Rapper Pimp C, an influential hip-hop figure credited with helping launch the popularity of Southern rap, was found dead Tuesday morning at an upscale hotel on the Sunset Strip.
Los Angeles County Fire Department paramedics responding to a 911 call found the 33-year-old native of Port Arthur, Texas, lying on his bed at the Mondrian Hotel in West Hollywood.
“It appears that he died naturally,” said Capt. Ed Winter of the county coroner’s office. “There were no signs of trauma, no signs of drug paraphernalia.”
An investigation is pending.
Pimp C, whose real name was Chad Butler, was a member of the Texas hip-hop duo UGK, which scored a No. 1 album earlier this year.
The Mondrian released a statement Tuesday saying staffers checked Butler’s room after family members called asking his whereabouts.
“Mr. Butler had checked into the hotel on 28 November and, according to the callers, was to have checked out” Monday, the statement read. “Security personnel went to Mr. Butler’s room and found him in bed, apparently expired. A 911 call was placed at about 9:20 a.m. and paramedics from the Los Angeles Fire Department responded and pronounced Mr. Butler dead.”
UGK’s seventh album, “Underground Kingz,” reached No. 1 on the national album chart in August, but mainstream stardom eluded Butler and his partner, Bun B, for most of the group’s 15-year career.
In the early 1990s, the two became known for their sharp, original rap style, ribald chronicles of “gangsta life” and stripped-down beats.
Although their collaborations with higher-profile artists, including Jay-Z (on the hit “Big Pimpin’ ”) and the Oscar-winning rap group Three 6 Mafia (with which UGK recorded “Sippin on Sizzurp,” an ode to getting high from drinking cough medicine), are considered hip-hop classics, UGK’s more enduring claim to fame may be helping establish Southern rap.
Barry Weiss, Jive Records’ president and chief executive, said in a written statement: “We mourn the unexpected loss of Chad. He was truly a thoughtful and kind-hearted person. He will be remembered for his talent and profound influence as a pioneer in bringing Southern rap to the forefront. He will be missed and our prayers remain with his family and Bun B. I’ve known Chad since he was 18, and we loved him dearly and he was a cherished member of the Jive family.”
In 2002, Butler was sentenced to eight years in prison after falling behind on court-ordered community service.
That sentence had been imposed after the rapper-producer pleaded no contest to aggravated assault charges; he had brandished a gun during an argument with a woman at a shopping mall.
He served about half his sentence at Terrell Prison in Livingston, Texas, before being paroled in 2005.
But during that time, rap fans made a cause celebre of Butler’s incarceration. “Free Pimp C” T-shirts and baseball caps became popular with UGK fans across the country, and a host of rap stars appeared in music videos and at concerts calling for his release.
Over the summer, the rapper-producer made headlines for disparaging a number of hip-hop celebrities, including rapper Young Jeezy, mogul Russell Simmons and R&B; singer Ne-Yo.
Butler’s manager, Rick Martin, released a statement Tuesday extending condolences to Butler’s wife and children.
“Chad was finally seeing the results of the years of love and labor that he and Bun B have put in over the years, culminating in the tremendous success of their album, ‘Underground Kingz,’ ” Martin said.
“Chad was set to soar with not only a new solo deal on Jive Records, but a lucrative publishing deal, a new satellite radio show, several group projects and a national cologne endorsement.
“Chad had everything to live for,” Martin said.
Times staff writers Andrew Blankstein and Chris Lee contributed to this report.