Bubba Sparxxx sniffles and blows his nose. After doing it once or twice, he apologizes. But after the third, fourth and fifth time, he says nothing, and I don't mind. Battling a nasty cold, the Georgia-born rapper is calling from his tour bus somewhere outside Louisiana.
"My allergies, man," he bemoans. "I'm on the upswing today, though. Been on this road, man. All this pollen and stuff."
There isn't much time to slip into bed and rest, something Bubba says he can use "right about now." But in the next week or so, he has too much to do: appearances, radio interviews, phone interviews. It's all to promote the release of his crunked third album, The Charm, which hits stores Tuesday.
By now, you may have heard "Ms. New Booty," the bumping first single, heating up clubs and urban stations. You may not have known immediately that it was a Bubba Sparxxx joint. The lascivious Ying Yang Twins (one of my guilty pleasures) and Mr. Collipark dominate the rambunctious cut, an instant stripper favorite with an insistent hook: Booty, booty, booty, booty rockin' ev'rywhere.
Bubba's flow, though, has improved. He sounds more confident, riding the groove better than he did when he first made a splash on the hip-hop scene, seemingly out of nowhere, in 2001. He was something of an anomaly. The fact that he was a white guy in a black man's game wasn't shocking. The Beastie Boys and Eminem had paved the way. (Oh, and we shouldn't forget Vanilla Ice, though many of us surely want to.) What set Bubba apart was his background. He was unabashedly country: a husky, thick-necked, tattooed guy from rural Georgia born Warren Anderson Mathis. He looked like the corn-fed, backwoods boys I had gone to school with down South, the ones my friends and I assumed were angry, racist and prone to crazy violence after several beers. Though once you got to know them (well, some of them), they were actually pretty cool.
When Bubba hit the scene with his massive hit "Ugly" and his platinum debut, Dark Days, Bright Nights, it didn't hurt that he was championed and produced by one of hip-hop's master beat makers: Timbaland, a fellow Southerner by way of Virginia. In the video for "Ugly," Bubba played up the hillbilly schtick, riding around in a field on a tractor.
"I think maybe some people had a certain perception," says the rapper, 29. "I'm a white boy from rural Georgia, whatever. To most people, anywhere in the South is country and the people are country, even though Atlanta (where the artist is now based) is a booming metropolis. But I believe consistency paves the way for respect. The fact that I'm still around is evident that I'm thorough with this."
Though Deliverance, the somber 2003 follow-up to Dark Days, was more cohesive and garnered stronger critical nods, it didn't exactly set the charts aflame and produced no hits.
"The one regret I have for that album is that one mood dominated," Bubba says.
On The Charm ("It's the third one; the third time is the charm," Bubba says of the title), he varies the moods more. Rowdy, bass-heavy club joints make up the first half, and the more introspective cuts are in the latter part. The CD, Bubba's debut for Purple Ribbon, the Virgin-distributed label run by Big Boi of OutKast, is a more consciously commercial effort. The funky, streamlined, good-time feel of Southern hip-hop energizes the record. But it's on the contemplative, slowed-down numbers, namely "Ain't Life Grand," where the rapper shines. Big Boi, Timbaland and Mr. Collipark handled the mostly sharp productions.
"This is a better set of jams that should work for me commercially," Bubba says, sounding businesslike. "Wait."
He blows his nose. "It's good, man. Not bad for a farm boy with a pitchfork."