UGK (Underground Kingz)
Most of the strengths from UGK's new No. 1 album—rap's best double CD since Wu-Tang Forever—come from its staggering range: With Bun B and the recently unincarcerated Pimp C finally reunited on record for the first time since 2001's Dirty Money, Underground Kingz comes across like an explosion of pent-up ideas. They find new ways to elaborate on the traditional hustles—describing the history of the coke trade on "Cocaine" ("It's been around for hundreds of years, exploited by the rich/They even use to put it in Coca-Cola, ain't that a bitch"), jabbing at e-haters who spend their time "MySpacein' and Facebookin'" on "Swishas and Dosha," running webcam porn on "The Game Belongs to Me." And they pull off Tupac-caliber conflicted-thug sentiments on tracks like "Heaven" and "Living This Life," while creating an uplifting self-respect anthem in "Shattered Dreams."
Yet they never lose their swagger, with Pimp C swinging haymakers full-throttle and Bun B juking his way through beats like legendary Oilers running back Earl Campbell. Both MCs sound authoritative pitted against the slow-riding tempos, with production that's a clean, digital, and sumptuous update of classic Southern soul. But even as "Quit Hatin' the South" asserts their region's stylistic and chart supremacy, everyone from New York's Big Daddy Kane and Kool G Rap to Oakland's Too $hort to London's Dizzee Rascal shows up on their guest list to share space with Southern stars like Z-Ro, T.I., and Scarface.
Hip hop's post-Imus morality crisis means the genre's at its most uncomfortable moment under the cultural microscope since Tone Loc (Tone Loc??!) represented "Rap Rage" on the cover of Newsweek 17 years ago. Subsequently, there's a good chance that UGK are going to fill the same scapegoat role fellow Houstonians the Geto Boys did at the turn of the '90s: as the toxic, unscrupulous gangsta corruptors of America's downy-soft innocence. But Bun B and Pimp C are smarter and more introspective about their place in the culture than most pop-music outlaw antiheroes, which is why, among the talk of pimping and pushing and silencing snitches, it's a significant statement that they repeatedly refer to themselves as Big Dick Cheney and Tony Snow. Pushing weight's one thing, but it doesn't demolish Southern 'hoods like post-Katrina governmental apathy.