UGK: Underground Kingz
UGK: Underground Kingz
Common's Finding Forever and UGK's Underground Kingz are "albums" in the true sense of the word: a group of consistent, thematically cohesive songs. This fact alone elevates both above most of the year's rap releases, but while Common coasts by on his consciousness, UGK sounds dissatisfied with delivering product and offers something more than meeting expectations.
Common's album is better if you don't think too hard and just listen to the beats. Kanye West's production makes Finding a success, nearly in spite of the once hungry but now complacent MC's reliance on spiritual clichés (the "love is everything" chorus of "Drivin Me Wild"). "Black Maybe" begins with two effective verses and then all that was subtle becomes obvious through Common's spoken-word outro, which literalizes the song's theme. West's polite keys and light percussion invoke the Last Poets or Gil Scott-Heron more effectively than Common's didactic homage.
On those few tracks where Common does drum up some feeling, the results are invigorating. West mixes a scrunched-up guitar with a ghostly soul sample on "Southside," and Common responds with enough passion to recall his boom-bap masterpiece Resurrection. On "Start the Show," Common lays out the latest crack rappers when he spits, "with 12 monkeys on stage it's hard to see who's a gorilla/ You was better as a drug dealer." Common sounds as detached and clinical as the hustlers he critiques on most tracks, though. Over the span of an album, the differences between "hood" mantras like "get money" and Common's vague references to "the struggle" become negligible.
Underground Kingz is a double album, never a good sign, especially in rap--but it is sprawling instead of bloated and uses its dense track list for complement and counterpoint. "Real Women" is a sincere corrective to "Two Types of Bitches," while the last few songs of disc one dive fully into energetic coke rap before letting up for "Quit Hatin' on the South," a thesis equal parts eloquent and obscene, on why Southern rap should be allowed to shine. Kingz takes more risks than Forever and contains more politically relevant messages and more fun, mindless music too: The result is a worldview without Common's easy answers.
UGK balances aggressive street anthems ("Like That Remix," "Cocaine") with subtler, reflective songs ("Heaven"), and their best tracks combine the two. On the intro "Swisha and Dosha" Pimp C--UGK's producer/rapper who spent four years in a Texas jail for probation violation--reveals that he "ain't have no friends since [he] left the pen" in a mix of anger and depression. Bun B pulls even the occasional misfire out of the pit of gangsta-rap cliché. "Gravy" gets by on his flow alone, but the murder talk is also darker, more real, clinical: "When I put one up in your dome/ You'll be leakin' plasma and pus/ And your mouth'll fill up with foam." UGK raps not just about jail and murder, but also the effects of both; this separates it from the counterfeit drug rappers that dominate rap radio.