Jay-Z has always been ahead of the curve when it comes to spotting rap trends. Owing to the nature of his work in the early days, Hov spent a lot of time outside of New York, in places like Virginia and Maryland, which opened up his eyes to other regions.
Around this time a hip hop duo going by the name of UGK aka Underground Kingz was coming up in Texas. Releasing a series of EPs and albums throughout the ’90s, UGK never managed to crossover into the mainstream, staying an underground secret and fan favourite. Hov would later become one of the first New York rappers to collaborate with UGK, although 50 Cent was officially the first one to work with the Port Arthur duo.
In 1998 while working on his third album Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life, which would become his breakthrough project, Jay-Z wanted to get Pimp C on the track “A Week Ago” which also featured Bay Area rap legend Too Short.
“Pimp was supposed to be on ‘A Week Ago’ with Jay Z and Too Short,” according to Bun B. “They couldn’t figure out exactly where to record the song because the East Coast beef was going on. Jay Z was like, ‘I’m not leaving New York right now.’ And Pimp was like, ‘Well shit, I ain’t leavin’ the South. I guess we just won’t do it.’”
While the collaboration didn’t materialise, it was only a matter of time before UGK got the call to feature on a Jay-Z track again. This time, it was for the Timbaland-produced “Big Pimpin'” on Vol. 3… Life and Times of S. Carter. Even though Pimp hated the instrumental for the song, “Big Pimpin'” would end up becoming the UGK’s biggest record of all time, peaking at number 18 on the Billboard Hot 100 and selling over a million units. Bun B and Pimp were already two of the best rappers from Texas, but this track made them a household name.
“I asked UGK to get on the track with me because I was a huge fan of their music, even though a lot of my East Coast fans didn’t really know who they were,” Jay-Z wrote in his 2010 autobiography, Decoded. “I’d always loved Southern hip-hop, and UGK combined great Southern bounce with sneakily complex rhymes and delivery. And they were funny as hell.”