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Pimp C's New Album Signals More New Material On the Way

Pimp C
Courtesy Photo

Pimp C photographed in the 2000s.

Chad Lamont Butler was three weeks shy of his 34th birthday when he was found dead in his Los Angeles hotel room on Dec. 4, 2007, succumbing to a mixture of an accidental codeine overdose and a pre-existing sleep apnea condition. At the time, the iconic rapper from Port Arthur, TX, better known as Pimp C, was in L.A. working on material for his next album, the follow-up to his official solo debut, 2006's Pimpalation. It was a sudden end to a life that was as influential as it was unsteady, as Pimp C helped pioneer the syrupy sounds and independent attitude that would come to define Southern hip-hop in a way that still reverberates today.

Eight years since his death, however, Pimp's music and lyricism still ring out as vital as they did two decades ago. In the past four years alone, his voice has appeared on albums by Juicy J, Wiz Khalifa, Big Boi, A$AP Rocky and Pimp's UGK collaborator Bun B. And after two posthumous albums released through his former label Rap-A-Lot Records -- The Naked Soul of Sweet Jones in 2010 and Still Pimping in 2011 -- a new Pimp C album, Long Live The Pimp, arrived Dec. 4 through Mass Appeal Records.

What sets this album apart, outside of the new label, is that it's the first posthumous Pimp C release spearheaded solely by the rapper's widow, Chinara Butler, after wrangling between Ms. Butler and Rap-A-Lot resulted in competing lawsuits over Pimp's masters in 2011. But that doesn't mean the drama has ended. Just a day before the album was released last Friday (Dec. 4), the late rapper's son, Chad Butler, Jr., released a statement separating himself and his younger brother Corey Butler from the album, saying the two had no part in the project and won't be receiving any benefits from its sales. "The only person who benefits is his wife Chinara, who doesn't return phone calls or communicate with us at all, and possibly our sister Christian, but even that is debatable," he wrote in a statement (Ms. Butler is not his biological mother). "My father was always supportive of myself and my brother, and I know he wouldn't want us to be forgotten as a part of his legacy."

For her part, Ms. Butler tells Billboard she is "disheartened" by the statement and refutes its claims, adding that the album's proceeds go to Pimp's estate, of which all of his kids are beneficiaries. But she's got plenty of support from around the music industry. Put together with the help of Juicy J, the album's lead single "3 Way Freak" featured Lil Wayne, while the likes of A$AP Rocky, David Banner, Slim Thug, Ty Dolla $ign, T.I., Lil KeKe, 8Ball and MJG, Bun B and Mass Appeal chief Nas all appear throughout the project.

The result is a glimpse inside of what things might have been like had the Pimp stuck around -- a result that co-executive producer and longtime Pimp collaborator Mr. Lee wanted to help Ms. Butler achieve. "I'm just trying to be a keeper of Pimp C's legacy and music and being the guy that [says], 'If Pimp was still here, what would he be doing now?'" Lee says in a conversation at Mass Appeal's Manhattan offices. "Me and Pimp C actually had a conversation about doing it, and just to be able to see it all the way through has just been a very good thing for me."

Putting together Long Live The Pimp has taken nearly two years of combing through hard drives of unreleased music -- Ms. Butler wouldn't reveal how many songs are still left in the vault -- building relationships and crafting songs that sound both vintage and fresh, a task that is more difficult than it would seem. With Pimp C's first album of new material in four years now in stores, Billboard speaks to Ms. Butler about how the album came together, crafting a project that would make the late rapper proud and the legacy of Pimp C.

When did you start working on this?

Almost two years ago. Juicy J hit me after "Bandz A Make Her Dance" and was like, "Chinara, I'm hot. It's time for some Pimp, so let's do this 'Show Out' remix." So we did the "Show Out" remix, then it was "Smokin' Rollin'" off his project [2013's Stay Trippy] with The Weeknd. And it was going so smooth that it was like, "Let's just do a project together." So we started putting a few songs together and playing with them. Then I let him do his thing, he was workin' on another project -- he's multi-tasking too -- and I took off to do my own thing to finish it. And that's when Mr. Lee came involved as well, putting on the finishing touches. It was a learning experience, it was fun; it was therapeutic. If it was anything, it was therapeutic. There's way more; we're already working on another full project, so this won't be the last.

What was the process of going through those songs and coming up with a coherent project all the way through?

I like that you asked that. We had maybe six songs, so it already kind of had a tone. I had my street songs, my "Payday" song, which was like our stripper club song, so I already had a few songs in mind, you know? Everybody remembers on Chad's projects, the intro had him talking a lot of shit, so I was like, "Let me do that." Ray Murray [from Organized Noize], I ran into him on my birthday in California, he was filming their Goodie Mob show, and I was like, "Ray, when you get back to Atlanta I need you to help Cory Mo twerk a few things." So they went in and they were like, "Chinara, check your email," and I'm like, "This is the outro. This is how I want to go out. This is perfect."

So after that it was filling in the gaps, bringing Mr. Lee in. He's got one of my favorite songs -- that's the only one I didn't spearhead -- is the one with Banner. It's a real song. It might not be the favorite for everybody else, but it's sentimental, I like what everybody's saying. The song's basically about shaky people. I love the song, I love the energy. Like, when I hear Banner's voice, you can tell the passion in his voice, you hear it. And that's what I did enjoy about this project: everybody that's a part of it, you actually hear the love that they had for him on the project. And if I didn't hear it, I took them off.

