Born the son of a blues singer father who also played trumpet with the likes of Solomon Burke, late Underground Kingz (UGK) member Pimp C was surrounded by music from the beginning of his life. The recipient of new instruments ever year when Christmastime rolled around, he was gifted an organ before he learned how to talk—an instrument that would later play a critical role in several of his best-known productions.
Growing up with a drum set, organ, and other instruments at his disposal, long practice sessions helped him develop stylistic preferences with the organ that informed his sound. “Later on I would describe the black keys as the more funky keys than the white ones,” he told Andrew Nosnitsky in Part 1 of a three-part Cocaine Blunts interview conducted in December 2006. “I like minor notes, I like playing in that register.”
(I highly recommend checking out Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of this interview. An edited version appeared in an ‘07 issue of Scratch, but this one is uncut and very in-depth.)
Pimp C also developed an ever evolving interest in rap music that led to beatmaking, DJing, writing raps, and eventually singing his own hooks on UGK projects after hearing Run-DMC in 1983. Starting out with pause tape beats in his younger years, he made demos with DJ DMD as Dangerous Music Incorporated by making clever use of DMD’s turntables and a 4-track machine. Over time he evolved to making tracks with Mattel’s Synsonics Drums and a Casio SK-1 keyboard sampler.
After stints with Korg and Roland drum machines he eventually upgraded again to an Alesis HR-16 and an ASR-10 keyboard. Other equipment changes happened throughout his career like the later adoption of an MPC, but regardless of what equipment he used, Pimp C had a knack for making it work.
After forming UGK with Bun B in 1987, the duo released the 1992 EPs The Southern Way and Banned on Bigtyme Recordz before breaking through with their ‘92 debut LP Too Hard To Swallow on Jive. A memorable studio session for their 1994 follow-up Super Tight showed Bun B that his close friend and collaborator was a production master.
In a 2008 retrospective Bun recalled a session with limited access to gear where Pimp C used a a Boss Dr. Rhythm and a simple Casio keyboard to create a “Front, Back & Side to Side” remix that became a fan favorite. “It really opened my eyes up to the fact that my brother wasn’t just a cat that could make beats, he was a real producer,” Bun B said in a 2008 Metal Lungies interview. “Meaning that whatever he was in the room with, he was capable of making a hit record with it and that’s the real meaning of a producer.”
Sadly, Pimp C passed away unexpectedly in 2007—just when his career was entering a promising second act after a three year prison stint from 2002 to 2005. In honor of the later producer and his production savvy, here are five selections from his vast list of credits to highlight his compositional skills.
1) “Front, Back & Side to Side” from UGK’s Super Tight (1994)
Featuring an epic organ replay of The Meters’ “Rigor Mortis” and a chopped and screwed style hook that sample’s the late Eazy-E’s “Boyz-n-the-Hood (Remix),” this timeless UGK classic was massive at the time of its release, remains one of the biggest tracks from their catalog, and hasn’t lost a bit of luster in the 26 years since its release.
2) “Whatcha Gone Do” featuring Pimp C from X-Mob’s Ghetto Mail (1995)
Lake Charles, Louisiana rap act X-Mob’s Ghetto Mail is a fascinating release because it credits Pimp C and Mannie Fresh as producers alongside Bruce "Eightball" Lattin, but the liner notes don’t indicate which tracks each producer is responsible for. On the Pimp C-assisted “Whatcha Gone Do,” Pimp C hopped on the hook, provided a hard as hell verse to round out the track, and crafted an expertly produced instrumental with a buzzy synth bassline, infectious organs, and an interesting, slightly understated drum beat.
3) “Diamonds & Wood” from UGK’s Ridin’ Dirty (1996)
Utilizing a masterful interpolation of Bootsy Collins’ “Munchies for Your Love” and a perfectly chopped and screwed sample of Houston rap group .380’s “Elbows Swang” on the hook, Pimp C created the ultimate backing track for one of the highlights from UGK’s Ridin’ Dirty album. His production here is equal parts funky and mournful, highlighting his ability to maximize the power of minor keys.
4) “Money Stacks” featuring UGK from D’Meka’s Now... Feel Me! (1997)
Cincinnati, Ohio rapper D’Meka showed a great deal of promise after slaying the mic on two albums with the group OTR Clique. Her ‘97 solo debut Now... Feel Me! features an insane production lineup of Rap-A-Lot and Scarface mainstay John Bido, Bootsy Collins, Bud'da, Bad Boy in-house producer/Hitmen member Stevie J, and others. With D’Meka and Bun B effortlessly trading verses and Pimp C singing on the hook, the track “Money Stacks” is a sure shot begging for rediscovery from a broader audience.
5) “Get Crunk” featuring Pimp C from Crooked Lettaz’ Grey Skies (1999)
Pimp C once again showed an unrivaled ability to interpolate his influences on Jackson, Mississippi duo Crooked Lettaz’ lone release Grey Skies—an album that would introduce a then-unknown David Banner to the rap game. Here Pimp C harkened back to his earliest rap influence and replayed Run-DMC’s “Rock Box” with his own soulful sound, giving the track a bit more of an edge than some of the other songs on this list. Six years later Mr. Lee chopped and screwed Pimp C’s vocals and composed a kind of “Get Crunk” interpolation for Paul Wall’s hypnotic “Sippin’ Tha Barre.”
Though impressive, these tracks only scrape the surface of Pimp C’s production work over the years. If you enjoyed them, digging into his full list of credits on Discogs is a worthwhile endeavor.
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