I’ll start with this: I’ve spent my entire life in suburban Wisconsin. I grew up listening to punk rock and metalcore. I spent much of my time on creative endeavors rather than physical ones. All this to say, I might be one of the last people you’d expect to talk about Bubba Sparxxx.
Indeed, there probably is not much that Bub and I have in common by any stretch, what with his primary focus on Southern and rural culture. Thematically, it’s completely foreign to me. But the powerful thing about art is it’s able to transcend some of these barriers.
You may know Bubba Sparxxx for his hit, “Ms. New Booty”. The track dropped in 2005, and it took off pretty well. Perhaps the inclusion of the Ying Yang Twins on the song had something to do with this.
However, that’s probably where most people’s knowledge of Bubba Sparxxx ends. To the uninitiated, he dropped a song about hitting the club, looking at butts, and “rockin’ everywhere”. And that alone fails to impress the critic in me. It’s a base effort with a fairly commercial slant to it. The music video attempts to impress some added meaning about body positivity, but let’s be honest: it’s at a best a party track, and at worst, a song for thirsty dudes to bump-n-grind to. To distill Sparxxx’s identity to the content of the track is remiss.
Here are a few quick facts. Sparxxx’s real name is Warren Anderson Mathis. He was born in the late 70s in LaGrange, GA (about an hour southwest of Atlanta). LaGrange’s population is in the mid 20,000s, so it’s not completely rural, those it certainly has a plurality of staple Southern restaurants like Chick-Fil-A (bless up). It is unlikely that Sparxxx has access to “playa’s clubs” in LaGrange.
But one thing he did have access to was hip-hop. His start was mostly with west coast acts. And let’s not overlook the fact that there was already hip-hop in the South; Outkast was from nearby Atlanta. This ended up being foundational for his later life.
Sparxxx moved several times throughout the South and eventually found success in Athens. This may seemed drawn-out or regurgitation of a Wikipedia article (which, let’s be honest, it kind of is) but there is a point to all of this. Sparxxx’s Southern roots are undeniably authentic, his interest in hip-hop had deep roots back before trap-type beats even existed, but it’s hard to discern just how rural his actual experience was. We’ll dive into why this is important shortly.
Sparxxx’s career was largely contingent on Timbaland’s production, and even his earliest releases don’t feel entirely estranged from the larger hip-hop scene. Sure, his lyrics have been referential to his Southern surroundings at times, but these were woven authentically into albums that were, frankly, just rap. It wasn’t until the 2010s where his music started to deviate a bit, incorporating banjo and other country and bluegrass instrumentation fully. This is also around the time where new country-rap artists where on the rise, and Sparxxx was no enemy of collaboration.
Colt Ford and Brantley Gilbert released “Dirt Road Anthem” in 2008, but it wasn’t until Jason Aldean’s version surfaced in 2010 that it really found success in the mainstream. And this is perhaps the most pivotal point of this entire conversation – bro-country has been scorned for being generic, disingenuous, inhumane. This is only augmented by a dude in a cowboy hat and tight jeans attempting to rap about the most cliché Southern things. It’s catchy to the point that most listeners won’t even process the absurdity of what’s happening here. But, as mainstream country loves to do, appropriating yet another genre isn’t surprising – there are plenty of great small and independent country acts out in the world, but most of what you’ll hear on the radio is just “pop with twang”.
Now, the original song is perhaps less egregious to some degree since Colt Ford is known for his country-rap elements. But at this point, Bubba Sparxx has almost a decade of rap cred cemented in several albums of material. The country-rap premise had arguably been tried and tested for years now, and it did fine with what it had. It’s akin to the popification of worship music; the substance was inherent but it needed to be repurposed for commercial means.
Most genres seem to come in waves, and the early 2010s was a second wave of country-rap; arguably, this is when it shifted to what many know as hick-hop. And that name alone should tell us something.
While Sparxxx’s music has not always taken itself too seriously, these following waves read more like parody. It’s founded on self-deprecation. It feels like a Mad Libs sheet filled in with country clichés stolen from Luke Bryan songs. Ultimately, it’s no longer rap with country elements. It’s country songs in rap form.
I’m not arguing that Bubba Sparxxx is one of the greatest modern rappers, but he certainly was a forerunner in his own right. His music is certainly not perfect and it’s not without its own clichés, but it’s also the kind of music he loved. It’s not on par with the bastardization that is Zac Brown Band’s The Owl, a terrifying frankenstein of country and the indescribable ingredients of a hotdog. Rather, Sparxxx crafted songs that, while quirky at times, are arguably no stranger than what we’ve seen from some of rap’s most popular icons. They just happened to have Southern influence. And while Sparxxx may have done a bit of pandering in the recent years as well, in his most unobserved stage of his career, things never felt gimmicky.
So, the genius of Bubba Sparxxx really isn’t built on some secret ingredient. He managed to stand out in the scene because of his background, connections, and authenticity. Hip-hop is a genre with a lot of history and ethnic roots and it’s counter-cultural for white, Southern men (the unfortunate stereotype of racism and prejudice) to participate in this verbal ceremony. There’s a tradition to be respected, an art to be honored. And seeing country musicians shameless twist this into music that is often antithetical to the cultures which created propagated hip-hop to begin with is uncomfortable.
Bubba Sparxxx ultimately managed to help bring forth a whole wave of Southern artists who were eager to put their own take on hip-hop, and it probably wasn’t even intentional. Whether or not you actually like Sparxxx’s music, his approach is noteworthy. It’s certainly more organic than what has come to pass in recent years.