There are a lot of guests on this album. How did you figure out who you wanted to work with on it?

Well, I thought about relationships, for one, that he had with different people. And as far as production, I know Juicy knows what Chad would like; like when I go back and listen to "Like A Pimp" from UGK, it's like, yeah. Then you go and listen to stuff -- not even Chad -- like "Get Throwed," that's [Mr. Lee]. Like "Keep On Pushin'" on Bun's project, it was like, I need that feel. And to me, music is supposed to make you feel a certain kind of way or you're not doing anything.

And then stepping outside the boundaries, because this project is supposed to keep Chad's legacy going. Long Live The Pimp; we want it to go on forever. So I have to involve the youth, but I still need to make sure it fits well. Like A$AP, he fits well. I appreciate good music, and that's something that I definitely wanted in this project. Good music can't be denied. I think if you catch people's attention then you got it. Then they'll listen to it. And good music, again, you can't deny it.

You said that this was a learning process. Have you worked in the music industry prior to this?

[Laughs] You might as well say I've been involved in the music business. I've always loved good music, always had an opinion, and I've always been asked my opinion, too. I think the learning process was just dealing with a label in general. That was a big lesson. I've learned to draw certain things out of certain artists, like sending them certain vocals or certain songs to make them jump on it or make them feel a certain kind of way. I'm either gonna push you to be great or you're gonna quit, there's no in between. I want the best out of you. You might not like the way I come across gettin' it, but you're gonna appreciate it.

How did you decide to go with Mass Appeal for the project?

The first thing that got my attention, really, is Nas. I love creative people, and I like people that move in silence like him. I love that, I respect that. I respect being able to move around and not having to be seen. I love it.

You said there are more projects in the works too, right?

We're gonna be shooting some videos, we have the Pimp C Hip-Hop Health Fair event that I do every year. We usually do it around this time; you know, on the 4th he passed, so we can celebrate his life and actually help the community. Because Chad was also really about giving. He gave information, he gave knowledge, he helped so many different people. Also doing an exhibit with Rice University, they're gonna archive some things; Dr. Penn will be heading the archiving of it. Also, I'll be helping one of my friends Sharonda [Holton], she's Proof's wife from D12; his 10-year anniversary [of his death] is coming around, so I want to help her put an EP together, it shouldn't be hard. Hollering at Big Sean, DeJ Loaf and Eminem, that's the EP right there. And two of 'em got the same manager. 

You gotta study; when you come in you can't play, you gotta really study and be on point on how to get things done, know the connections. And that's like the first time I sat with A$AP Rocky, he said, "Chinara, I like you. You know what you want and you know how to get it. There's a lot of people in this industry that have no clue what they're doing and what they actually want." That's baffling. I want it to grow, I want it to get bigger. This project, now this is the competition. I need to even go harder.

Are there different styles or energies that you want to encapsulate with the next project?

The next project, I want to do the same thing I did this one. Of course, Chad's been gone almost a decade, so you know these aren't new verses. But for us and my producers to still fit it in -- certain things weren't even touched -- he was light years away from everybody else. But for me to still be able to fit in the A$AP's, fit in the Juicy's with him still able to reinvent himself, still have Nas fit in this process. Still bring in the old and the new. I really feel with music, there's nothing you can really do first; it's not gonna happen. You're not Frank Sinatra, you're not Smokey Robinson, so you have to be clever. That's the creative part; to mix something old and new and make it sound current.

And I also hate that people say, "Take emotion out of the business." Music is supposed to make you feel a certain kind of way. If you have a feeling, that's an emotion. And with this project and any project as we move forward, you can see the love of the people that's on it. If you hear a verse or you hear something else, you can see the difference. So anything else that we do will be genuinely out of love. People got a lot of love for Chad. Everybody's busy, so they're doing it out of love and the love that Chad brought to the game. So if I use that format, I'm never gonna lose.

You're also working on a book, right?

Yes, Bossin' Up. It's how to boss up through adversity. I've been through a lot, but there's one thing I have not done, and that's fold. And I'm not gonna do this.

Dec. 4 marked eight years since Pimp C died. What do you think his legacy is now?

I think his legacy is, basically, trill. Trill is a lifestyle, it's not a word. Trill: to be genuine, to be trill about everything that you're doing. Having a purpose for everything you're doing. I even tell my kid that: don't do stuff if you don't know why you're doing it. Chad said a lot, he wanted no clones, he wanted people to be themselves. You gay, be gay; you straight, be straight. Be proud of whatever you are. I think that's what Chad represented.

What are you most proud of with this project?

I'm proud because I feel like I've created a lane. I do have survivor's remorse, because I'm friends with a lot of the widows and I'm looking for the love. I'm proud in that sense to be able to help them, to do something for their kids and their loved ones' legacy. I'm proud that Chad had genuine friends like Mr. Lee and Juicy that genuinely care about his legacy. I'm proud of the love that came out of this project. You don't see a lot of love anymore. It's strictly business, and it's selfish. This young generation, to me, they're taught to be selfish: it's me, me, me. And everybody that's a part of this has put themselves to the side, including myself. So we're showing genuine love to what Chad has actually done. I'm proud of it, I'm super proud.

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