Big, Texas-size oil-wells of ink have been spilled over the late great Chad Butler aka Pimp C since his passing last month, and more than a little by us. But in these days of heavy weather a little C can be the thing that keeps your head above water, so in that spirit we present this unpublished interview with the man himself, commissioned for the 40th issue of The FADER and never published because C, like Count Chocula, doesn’t show up in photographs. It contains some rare insight into the musical development of UGK and early TX rap, as well as some choice words for the current state of rap radio, rap magazines and C’s own status as “legend,”—exactly the kind of candor that made him a favorite target of radio call-in beef when he was alive. As we keep a lighter up for the Pimp, it’s only right that we remember him not just for his often-under-rated musical contribution but also for his indomitable, smack-talking spirit.
Start me at the beginning, how did you get into rap?
Man I heard it from a friend of mine. I used to spend summers with my Granma in Louisiana; Crowley, LA. My lil homie, he used to spend weekends and summers with his dad, next door. His name was Shannon Holmes. December 1983, he gave me a Run DMC album…at that time I had heard rap songs, had heard people rappin but it didn’t really have an impact on me an I really didn’t take notice to the fact it was what I wanted to do til I heard that record. That was like December ’83, Christmas. I was visiting my Grandmother is what it was, end of ‘83, when they dropped that 1st album.
The self-titled LP?
Yeah…it just said Run DMC. I got to hear it he gave me the album to hold over night and I ended up dubbing the album to cassette tape and this dude Run made me want to rap, man. At that point I started taking notice and researching rap and doing my homework finding out the origin of hiphop music and where it came from, you know what I mean? I couldn’t rap at the time but I knew it was something I wanted to do, so I started trying. That’s what really sparked my interest. It was more Run than DMC but DMC was so nice with his style. I was a fan of DMC but I was captivated by Run’s style, I wanted to be the man. As a kid, when somebody got that kinda influence over a child…you know how strong that can be.
Any particular rhymes that grabbed you?
Yeah man, he was rappin about Cadillacs, man…that Sucker MC rhyme was cold: Two years ago, a friend a mine… (at this point, C launches through the whole “Cadillac / Drove off and he never came back” verse, pausing after each couplet loosed in slo-mo drawl to ask “you know what I’m talkin bout?”). He was telling me a story; it was stripped down, it was just drums and a dude rapping. He captivated me. man. Fly like a dove / Like it come from up above / Rappin on the mic an you can call me Run love. Wouldn’t nobody fly like that.
What about other music; soul, funk?
I grew up in a house, you know…my dad was a trumpet player, he used to play with a jazz cat Solomon Burke…and a lady by the name of Barbara Lynn. He cut some records down in LA before he moved to Texas and they sent him to that Vietnam war and tried to fuck him off, kinda. When he got back home from that war a lot of his hopes and dreams to be a professional musician got put on the back burner, he had to work and get his family goin but he always surrounded me with music. At an early age I was listening to BB King, what have you. Ray Charles, Jimmy Smith, Jimmy Mcgriff, you dig? With the obvious Marvin Gayes and the Motown records. I mean I think everybody that growed up in the ‘70s and ‘80s in them households heard them kinda records. I was getting records that normal people might not get to hear, like the deep jazz records and real blues records and then, times he would be actually playing trumpet in my house. I would see that and he would get me instruments, I mean I had a real organ and a real drum set when I was a child; learnin and just playin by ear.
So how involved were you in the music production side of UGK?
Early on I did all the production for UGK, Like on Southern Way. Yeah, 90% of the production and not for any other reason then I couldn’t find anybody that would give me what I needed, so I had to make it myself.
What was it that you needed?
