RIP Pimp C – Interview Pt. 1
One day you’re here…
Here is a phone interview I conducted with Chad Butler for Scratch last December (an edited version originally ran as “Dope Boy Magic” in Issue #16 Mar/April ’07). I can’t profess to have known Pimp on a personal level, but he was a completely cordial interview subject, ideal really. He opened up like few artists are willing to do, about his musical youth, the early days of UGK, and the then forthcoming Underground Kingz. In the year since he’s gained a rep for giving outlandish, often nonsensical interviews, and that’s a somewhat unfortunate legacy, in retrospect. Hopefully this level headed Q&A will help shed some light on the human behind the entertainment persona.
My condolences go out to his family, friends and fans.
Part one of the interview after the jump
Noz: How’d you first get into making beats and music?
Pimp C: I was interested in music as a youth. My father is a trumpet player. He used to play professionally with Solomon Burke and a few other reputable people. He was a blues singer also, professionally at one time. So I grew up around music. We had a Jukebox in our house when I was small and I could just push buttons and listen to 45s of old music. I came up on a lot of blues – Bobby Bland, jazz – Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff, soul records from the 60’s and 70’s, the Motown sound. I was exposed to that kind of music as a youth. Ever since I could remember my people been buying me instruments, when I couldn’t even talk I had an organ.
N: So you’re classically trained more or less?
C: I wouldn’t it call it that. I never got no training ‘til I went to school. I was playing by ear. I had a drum set and I had the organ and I used to bang out. I learned early on that the white keys was, in my opinion, the “happy” keys and the black keys was the “sad keys.” That’s what I called them. Later on I would describe the black keys as the more funky keys than the white ones. I like minor notes, I like playing in that register, I enjoy the black keys. [But] I feared music at that time so I would stay away from the black keys ‘cause they were sad to me.
N: Then you went on to play in the school band?
C: Yeah, I was a Division 1 trumpet player in the band at school. That’s when you compete with the rest of the kids in your genre for status or what not. I placed Division 1 when I was real young, maybe sixth or seventh grade, and I kept that position all through school. That’s where I learned how to read music. My parents split up when I was a little kid, I was fix or six years old. My parents got two different houses and my Mom remarried when I was eight and actually my band teacher ended up being my step father. He taught me how to actually read notes. I learned B flat because that’s what the trumpet was in first and I moved on to every instrument that had a round mouthpiece. I learned several keys, because we had a thing going on back then that if you made Fs or you didn’t pass your grades, you couldn’t play [in the band]. No pass, no play. And a lot of times people’d fail and they couldn’t go and play, so they’d take me out my home instrument, which was the trumpet, and they’d give me another instrument so I could learn how to play it and fill the spot until that person was able to play again when the new report cards with come out. I played trombone, flugelhorns, I learned how to play the flute, it wasn’t that hard to do ‘cause the flute is in b flat like the trumpet. But every time I’d blow in that flute I’d get head dizzy and it’d make me want to pass out, so I wasn’t too good at the flute. I was used to playing instruments with a round mouth that you had to push pressure on. I learned on those instruments and that’s a fun time in my life. One of the most difficult instruments I ever had to play was a French horn, it’s not very easy, anybody that’s ever played that will tell you it’s not a friendly instrument. But I mastered that too, kept it moving. I also sung in the choir as a youth.
N: I was gonna say that a lot of people don’t even realize that it’s you singing on the hooks on the UGK records.
C: That shit I’m singing on them hooks is just because, a lot of times in the studio we don’t have nobody to sing on the hooks. And back then, when we was doing our early records, I didn’t have no money to pay no singer, so I had to sing ‘em. But I come from a classical background, I came up singing Italian sonnets, negro spirituals and shit of that nature. In fact I was the youngest kid in our state to get a Division 1 on a classical solo in the 9th grade. I think I still hold a record in our state.
N: When did you start getting into the hip hop side of things?
C: I was already into rap by then. I heard Run rapping in December 1983. I was in Louisiana visiting my Grandmother and a friend of mine, his dad had a house next door to hers. He gave me Run for Thanksgiving. I fell in love with Run and from then on I knew I was gonna fuck with [rap], in some way shape or form. Not to get no money, I was just intrigued, I liked it, I wanted to be a part of what was going on in the movement. So from that day on I was buying records in that genre. And I was trying to study where they was coming from up there in the East with this new thing called rap. I had heard rap songs, Kurtis Blow and shit like that, but nothing had an impact on me that made me want to do it like [when] I heard Run.
