So much of hip-hop’s aura is based around the balance between accessibility and inaccessibility. While many want their music to be as accessible as possible in order to make the widest possible audience “feel them”, it’s often accomplished through painting themselves as inaccessible, whether it is in regard to bankroll or lyrical acuity or near-fatal injury. On that note, Bubba Sparxxx might be too accessible, and that’s not just because I share the same area code with him. Like any good Athenian, he’s at home discussing Bulldog football and seedy college-town strip clubs (for those interested, Topper’s over Chelsea’s by a wide margin). And in person, he looks like a high school football player who happens to flow. Which he is.
And yet, this accessibility as a person weighs heavy on him, since he’s very much aware of his part in the hip-hop landscape. “Eminem’s incredible, but did I really have to say this/ For y’all to put my soul at rest and add me to your playlist?” he lamented on “Nowhere”, from 2003’s Deliverance. Particularly difficult was the narrow-minded take from Interscope and MTV on what Southern rap music really was: “There we were in 2003 with a fuckin’ banjo, and everybody wanted to get crunk.”
And while the hip-hop landscape has certainly changed to the point where being Southern or even white is not as much of a hurdle to stardom as it used to be, to quote his new label patron Big Boi, “Even though we got two albums, this one feels like the beginning.” The Charm drops on April 4th, and is so named because, in Bubba’s words, “We finally got the balance that I felt was missing from the first two albums.” Deliverance resonated amongst listeners for its honesty and soul-searching, and while The Charm doesn’t abandon this side of Bubba completely, it includes more nods to the club scene, which Bubba is quick to remind he’s very familiar with. “I’m a club-going person, and most people don’t really get that from what I’ve done in the past. Deliverance was about how I felt at the time, but some people need music without substance, because they got enough to worry about during the day. We have a balance of that here.”
His first single, “Ms. New Booty”, is a reflection of his willingness to embrace the club side of his persona. A far cry from filming in a Wal-Mart parking lot in Athens or recreating O Brother, Where Art Thou, “Ms. New Booty” features the Ying Yang Twins and Mr. Collipark behind the boards, not to mention a video and accompanying website (www.msnewbooty.com) that has stirred up a decent deal of controversy (read: great publicity). While this shift might be startling to some, Bubba isn’t particularly worried about how newcomers will interpret the rest of his work. “I see it as growth… when OutKast came out with ‘Hey Ya’, did that really prepare somebody for ‘Southernplayalistic’?”
There’s no doubt 2005 was an enormous year for Southern hip-hop, as New York’s stranglehold on Soundscan loosened with mainstream exposure to Atlanta’s trap-hop and Houston’s screw scene. Bubba sees this as healthy competition; “I definitely feel a kindred spirit with those guys. It’s ‘each one, teach one’ here in the South. It’s like how Ying Yang Twins extended the olive branch to me [for ‘Ms. New Booty’].” But he stills feels as if the mainstream media is reductive, labeling styles like “snap music” or “trap hop” instead of simply hip-hop. “I still think there’s a bit of a bias. It’s like with Organized Noize. All that sampling stuff that’s going on now, man… go back to ‘Watch for the Hook’ or ‘Cell Therapy’. Organized had all that shit down in the mid-‘90s. Where’s the recognition?”
As is the case with nearly every Southern rapper, OutKast was monumentally influential on Bubba’s career. And while he called Andre 3000 “the greatest Southern rapper… fuck it, period,” his relationship with the ATLiens has evolved from fandom into mutual respect with his recent signing to Big Boi’s Purple Ribbon label. It was a natural progression, as nearly half of Deliverance was produced by Organized Noize. He harbors no hard feelings towards Beat Club; “I wouldn’t trade my time with Tim for anything in the world,” referring to mentor and producer Timbaland, who helmed the controls for his debut and half of Deliverance. But it may turn out for the best; geographically, Beat Club was something like the Atlantic Coast Conference of rap, stretching from Virginia (Timbaland) to North Carolina (Petey Pablo) to Georgia (Bubba). Purple Ribbon is an Atlanta institution, consisting of Dungeon Family titans such as Sleepy Brown and Goodie Mob. “It definitely makes me feel more connected with the Atlanta scene, which you have to be a part of if you have the chance,” Bubba explains. While he currently resides in Suwanee, Georgia, approximately 50 miles from his homebase of Athens, “I was born in LaGrange, but Athens made me. And I never forget that.”
And not surprisingly, on his contribution to Got Purp, Volume 2, Bubba paid homage to the Claremont Lounge in Atlanta; while it’s never gonna be namechecked to the extent of Magic City and Blue Flame, Claremont has a special charm of its own, if you’re into strippers named Goldie being able to crush beercans with their chests.
Bubba’s always had top-notch production on his albums, and The Charm is no different. There’s the aforementioned Timbaland, Organized Noize, and Mr. Collipark tracks, but one of the most intriguing pairings will not make the cut. “The one I did with HeatMakerz didn’t make it on the album, because they couldn’t clear the sample. They couldn’t find the sample after a while [laughs]. Those are some real diggin’-in-the-crates fuckers.”
That kind of dedication to craft appeals to Bubba, who is as much of a student of hip-hop as a fan. On The Charm, the roster is impeccable and commercially sound. But when asked who he stills wants to work with, his first answer raises some eyebrows; “I’d say Beanie Sigel. That’s a real introspective cat. I’d also really like to get at the Alkoholiks and Ras Kass. Not just because they’re west coast cats. I like them on a lyrical level.”
And in the most personal part of our talk, he finally addressed what too many fans of college football, hip-hop, and country music have dealt with in the last year: Big & Rich on College GameDay. In the two years previous, Bubba would pen new lyrics to “Back in the Mud” (oddly enough, the least “country” song from Deliverance) for each week. However, this year, ESPN followed the lead of the NBA and assumed that Big & Rich’s laboratory-tested brand of “hick-hop” was the only way to bridge the gap between country fans (in their minds, white people) and hip-hop fans (in their minds, black people). “Man, that pisses me off,” he says of the situation. “I felt used. I wrote new lyrics for them every week, and they just take some song off their album. The promotion they do for them is ridiculous.” If his album resonates with America even a fraction as much as his displeasure with College GameDay does, the third time will definitely be the charm for Bubba.
// Notes from the Road
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