I mean, I was going to producers trying to buy the song but I couldn’t get what I needed out of em. I would go to em an tell em: look, sample this record and sample this and put this together…and they would try to bring my ideas out of my head and put it onto the tape but they couldn’t quite get it, so at a certain stage I said fuck it and bought a drum machine. I already knew how to read music from high school and from playing instruments and shit, and I knew how to play by ear from being around my dad. My Dad’s name is Charleston Butler, by the way. My dad had taught me at a young age and by watching and listening, I learned. Then my parents broke up when I was about 6 years old, right? My mom ended up remarrying a few years later and ironically my stepfather—his name was Norwood Monroe—he was a band teacher. He knew how to read music and shit and ironically, I don’t know how I got put in that position but he ended up teaching me how to read music. At one point in junior high school he was actually my band teacher, my step-father was. And he would hear me—I always had lil drum machines and was trying to do lil things, whether it was putting two tape decks together and doing dub mixes like that or later on when we got 4-tracks and what not—you know every year for Christmas I got another piece of equipment, and he was listening. I didn’t know he was listening but he told me one day, he said “Man, let me tell you something, that shit you makin is noise. That rap shit is noise,” he said “but let me tell you something before you get mad at me. Man, try to put some music in that shit. I betcha if you can put some music in that you can dominate and you can get rich, know what I mean?” And I thought about it cause at the time, we talking the heyday of New York hip hop, we talking ‘88, ‘89. Shit was… you had the Bomb Squad at that time, you know what I mean, shit was kinda noisy back then. It was: take a bunch of samples put ‘em together and you know, a lot of bass and a lot of noise, which at that time was the sound. But he heard something in it that some people had caught on to, like Too $hort. He was one of the first guys to actually play all the instruments on a record and actually have bass-lines and do that shit for real. By that time I had accumulated a whole bunch of vinyl and shit so I had a bunch of old school records and things of that nature. He told me put some music and that was one of the best things he coulda told me, cause that’s what I did an it worked, man. It worked for us at least. That’s where I get the organ influence, the live bass and the live guitar and the real acoustic pianos and shit like that. That’s where I get the way I make music cause I always remember what he told me. He passed away in 1993, right before the “Pocketful of Stones” remix came out, in fact. The day he died was the day I got the master back before it was about to go on Menace II Society. I got that back the day he died. He told me put some music in that shit, boy, and you gonna win.
Did you have other peers in the south who were doing the same thing at that time?
I was listening to all posts. I was listening to Rodney O and them down in Miami, I was listening to everyone out New York, everyone West Coast. You know Dre was putting music in it a long time ago. All I did was take the good of both sides and try to put it on our music. Our music has a lot of West Coast influence and a lot of East Coast influence. That’s what made us different.
I think people recognize those early UGK records as a blueprint for a southern sound, that’s different from east or west.
Thank you, I take that as a compliment that you would see it that way but it was a whole lot of us making the type of music that we made. Groups like the Convicts, groups like Street Military, Coppertone Conspiracy…all independent groups that never got to get on a major label and really do it major. OG style; Texas got history. Just like New York got Kool Herc, Red Alert, we got people that was putting in work, too. Sir Rap a Lot, which was one of the original Geto Boys, is actually J Prince’s brother. Jukebox, Reddy Red and Raheem…I mean they was making records when it wasn’t a cool thing to be doing. It was a lot of us. We wasn’t the only ones rapping this country style, we was the only ones that had a major record deal and I think that might be the reason why our name gets mentioned and we still around. You can say what you want to about Jive records but Jive records put us out there. Maybe not the way we would’ve liked it to, but had it not been for those soundtracks; Menace II Society, Lowdown Dirty Shame, The Wood, Don’t Be A Menace…all that was good for our career. It put us in places where we may not have been able to get on our own. Like everybody heard Menace, everybody had pretty much seen that movie. Had “Pocketful of Stones” not been on that movie, people up east wouldn’t of heard that record, people on the west wouldn’t a heard that record, cause we were down south selling to our own fans, moving 350-400,000 records down here, ya dig? We the only ones that get mentioned man cause we had a major deal, it was a whole bunch of us at that time putting in work.
So who’s the Kool Herc of Texas?
DJ Screw. After Screw came a host of other peoples, back then it was easier to get a record played on the radio then it is now. Then, every region had its own playlist now everything is generic and stripped down and you got one motherfucker up somewhere in an office programming records for the whole country. Hey man, that’s not cool. People in Chicago don’t want to hear the same records that niggas playing in Texas. People in New York don’t necessarily want to hear the same record that’s playing in Vallejo, but now we getting this shit forced down our throats. Back then you could have a different number one record in every region. Remember that? That’s when rap was good because indie records could get played. You still had indie distribution that would put your shit out, you could get it done without a major. Now these motherfuckers went and bought up all the small independent distributors so they can control the whole game and if you don’t play the way they want, they try to freeze you out. Right or wrong, business is business, but it’s fucking up the music because good records don’t get out no more. Back then, we was putting out independent records and they was going number one on radio down there. Getting rotation, man. It’s no imagination anymore. You can almost close your eyes an turn on the radio in any city and you gonna hear the same 3 records played every hour. What’s fun about that, what’s exciting about that? What happened to the days when the people actually chose the records they were listening to?
