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jAy Z

featuring uGK

What this song is about Impulsive living.

Why it’s important Jay Z was, by then, a certified star. UGK, while heralded in rap, was still largely unknown outside of their core fan base. Their pairing here, and the success that came from it, helped rearticulate the northern and southern rap conversation.

The Rap Year Book


The very first thing we see in the video for “Big Pimpin’” is a very big yacht, and all through the video the party that happens on it and away from it is a very big spectacle, and the very last thing we see in the video for “Big Pimpin’” is the very big yacht, and that was all a deliberate move to relay the following:

Jay wrote “Big Pimpin’” shortly after he’d been charged with assault for stabbing record producer Lance Rivera in the stomach during an altercation at a nightclub. 1 Had he been convicted, he might have seen upward of fifteen years in prison. That possible reality served as the impetus for the world he built in “Big Pimpin’”: “The contrast be- tween the million-dollar extravagance of the ‘Big Pimpin’’ video and the potential of be- ing behind bars for years behind a mindless assault wasn’t lost on me. Both were about

losing control.” Jay Z wrote that in his 2010 book, Decoded. He further explained: “It’s a song that seems to be about the purity of the hustler’s thrill—pleasure cooked down to

a crystal.” And even further: “If the price is life, then you better get what you paid for.

There’s an equal and opposite relationship between balling and falling.” He anticipated

a catastrophic fall, so he balled stratospherically. His pimpin’ was the biggest it ever was,

and ever got, really. When the actual trial date neared, though, Jay hedged his bet. Nervous he’d catch the violent reflex of a justice system that’d attempted and failed to lock up Puff Daddy the win- ter before for a shootout he was involved in at a separate New York nightclub, Jay settled (“No way was I going to allow myself to be a sideshow for the state”). He pled guilty to the charge and received three years probation, 2 and that is 100 percent a fair trade. 3 It’s a weird thing to be thankful that someone was stabbed, but I am grateful to Rivera for taking that L, as we all should be. 4 Without that happening, (maybe) Jay isn’t motivat- ed to live through the “most paranoid and hedonistic” period of his life, and so we (may- be) don’t get “Big Pimpin’.” That would’ve been a real tragedy. He should’ve stabbed five or six more people. He might’ve written the most transcendent rap album of all. 5

tragedy. He should’ve stabbed five or six more people. He might’ve written the most transcendent rap


He might’ve written the most transcendent rap album of all. 5 RAPYEARBOOK_4thPASS_0507.indd 136-137 5/11/15 5:13 PM
He might’ve written the most transcendent rap album of all. 5 RAPYEARBOOK_4thPASS_0507.indd 136-137 5/11/15 5:13 PM


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138 RAPYEARBOOK_4thPASS_0507.indd 138-139 The Rap Year Book 139 ♦ Jay Z had twenty career singles before
138 RAPYEARBOOK_4thPASS_0507.indd 138-139 The Rap Year Book 139 ♦ Jay Z had twenty career singles before


The Rap Year Book


Jay Z had twenty career singles before “Big Pimpin’.” Of those, only three were RIAA certified gold (“Dead Presidents,” “Can

I Get a

first platinum single. 6 “Big Pimpin’” was also UGK’s first career platinum single. The song was produced by Timbaland (a true hero), and the video, which became the first rap video featured on MTV’s Making the Video, which carries with it its own knot of supplemental offshoots, was directed by Hype Williams (also

a true hero). The song was included in Rolling Stone’s count-

down of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (number 467) as well as their countdown of the 50 Greatest Hip-Hop Songs of All Time (number 16). It was nominated for a Grammy (Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group) and an MTV VMA (Best Rap Video). In totality, it was the most successful pairing of a rapper from the North with rappers from the South 7 that had occurred up to that moment, and its brilliance lent itself as inspiration for others to try, even if they never could quite match the glow.

Quick aside: Rap videos with less impressive boats. 2nd Place: The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Hypnotize,” featuring Puff Daddy (1997) The boat here is the second most im- pressive rap video boat. Biggie’s bowler hat is the first best bowler hat, though. 3rd: young Bleed’s “How ya Do Dat,” featuring C-Loc and Mas- ter P (1997) Young Bleed put nine hundred people on this boat, and that’s way too high a population density. I figure this boat capsized about fifteen minutes after Master P’s verse. 4th: Big Tymers’ “Oh yeah!,” featuring Boo and Gotti (2002) They were on a boat that cost a few hundred thousand dol- lars to rent per week, and they brought a portable basketball goal on board with them. I miss the Big Tymers so much.

