I must admit, I remember hearing the single “Ugly” off Bubba Sparxxx’s 1999 debut album, Dark Days, Bright Nights but only vaguely. It was likeable enough, but had the feel of a novelty tune, which probably explains my vague memory of it.
Perhaps I should have listened closer, because apparently, others were listening, among them the illustrious Timbaland, Missi E’s partner in crime and the man behind the beats for so many successful performers these days. Timbaland re-released Dark Days as the inaugural release of his Beat Club Records label, and I doubt Timba would waste his time on a one-hit-wonder. Theirs is indeed a fortunate pairing.
Another admission: I assumed I had seen every musical hybrid possible by now. Had you told me that a hip-hop/bluegrass/country fusion would actually work, as it does on Sparxxx’s new album Deliverance, I probably would have cut you off at the bar for the evening. But never underestimate Timbaland’s uncanny ability to make just about everything work.
Bubba Sparxxx is precisely what he appears to be: a good ‘ole country boy from Georgia, who found his way to Athens and, luckily, into a studio. Certainly, the success of Kid Rock and the gone-but-not-forgotten MC 900 Foot Jesus have shown us that white southern boys can do more than just Rock ‘n Roll – but while the other two mostly down played the cornpone, Bubba plays it to the hilt – not as a gimmick but because that’s who he is; references to Hogs, and double-wides abound.
This could wear a little thin, if the disc was just a one-note joke. However, thanks to Timbaland’s astonishingly original production and some nice introspective rhymes from Sparxxx, this disc manages to dish out some delights. Timbaland has taken elements of country and bluegrass and hacked them up and mashed them against hip-hop beats, turning this fusion into something that Bubba refers to on one track as, “hick-hop”. “She Tried,” for instance, pits a plaintive, country, my-baby’s-gone-type vocal wail and a stark hoedown fiddle against some jerky, infectious beats that make a haunting sonic backdrop for Sparxxx. He tells the story of how he lost the only girl he loved to his own selfishness, with slightly corny but heartfelt lines like, And how did I reward her loyalty? /She walked in to find her cousin Joy on me. The loneliness and regret expressed almost makes you feel guilty about getting up to dance, but that beat pulls you in and what can you do?
The single, “Jimmy Mathis,” is probably the best example of the fusion that Bubba & Timba have created: it sounds like a futuristic hoedown in Harlem, which is a place I am definitely willing to go. Also in the same vein is the delightful stomp, “Hootenanny,” (which, if its not the next single, it should be) and the equally excellent title track, “Deliverance,” which also has a pretty cool video that you need to catch, if you haven’t already.
Overall, Sparxxx has a pretty smooth delivery with a definite twang – almost as if Gomer Pyle had a slick grandson. His rhymes very often display a keen sense of humor and are more often deceptively complex. He appears to be using the vernacular of rap/hip-hop to describe his own experience, rather than posturing like an inner city gangsta. That, if anything, gives this disc a feeling of authenticity that sets him apart from many white rappers.
This album definitely is of the ilk that grows on you. My first listen left me kind of tepid, but subsequent spins have revealed a whole lot I didn’t notice before – again, typical Timbaland. Since this is technically his sophomore release, it looks like he has made it past that sophomore slump. It should be noted that Sparxxx also worked with Organized Noize in the production seat, so he is not short on excellent producers. If he remains sheltered under the correct wings, he could emerge as someone significant indeed. Let’s hope so. In this super-size world we live in, we need an alternative to little Marshall Mathers III.