "Diamonds" achieved that on an incredible level.
"Niggas frown when you up and smile when you down/ And when you change for the better shife fools stop comin' around."
It was like that in 1994, and it's the same in 2011. Timeless.
Prayer and hip-hop. You won't find these two together on the SATs.
"Peanut butter is to jelly as""
A. Prayer is to hip-hop. B. Car is to driver C. Lawn is to grass D. Ham is to cheese
It's not going to happen. But Pimp C did this seamlessly. He could marry the two beautifully.
But the track's content isn't without conflicting forces. After rapping that he keeps a pistol in his back and a gauge on the floor, Pimp C follows it with, "I wanna go to service/ But I ain't been in so long, kinda make me feel nervous/ Cause they be lookin' at me funny/ Watchin' the plate when I tithe, put in my money."
Pimp C's persona was one of, yes, a pimp, but on "Living this Life" he shows incredible depth as a person that people might not have suspected of him before.
"Ay man, I just look like this," Pimp states at the end of the track. "I ain't get this far bein' no square man. You wanna hide somethin' from black folks, they say you can put it in a book. I don't believe that. Cuz I done read four libraries worth of books."
"Got some knowledge ya'll need to get up on, mayne," he continues "Behold a Pale Horse, know what I'm talkin' bout? 48 Laws of Power. I'm sayin' The Art of War. The Secret Societies of America. Know what I'm talkin' about? Everything ain't what it look like and don't judge a book by it's cover."
The struggle that takes place at the intersection of the life one lives and the conflicting beliefs and standards of your maker... that pretty much sums up Pimp C's prayer at the beginning of "How Long Can It Last."
It's a sticky situation but Pimp C's defense is clear. "Didn't chose this dirty game/ This dirty game done chose me."
Have you ever seen the 2007 drama Gone Baby Gone? At the beginning, the voice of actor Casey Affleck says, "I always believed it was the things you don't choose that makes you who you are.
Your city. Your neighborhood. Your family. People here take pride in these things. Like it was something they'd accomplished. The bodies around their souls. The cities wrapped around those.
As much as people take pride in things they didn't chose, they can also be dealt a bad hand not of their choosing. If you're looking for the insight in "How Long Can It Last," it's exactly that - the lack of choice. Arguably one of Bun's most thoughtful and profound verses of his career, his lyrics paint this picture vividly, driving the point home.
See I was born in the ghetto, mayne I was raised in the hood/ And unless you lived it yourself, it just can't be understood/ People think hustlin is cool (cool), all hustlin is live/ They don't understand hustlers only hustlin to survive/ They wished they lived in the 'burbs ('burbs), wished they didn't have to hang (hang)/ Out on corners in low-income house in projects and slang
They wish their daddy was home (home), mama wasn't on drugs (drugs)/ And they didn't have to grow up to be dealers and thugs (thugs)/ Po' children got aspirations and dreams just like the wealthy (wealthy)/ But it's hard when that environment you live in ain't healthy (healthy)
Of all the preaching one can give about educating oneself, or going to church, or treating others right, perhaps the guiding light principle that allows all those other things to fall into place is that life is short, unexpected, and not assured - that "one day you're here, the next day you're gone." This is the important insight "One Day" gives its listeners.
No hip-hop track has delivered that life lesson so pointedly or emotionally than this one. The No. 1 track on our list is the definitive centerpiece to the group's sermons on life. Perhaps no community than those who live in the ghettos of America, where violence, disease, and incarceration snatch loved ones out the world like a crusted leaf off a tree branch in the fall, know the meaning of this phrase better.
If you look back at the rankings, fifth through second are tracks that have to do with hate, envy, tirelessness with one's situation, prayer to help one's well-being; all of these things can serve as tipping points to a dangerous domino fall. As complicated as life can be - the concept of "One Day" tries to simplify it through song.
Over the weekend, as we were contemplating the rankings with "One Day" already set at No. 1, we were alerted Saturday night that a young man in our hometown of Richmond, Jeremy Ramirez, was murdered, shot multiple times. A good friend of ours saw him pass, as he lived next door to where the shooting took place.
Rocks Off didn't know Jeremy, but the one thing Facebook did was show us how many people in our universe were impacted by his murder and are facing the fact that one day you're here and the next day you're gone. This reinforced "One Day" and its placement on the list.
"One Day" is an insightful track, an anthem that cries an awakening, perhaps indirectly, to love and live hard because you don't know when it will all end. The track's brought to life, unfortunately, by the loss of life.
The family and friends of Jeremy Ramirez unfairly embrace this reality, as expressed by Pimp C:
I asked God why you let these killas live and take my homeboy's son away/ Man if you got kids show em you love em cuz God jus might call em home/ Cuz one day they here but baby the next day they gone
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Rocks Off dedicates this blog to the family of Jeremy Ramirez.
Email Rolando Rodriguez at rolandorodriguezjr22 at gmail dot com.