Pimp C, rap artist, was born Chad Lamont Butler in Port Arthur, Texas, on December 29, 1973. He was the son of Weslyn and Charleston Butler. Pimp C is best-known as cofounder and one-half of the Houston rap duo UGK (Underground Kingz), whose soulful, blues-based version of “Dirty South” hip-hop helped put Texas rap music in the national spotlight. He, along with his UGK partner Bernard Freeman (aka Bun B), helped to define Southern rap.
The son of a trumpet player who at one time performed with Solomon Burke, Butler grew up in a home filled with jazz, blues, and soul music. He cited his early influences as B. B. King, Ray Charles, Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff, Marvin Gaye, and many other jazz and blues artists. His parents divorced when he was about six, and his mother married Norwood Monroe. Butler’s stepfather was a band teacher who taught him to read music and later influenced him to incorporate more musical instruments into his sound.
Butler first became interested in rap when a friend loaned him an early Run DMC album in 1983. After hearing the record, he began exploring rap’s origins in an effort to learn more about the music that so captivated his imagination. Although his interest in rap music was growing, he also pursued more traditional musical interests. In high school, he studied classical music and received a Division I rating on a tenor solo at a University Interscholastic League choir competition.
While still in high school, Pimp C worked with fellow musicians Mitchell Queen, Bernard “Bun B” Freeman, and Jalon Jackson before eventually settling into a rap collaboration with Bun B to form the group UGK. They released a cassette, The Southern Way, on the small Houston label Bigtyme Recordz in 1988. They landed a deal with Jive Records in 1992. During that same year, the duo released its first major label debut, Too Hard to Swallow. It featured the single “Tell Me Something Good,” a laid-back track that contained a sample of Rufus and Chaka Khan’s tune of the same name. Another song from the album, “Pocket Full of Stones,” was featured on the soundtrack to the movie Menace II Society (1993), helping earn the group some national exposure. The song “Pocket Full of Stones” is emblematic of the rise in “gangsta rap” that came to dominate the hip-hop landscape in the early 1990s. In 1994 UGK released Super Tight; Pimp C produced all the tracks. He also produced most of the songs on UGK’s next release in 1996, Ridin’ Dirty, which reached Number 2 on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart, proving that the group was much more than a regional act and could sell records on a national scale.
Following their success with Ridin’ Dirty, UGK made a number of guest appearances, one on a hit single by Jay-Z entitled “Big Pimpin’” in 1999. This song merged Jay-Z’s Brooklyn-based braggadocio with UGK’s southern slang. The second guest appearance was on a record with the Tennessee-based rap group, Three 6 Mafia, called “Sippin’ on Some Sizzurp,” released in 2000. These recordings boosted the group’s national appeal and proved once again that their fan base extended far beyond the confines of Texas.
In 2001 UGK released its fourth album, Dirty Money. It featured several songs that included sexual content and blatant misogyny, such as “Like a Pimp,” “Pimpin’ Ain’t No Illusion,” and “Money, Hoes, and Power.” The album peaked at Number 2 on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums. The year 2002 brought the release of Side Hustles, the duo’s fifth album. It did not sell as well as previous releases, and UGK suffered further setbacks when Pimp C was arrested and jailed on an aggravated assault charge. After violating probation because he ignored a community service sentence, he spent the next three years in prison. During his imprisonment hip-hop fans and rappers, spearheaded by Bun B, launched a grassroots “Free Pimp C” campaign.
While Pimp C was incarcerated, his label Rap-A-Lot Records released his solo record Sweet James Jones Stories in early 2005. The album included several songs that focused on the “playa/baller” theme—that is the notion of defining one’s self in terms of the money one makes and the women one dates. Through such songs as “I’m a Hustler,” “I’s a Player,” and “Get My Money,” Pimp C focused on recurring themes in rap music—hustling, pimping, and money. He was released from prison on December 30, 2005. In the summer of 2006 another Pimp C solo album, Pimpalation, featured the song “Free” celebrating his release from prison.
In 2007 UGK released the album, Underground Kingz, which debuted at Number 1 on Billboard’s Top 200 chart. It featured guest appearances from such notable rap artists as T. I., Talib Kweli, Rick Ross, Big Daddy Kane, Too Short, Charlie Wilson of the Gap Band, and Outkast. The collaboration with Atlanta-based rappers Outkast, “Int’l Players Anthem (I Choose You),” proved to be the most popular song on the album. Using a sample from a tune produced by Willie Hutch from the 1970s Blaxploitation flick The Mack (1973), the song features two of the South’s most popular groups rapping side-by-side on a single track for the first time. Despite UGK’s growing prominence, the band’s success was short-lived. On December 4, 2007, Pimp C was found dead at the age of thirty-three in the Mondrian Hotel located in West Hollywood, California. His death was ruled accidental and was attributed to a lethal combination of codeine/promethazine and sleep apnea. He was married and had three children. “Int’l Players Anthem” was nominated for a Grammy after Pimp C’s death. UGK’s final album UGK 4 Life was released in 2009.