But now there are some other avenues for local flavor…
Because it’s like that, a lot of folks have abandoned traditional radio for the Sirius and the XM radio cause its more raw an its not as politically motivated, so people are abandoning radio now. That’s what’s happening and the radio people aren’t making it any better, they got some reverse payola shit going on where they try to force you to come and do free concerts for em and if you don’t come and do em they freeze you out and don’t play your records. They don’t actually tell you straight up “if you don’t come do this free show for us we not gonna play your records” but they insinuate it and they also go as far as to insinuate that if you don’t do it, they wont play anybody else on your label. You know that’s wrong, if you getting on concerts and charging people at the door, the artist is supposed to get some money, now. If you throwin free concerts for the public and they coming…yeah we do free shows, it’s cool, but hey man don’t force me to come and do this shit when you know I got a paid date in this market and you trying to come an fuck me out my money! That’s a whole other conversation for another interview but everything I’m telling you is real. You got two sets of people controlling everything that’s on the radio these days and that’s not right man, it’s not right. The mixshow DJs’ hands is tied you know, DJs that’s been on the air for 15 years, they hands is tied, they can’t even break new records no more like they used to. What’s exciting about that, something got to give. That’s why mixtapes are so big now, that’s why satellite radio is so raw now and they gearing towards that. Its coming back to when I visit my fam in New York and I trade some record you don’t have and you have some shit I don’t have and we dub and trade records we coming back to that, except now we got this wonderful thing called the internet; a blessing an a curse.
Do you think mp3s are breaking records the way tapes and underground radio used to?
You know what the problem is, man? It’s not that stuff undermining CD sales, it’s that most of the CDs are shitty. Bootlegging is a problem, it’s a problem for all of us but if you got a good product people still gonna go to the store and buy it. If somebody told me right now I could turn on my laptop and go get the new 8Ball & MJG album, I’m fit to go on there and get that ‘cause I’m a fan of and I want to hear it now. But guess what? If it’s shitty I just might not go buy it. What’s happening now is people are reviewing these albums a week before they really come out an if its not what its supposed to be, folks aint buying em.
But I still want to talk about the Texas sound you established on those first Jive LPs, and how it influenced what’s coming out of the south now…
Back then, we was making records for our lil town and our lil neighborhood and not consciously shaping a certain sound. We was just making what we thought was the right thing for the people around us. Our attitude was, if the rest of the country and the world catch on, cool. If not, fuck ‘em in the ass, we gon’ keep on making records for the people that understand what we doing. We didn’t consciously shape a certain sound. When I took a handclap out of my 808 and made it into the snare drum and played the hi-hat double time for the first time and shaped the sound that all these motherfuckers is calling all these different names; crunk an all this other shit, I wasn’t settin out to make no statement. I was trying to make a good record for Master P that day, when I made “Break ‘em off Something.” That’s all we ever set out to do is the best we could do that date and be a little bit better than we was the day before. I figured out a long time ago I couldn’t talk like New York, so I stopped trying to do it and I stopped trying to rap like them. This not an act—this is how I towk. This how we talk down here, some of us got a little deeper accent then others but this how we towk, so I said fuck it we gonna talk like this on a record. We sound different, my voice was high-pitched, I was different than the rest, you know, fuck it. Some gonna take to it, some aint gone like it, some gonna love it, let’s roll with it and see what happens.
But does it mess you up that your competition, your contemporaries in the game now, are people you influenced?
It don’t gas me up cause it’s the same relationship, the same influence, that Big Daddy Kane had on me; Schooly D, Ice T and all the rest. When I’m in the room with them, they like my fathers, man. They like my uncles and shit. When I’m with Too $hort, he’s my OG and he gives me game. I try to do the same for the younger cats when I’m around ‘em. People keep using words like “legend” and “pioneer”—all that’s bullshit. Some came before others, we feed off each other. In this world we all use each other every day, there’s nothing wrong when you feed off each other, it’s wrong when you misuse each other, that’s when you fucked up. So if they want to call us legends and say our records were the prototype an that’s how it goes down in history, then good for us, great, but I ain’t letting that shit go to my head cause I’m still in it, know what I mean? Plus, a lot of things they talk about wasn’t new, even then. The west coast influenced a whole lot of the booty shake music that came out of Miami, them niggas up there was using 808s an shit a long time ago. Research Dr. Dre and The World-Class Wrecking Cru and peep how the dance records sounded back then. You got to know that the thing Dre was doing with production influenced the whole world. Anybody say that’s its not true, they a goddamn lier. The man had a tremendous influence on me as a producer. The ‘90s Death Row era shaped everybody’s music…
Funny, I always thought there was a subliminal Texas influence to that whole movement, in the form of D.O.C.