,” and “Hard Knock Life”). “Big Pimpin’” was his

5th: B.G.’s “Bling Bling,” featuring Hot Boys and Big Tymers (1999) I MISS THE BIG TYMERS SO MUCH. 6th: 2 Chainz’s “I’m Different” (2012) This boat never even made it to the water. 2 Chainz just hung out in it while it was being carted around on the streets. What royalty. 7th: The Fugees’ “Ready or Not” (1996) Lauryn Hill. ☺. But also . 8th: Pusha T’s “Can I Live” (2011) This was a total misplay. He was just on a boat rapping, not doing anything else. Pusha T is a drug-dealer rapper. His name is literally “Pusha.” Give this man the yayo and let’s make a proper drug- transporting video, please. 9th: Theophilus London’s “I Stand Alone” (2011) It was a rowboat. Like, a real, for real, actual rowboat.

Jay Z avoiding a fifteen-year prison sentence is a monumental

What if

moment in rap. SO MUCH stuff would’ve been differ-

ent. It’s a string of possibilities superseded by only two other


What if Tupac had not been murdered in 1996? What if Biggie had not been murdered in 1997?

Others on the What if

list that fall somewhere below

those top three: What if the Hot Boys never disbanded? What if DMX favored cats instead of dogs? What if BET: Uncut never existed? What if Patrick Ewing didn’t miss that finger roll? What if Lauryn Hill didn’t go crazy? What if Chris Tucker made Friday 2? What if Plies used his government name? 8 What if Suge Knight was two feet shorter? 9 What if Dr. Dre was Mr. Dre? What if Halloween didn’t fall on that weekend? What if Kanye never had his heart broken? What if the Fresh Prince’s dad hadn’t aban- doned him? What if Lil Wayne was from, say, Rhode Island? What if Snoop didn’t beat his murder charge? What if Soulja Boy never

1. He did so because he’d been told that Rivera was responsible for Vol. 3

release date.

Life and Times of S. Carter leaking a month before the official

2. Jay was sentenced in December of 2001. Four months before that, he’d released “Izzo (H.O.V.A.),” the first single on the album that followed Vol. 3. On “Izzo,” which he’d written after the charges came down but before the sentencing, he rapped, “Cops wanna knock me, D.A. wan- na box me in / But somehow, I beat them charges like Rocky.” This was (highly likely) a miscalculation on his part—he (probably) thought he actually was going to beat the charge. Or, I guess I suppose he could also have been talking about the first Rocky movie, where Rocky loses at the end but really he wins.

3. This is an easy assertion to make when it’s not your abdomen being gouged into.

4. To be clear: I don’t want anyone to be stabbed. But if we can detract the violence of the event from what came after it, then, yes, I am for real thankful.

5. Please see footnote 4.

6. From “Big Pimpin’” to 2014, he’s had twenty-one singles that were gold or platinum.

7. The least successful was when Jay Z tried to co-opt Juvenile’s free-form flow on the “Ha (Remix).” Oh, man. That was a sad day.

8. Algernod. ALGERNOD. That’s not a rapper’s name. That’s the name of a mischievous elf in a Disney movie.

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2000 “Big Pimpin’” — Jay Z, featuring uGK

Supermanned any hoes? What if Lil’ Kim didn’t do that to her face? What if Master P’s tank was just a normal-ass tank? But to the original point: Originally, Pimp C didn’t want to re-

cord for “Big Pimpin’.” It wasn’t in line with the sound he and Bun

B had built for UGK. 10 “We put the [‘Big Pimpin’ ’]reel on and we

hear these flutes and this happy music

not doing it. I called [Jay Z] and said, ‘Hey, man, are you trying to sabotage me?’ He said, ‘Look, fam, it’s gonna be the biggest record

of your career.” 11 Eventually, he was convinced to do it. Bun B

was glad. “It was probably the biggest chance that we took in our career, but it ended up being the biggest payoff as well.” 12 So, what if UGK passes again on Jay’s invite to be on one of his songs? They never do “Big Pimpin’” together. What happens? Does Jay Z just keep it moving and do it with Three 6 Mafia instead? Or maybe Jay takes offense at having been turned away twice. And maybe Jay, already short-tempered from having Nas gnawing at him, attempting to goad him into war—maybe Jay snipes at Pimp C and Bun B in a song instead of how he went for Nas’s neck. And so then instead of getting the historic “Take- over” vs. “Ether” 2001 battle (see page 142) we get a true North vs. South rap war, because there is a zero percent chance that if Jay says Pimp C’s name in a song, Pimp doesn’t spend a planet’s worth of energy attempting to unravel Jay Z’s career. How does that play out?