N: What other shit were you listening to around that time?
C: I was listening to everything. I was trying to soak it up because I was trying to figure out what was going on with that shit. I didn’t understand how they was making that shit sound the way it was sounding. You gotta understand – back then we didn’t know words like producer or production or no shit like that. We didn’t have sense enough to know that everybody didn’t write they own raps, so we wrote our own because we thought everybody wrote theirs. We didn’t have sense enough to know that they had people called producers that actually make the music, so we made our own music because we didn’t know no better. So me being in a position where I wanted to be a rapper, I didn’t have nobody that’d make no beats for me, I was coming from a little town called Port Arthur Texas. So I had to make my own beats. It wasn’t a conscious decision that we was like “We gonna be rappers, we gonna write our own shit, we gonna be producers.” Shit we thought everybody made their own beats, ya dig?
I had been collecting records since I was a little kid, the first record I bought was Rick James Street Songs. And the second album I bought was 1999 by Prince. So I had been collecting records all through the 80s, so when it came time for rap and shit, me being a DJ and going off into that was a natural thing to do. It wasn’t a conscious decision to be a DJ. I was a music lover and I was collecting music. My dad passed records down to me, old school records. I had a library of things to dig in for samples. At some point I got into a group and I was already scratching and doing things like that because I was making beats and trying to put music together.
Every year for Christmas I’d get another piece of equipment – a drum machine, a four track here, a keyboard there.
N: What type of gear you were using?
C: We was dealing with mediocre shit. My first encounter with an electronic drum box was Synsonic Drums, my first encounter with a sampler was a Casio SK-1. But that shit was doper than a motherfucker back then. Anything you could put your voice in and make it play over and over again, that was considered to be some state of the art shit. So we went from Synsonic Drums to Rolands. At that time 808s had already went out of production, so Roland was pushing these 505s, 626s, 707s and 727s at that time. I got a 626. The sounds was kinda shitty but it was a little bit better than Synsonic Drums. And then we went from a 626 to an Alesis HR-6. And further back from that we had these little Korg drum machines, I can’t remember what they was called. It had a live ass hand clap in it, kinda sounded like Linn Drum sounds. But anyway, we fucked with all that shit, shit would come out and we’d step our game up. I’d get a piece here, a piece there, I had a little partner somebody might have a piece, this one over here might have a microphone. We’d put all that shit together and come up with something. Back then you was a cold motherfucker if you had multitrack recording on any level. I come from the era where we used to make pause mixtapes. Two tape decks and pause the tape and back up the break and make it play again. I can remember the time when we had drum machines, but samplers hadn’t come far enough for us to be able to afford one. So instead of using samplers, we had a four track recorder, my DJ, DJ DMD, he was good with his turntables. He would catch the break, but a lot of times we wouldn’t have but one of the records that we was trying to catch the break from, so what he would do was that the drums would be on track one of the four track, he’d play the break for however many bars it’d play, then he’d hit the crossfader, stop it, and hold out for another four bars or whatever what the break went, then he would come back on track two and lay it out again where he left the space. So track two and three was his loop. After that he would take tracks two and three and bounce both of them to four, combine two and three so it played as a loop. That’s how we had to do samples. We was actually catching the break like we did when the niggas in New York was at the parties and the DJ was catching the break on two records. But we didn’t have two records, so we’d do it with one record and a drum machine.
N: What was the name of the group with DMD?
C: The first group I was in with DMD was Dangerous Music Incorporated. DMI was the abbreviation.
N: Now were you guys doing shows back then or just making tapes?
C: Naw man, no shows, we just in a house making demo tapes.
N: Was there no kind of a scene down there in Port Arthur?
C: Naw man, wasn’t no scene. At that time, we had the Ghetto Boys in Houston. Not the Geto Boys as you know it now, but a different Ghetto Boys.
N: The original lineup with K-9 and them.
C: Not that far back, shit. By the time I heard the Ghetto Boys they was on Makin Trouble. I didn’t really know about K-9 and them until later on in life. By the time I heard “Car Freaks” I was already in the rap game. I didn’t even know that record existed [when it came out].
N: So that didn’t even make it out there to you guys?
C: Nah, “Car Freaks” didn’t. I think that’s the only record K-9, Raheem and Jukebox was on. K-9 went to prison. So the second group was when we heard them, Makin’ Trouble. Bushwick came in, Ready Redd, Johnny C and Jukebox. Jukebox ended up going to prison after that and that’s when Scarface and Willie D came into the group.
Click here to read part two…