D.O.C. is from Dallas, he moved to LA and he got a lot of flack for not saying he was from Texas, at the time a lot of people kinda looked down on him for that. As far as I’m concerned I’m proud of him, he went out to the west at a time when we wasn’t getting no play and he got in there and by the time they figured out he was a country-ass nigga from Dallas, Texas it was too fuckin late, he was already on with it and making ‘em love it. Much respect to D.O.C. and everybody from that era. Schooly D, man, is the first gangsta rapper, packin pistols…niggas don’t give him his card. Ice T had a hell of a persona early on. Ice Cube was a monster, he was a teenager shaping that…you got to know that that influenced all of us, still to this day.
Is your approach the same now that the landscape has changed for southern rap?
I’m just tryin to do the same thing I was doing. Truth be told, I never dropped a Pimp C album. The first record was a buncha freestyle tapes compiled and pieced together as an LP, that shit wasn’t no solo album. It was a good way to make some money right quick, but it wasn’t no album. This new thing I got (Pimpalation) probably be out by the time this thing go to press. It’s a compilation record. I just read a review on it and the dude was talkin about it was too many people on the album—you dumb motherfucker, don’t you know it’s a compilation record? You stupid motherfucker, you don’t get compilation from Pimpalation? C’mon, man. It was XXL, too, I’ll go on and tell you, I don’t have the dude’s name right in front of me but he’s an asshole, you know what I mean. He gave the record a large but the motherfucker was like “I’m a guest artist on my own record.” And motherfucker it’s a comp…you dumb motherfucker, how dumb can you get, man? Where do they find these people? Back in the day the people reviewing the albums was really fans of the music. (Now) you got dumb motherfuckers reviewing LPs, you got dumb motherfuckers as radio DJs playing the shit that don’t like the music, you got a bunch of white boys sitting in rooms somewhere making the playlist that don’t know they ass from a hole in the ground when it come this music…an you wonder why CD sales is down. And these same motherfuckers that out here callinh theyself “finding and signing talent.” You motherfuckers can’t find no talent! You couldn’t find your dick if it was right there in front of you, how you gonna go out in the street where it’s real at and find some talent?
So does that make you want to keep everything strictly DIY?
Financially, running a label is the smartest thing that anybody could want to do in this business. Of course I got my hands in that UGK records Trill Entertainment. Of course got a few things on the table. If you asking me am I trying to change the game, nah, these motherfuckers need to clean they houses out, man. You got journalists that don’t know shit about the music writing reviews on rap LPs. You dumb motherfucker, get the fuck outta the game you know what I mean? I find that Blender and Rolling Stone do more credible ratings and write ups than rap magazines do…how the fuck did that happen? They write fucked-up shit an then the next issue they print retractions and shit. I just read this shit an it fucked me up, I read this other article an it said “8ball & MJG have not been able to resurrect they career while the south is blowin.” They my favorite group, I don’t want to read no more of that. 8ball & MJG is one-hunned, man, please stop putting out these fucked up reviews!
So what are you focused on right now?
We into the UGK album right now, which should be out Octoberish on Jive. I’m in the process of developing a UGK records artist named Vicious, Smoke D, a chick name Sugar. Vicious is from Lake Charles, Smoke D is from Jackson, Mississippi. Boss from Detroit, she’s down with us. Me and Too $hort got a album called Broad Players; I’m doing things now I always wanted to do. We still on Jive thru Rap a Lot as solo artists, but with UGK Records, Perfecto Entertainment, Trill Entertainment, we putting our hands in a whole buncha baskets an trying to get the eggs up out em, ya dig?
Is your approach different now than it used to be?
It’s a little bit different, time bring changes. Bun grew a whole lot during the time I was away, grew in this business got a hunger for it. It’s more of a team effort than it was for years. We working with some outside producers, taking one day at a time, getting papered up out here. Lil Jon, Mannie Fresh, Jazzie Pha, Jon Vito, who was an original Geto Boys producer.
Not Timbaland? I know for a lot of people “Big Pimpin” is a classic combination…
Hey if you got his numbers, man, I’d love to link him up. Timbaland is a factor, main, you can never get confused about that.
What are you listening to generally?
Rick Ross, I like Jeezy. I’m liking what the streets liking.