and I’m like, maaan. I’m

Is it Biggie and Tupac again—an uncontrollable firestorm that ends in tragedy? Or does the fight stay on tape like how the Jay Z vs. Nas feud did? And if Jay never calls out Nas by name on “Take- over” then Nas never records “Ether,” right? And if he doesn’t record “Ether,” then which direction does his legacy point? Because “Ether” is for sure a critical part of the Nas legend. And how does he use his extra time? Do we get to Nas’s reggae period ten years earlier, and is rap even ready for that in 2000? Or maybe Nas, having watched Bun and Pimp throw salt on Jay as two vs. one, teams up with Jay behind some home-team allusion? And so we get Jay Z and Nas vs. Bun B and Pimp C? When it’s over, do Nas and Jay Z release a duo album together? Is it any good? Or maybe the two couldn’t get their styles to congeal and it flops and so they both just sort of fizzle around in New York, local titans but that’s it? Oh my god: WHO MARRIES BEYONCÉ IF SUCCESSFUL JAY Z ISN’T THERE? Is it Kanye? Or does Jay Z somehow still end up with Beyoncé except now it’s not really a power couple, it’s more of a Britney Spears and Kevin Federline couple? Does Beyoncé spiral into insan- ity? Does Britney Spears end up recording “Single Ladies”? Whaaaaat issss happpppening? “Big Pimpin’” is the representation of a time in Jay Z’s life that almost wasn’t. But it’s also a linchpin in history, keeping the reality line from sprigging out into all sorts of weirdo directions.

9. That puts him somewhere near as tall as George Costanza, and fucking NOBODY would’ve been afraid of Black George Costanza.

10. In 1998, Jay extended an offer to UGK to be on a song called “A Week Ago” from Vol. 2

Hard Knock Life. Pimp C opted against it and

they passed.

11. This quote comes from a book called Third Coast: OutKast, Timbaland & How Hip-Hop Became a Southern Thing.

12. This quote comes from a 2014 interview with

rebuttal: “so Fresh, so clean” outkast

“Big Pimpin’” is not a bad song. It’s a very, very good song. “So Fresh, So Clean” is just superior, that’s all. To be great, “Pimpin’” requires the aid of not only UGK’s Pimp C and Bun B but also a “mutilated” sample from an Egyptian film whose makers are still suing for the way Jay Z and his producers butchered it. Not saying overstacking is always a damning quality (see “Monster,” page 198, which is clearly the correct choice for 2010), but in this case, the muses are clearly on the side of “Clean,” which careens into Classics- ville with its slick, timeless, endlessly applicable simplicity. Big Boi and Stacks float on a carefree wave of well-tailored

greatness, and the fact that they did this much without fea- tured artists or problematic samples (they use Joe Simon’s “Before the Night Is Over,” and possibly an unconfirmed riff from Funkadelic’s “I’ll Stay,” neither of which has garnered a lawsuit) speaks to “Clean”’s exceptional nature. I mean, I still have absolutely no idea how to process the line “I love who you are / I love who you ain’t / You’re so Anne Frank,” but considering the rest of the song, I’m gonna just maintain that comparing a lover to an optimistic Jewish child hiding from and eventually caught and murdered by Nazis is a singular compliment. —DEVON MALONEy


is a singular compliment. —DEVON MALONEy RAPYEARBOOK_4thPASS_0507.indd 140-141 The Rap Year Book 141 5/11/15 5:14 PM
is a singular compliment. —DEVON MALONEy RAPYEARBOOK_4thPASS_0507.indd 140-141 The Rap Year Book 141 5/11/15 5:14 PM


The Rap Year Book 141 5/11/15 5:14 PM
The Rap Year Book
5:14 PM