Bubba Sparxxx's new disc The Charm finally comes out today (for less than a tenner!) and we're psyched that Mr Mathis is getting another chance to shine. Last summer we went down to GA and talked to Bubba for F32, and you can read that story in it's entirety after the jump.
Bubba Sparxxx is back with some of his best songs yet. So why is he still trying to convince himself he truly matters?
By Nick Barat
The first thing you notice in Bubba Sparxxx’s livingroom is a new pair of dumbbells over in the corner. “For the past couple months I been working out, I lost twenty pounds,” he says. “Shit, I’m just trying to get my shit together, take care of myself.” Since his first single “Ugly” took off in 2001, Bubba has been able to live it up on a nightly basis, but the lifestyle has definitely taken its toll. “I was 23 then, I’m 28 now. I’ve done every drug you can do, ate as bad as you could possibly eat, partied as hard as you could possibly party—it’s a miracle I’m not any fatter than I was! But I just changed pages.” Settling into a well-worn recliner, the Georgia MC notices an Entourage DVD on the floor. “Man, that was my life right there,” Bubba says of the HBO comedy about a young Hollywood star’s rise to fame and the old friends who came along for the ride. “My man was exactly like Turtle, he just dressed a lot flyer! None of them are hanging around anymore though.”
For the next hour or so, Bubba will talk about his third album (and his first for Purple Ribbon), optimistically titled The Charm and filled with upbeat, forward-looking songs like “Wonderful” and “Rims Keep Spinning”—but melancholy asides like that Entourage reference steadily make their way into the conversation. “People have enough evidence to decide whether or not they want to fuck with me at this point,” says Bubba. “I can walk away from music. That’s not to say that I don’t want to make music, but I’m under no illusion that this stuff is forever for anybody.” Still bruised by his old label’s disintegration, the bleak outlook is understandable, just unwarranted. Bubba’s rollercoaster life adds real perspective to his new music, all of which is as good as ever—which makes it all the more distressing to hear him casually say that he could give it all up if The Charm doesn’t outsell its predecessors.
It’s been almost a half-decade since Bubba Sparxxx’s video for “Ugly” premiered, etching indelible images of pig-riding, dirt road “hick-hop” grandeur into the retinas of MTV viewers worldwide—images that, for better or worse, will be identified with Bubba forever. “I guess I did have a lot to prove based on how people perceived ‘Ugly,’ he admits. “A lot of people laughed it off—and there was some stuff in the video just to entertain—but there was a real culture on display. I wanted to dig deeper into rural culture, and explain to people what it’s really like.”
The result was Deliverance, a lyrically reflective, sonically adventurous follow-up LP that took the country-rap marketing gimmick and turned it into an actual sound. Bluegrass guitar picking and violins straight from O Brother, Where Art Thou? intertwined with heavy drums from Timbaland and Organized Noize producer Rico Wade, all bolstering Bubba’s moonshine-soaked raps on family, lost loves, and his own public perception as an artist (“They start to question whether you a true talent/ Or just a redneck substance abuse addict,” Bubba lamented on the title cut). Thanks to its genuine heart and musical substance, Deliverance became a critical favorite—but none of the singles hit anywhere near as big as “Ugly” did. “We thought it was going to sell 10 million records, not the couple hundred thousand it ended up selling,” Bubba recalls. “Me and Rico, and especially me and Tim, we put our all into that motherfucker. So for it to not have the success we anticipated, it was heartbreaking.” Making matters worse, things were crumbling at Beat Club; Deliverance fizzled just as Beat Club was coming apart, and Bubba was dropped, with the rest of the artists on Timbaland’s label. “There was a six month period when I didn’t have any money coming in,” Bubba admits. “Wasn’t doing no shows, I wasn’t hot by any stretch of the imagination. I was frigid.” Judging by the pronounced lean of the Lay-Z-Boy and the overall state of Bubba’s home, it was a rough time for sure. But he managed to pick himself up by reconnecting with one of his closest friends.
“The person responsible for the vibe on most of this new music is Rico Wade,” Bubba says. “He’s worked on all my albums, we met at a Cool Breeze/8Ball and MJG show out when I was living in Athens.” Their chemistry and history made Wade the perfect choice to turn things around. “We kind of cracked the code as far as the kind of music I need to be doing,” he explains. “There were people who liked Deliverance, and I didn’t want to abandon that—but if you fail at inventing something, it sort of sours you on it. So when we started recording again, I said Take me as far as you can away from that slow fucking country twangy guitar bullshit.” The first new song they recorded together was “Wonderful”, a celebratory track built on chirping kids voices and a blobby, buoyant funk bassline. Bubba sings on the chorus “I don’t know about y’all, but I feel wonderful/ Yeah they lookin at me, yet I’m so comfortable/ Girl, looka here, I feel sensational/ This that boy that you been waiting for,” and later plainly admits, “I already been to hell, I’m tryna see how heaven feels.”
“Wonderful” is joyous and anthemic, an ideal representation of the positive outlook Bubba aims to project. “I figured after the deal went down people would expect me to still be on that somber shit,” he says. Still, it’s hard not to get the feeling that Bubba might still doubt just how good he feels, and is using songs like “Wonderful” not only to convince the listening public that he’s doing ok, but to convince himself. On the upbeat “Rims Keep Spinning”, lines like “I’ma die lonely” are delivered as lyrical asides, and Bubba is quick to bring up his own mortality in conversation, talking about “that moment when they’re like ‘Bubba Sparxxx, 1977 to 2000 whatever’” on MTV News. “If I had sold five million records the first time, I might be dead now,” he says. “I might have balled so hard I’d be dead.” One of the best new tracks on The Charm is “Other Side Of The Road,” where he raps about the ups and downs of his career as Petey Pablo sings “they think that you dead, boy” on the mournful hook. It’s most definitely more of that “that somber shit” Bubba wanted to avoid at any cost, but the song remains hauntingly catchy; even Bubba will admit its potential as a single. Yet “Other Side Of The Road” wouldn’t exist at all were it not for the great triumphs and equally massive disappointments of the last few years. “Ugly”’s success, Deliverance’s failure, the friends who have come and gone, growing older—all of that gives real emotional heft to his current music.
After listening to some more tracks from The Charm, we talked a little about the current state of hip-hop in the South. “It’s not like I didn’t accomplish anything with my first two albums. Look at Paul Wall—four or five years ago, the world wasn’t ready for a white rapper with ice in his mouth,” Bubba says. “I helped wedge further the door that Eminem blasted open, and now you can have a white kid who’s all hooded out. That’s wonderful, because that’s all I wanted it to be anyway.” Yet there’s still one thing Bubba still wants to see in Southern music. “I wish Andre still rapped,” he says. “That’s my favorite MC of all time, my biggest inspiration—as a fan, I would really like to see another true Outkast album. Just one more.” Inspite of all his promises to give up if The Charm doesn’t go platinum, Bubba’s wish gives hope that the Purple Ribbon experience—good or bad—will provide fuel for a follow-up album. Even if it’s just one more.