Born Warren Anderson Mathis on March 6, 1977, in LaGrange, GA; son of James (a school bus driver) and June Mathis. Addresses: Record company--Interscope Records, 2220 Colorado Ave., Santa Monica, CA 90404. Website--Bubba Sparxxx Official Website: http://www.bubbasparxxx.com.
Bubba Sparxxx has a truly unique take on hip hop and rap. A white rapper from the rural south and far removed from the inner city origins of most of his African-American rap and hip hop peers, Sparxxx has nevertheless become an internationally known recording artist. He attributes his success not to the fact that he is a novelty, but to the fact that he speaks to the same issues as urban rap stars, albeit in rhymes about bootleg whiskey and hunting. Sparxxx has said that rap has the power to bring people of all backgrounds together to end racism. Sparxxx first hit the music scene in 2001 with his breakthrough single "Ugly," from the album Dark Days, Bright Nights. The song received extensive airplay on urban radio, and the accompanying video, replete with images of pigs, mud, and hillbillies, went into rotation on MTV. Next came 2003's Deliverance, which further established Sparxxx's unique sound and insured his continuing presence on the national stage.
Born Warren Anderson Mathis on March 6, 1977, Bubba Sparxxx grew up on a farm in Georgia, near the town of LaGrange. His nearest neighbor lived half a mile away. As fate would have it, that neighbor was an African-American boy who was a fan of rap music. Sparxxx heard his friend's mix tapes sent from a cousin in New York and he, too, fell in love with the music. "We'd just listen to them like a preacher's sermon for six months, til the tape was just falling apart," he later told Ben Reyner in the Toronto Star.
Sparxxx's early influences included 2 Live Crew, N.W.A., Too Short, and Eazy-Z. He also listened to OutKast, a group out of Atlanta, 65 miles from Sparxxx's home. OutKast became, as he explained in the online Playgrounds Magazine, "the quintessential group for me growing up." Asked why he wasn't drawn to country music, as were a lot of his peers, Sparxxx explained that he couldn't stand the stuff as a kid; rap seemed to have much more to say to him. Sparxxx wrote his first rhymes when he was 15 years old, jamming with his classmates at school. He didn't consider a career in music, however, until after high school. Throughout his school years, his main interest was football. He played tight end and linebacker, becoming a star member of his school team and earning All-Region honors when he was a senior.
But a knee injury put pro football out of the picture, and college wasn't very appealing to Sparxxx. So he began to consider rap more seriously. His career was helped along when he met Shannon Houchins, a producer from the So So Def label in Atlanta. Shannon recognized Sparxxx's potential, and helped him obtain some recording sessions in 1999. The result was an album called Dark Days, Bright Nights. The album got some air play in Georgia and sold well at area record stores. It also attracted the attention of Jimmy Iovine, the head of Interscope Records, whose company was starting a new label, Beat Club.
Iovine flew Sparxxx out to California to cut a deal, and by then the label had some competition; offers were rolling in for Sparxxx from other labels as well. But Sparxxx stuck with Interscope and soon teamed up with one of the label's star producers, Timbaland, to cut new tracks with the production help of Iovine and Houchins, as well as Organized Noize, who had worked with OutKast. After "Ugly" hit the national airwaves and the video debuted on MTV, Interscope released a new version of Dark Days, Bright Nights as their first album on the new Beat Club label. The album landed in the number three position on the Billboard Top 200 Album chart, and Sparxxx joined the very small but growing list of white rap stars.
After an initial strong showing, the album finished with sales of only 609,000 copies, far short of the superstar status that Sparxxx and his label had hoped for. Sparxxx began to be thought of as something of a novelty act, his music referred to derisively as "hick-hop." Sparxxx suffered a bout of depression after his first major release faded from view. He stopped touring and returned home to Georgia to rethink his goals. As he explained on his official website, "I really wanted to take a step back and see why I mattered.... Why would anyone want another album from me?" The question on his mind was whether he was destined to remain simply a one-hit wonder. He realized that if he was to have any staying power, he was going to have to dig deeper into his roots, to find a direction that truly mattered to him.
Returning to music with a renewed focus, Sparxxx followed Dark Days, Bright Nights with Deliverence, a homage to the 1972 film of the same name. Although that film is well-known for a scene in which a male character gets raped by another man, a hillbilly, the film holds much more meaning for Sparxxx. "I think of it more like the meaning of deliverance itself," he said in Playgrounds Magazine, "as it applies to my own life."
With Deliverence, Sparxxx came into his own, fully owning his rural Southern roots in a way he hadn't quite achieved with his first album. Although many of his rhymes feature moonshine, rednecks, and hunting and fishing, Sparxxx has said that he does not feel he stereotypes the rural South in his work. Deliverance, which also features Southern pop star Justin Timberlake as a guest artist, tells Sparxxx's story---growing up in the rural South, achieving fame and stardom, and trying to maintain perspective on a lifestyle that is ultimately fleeting.
The new album was a critical success, praised by critics like Jim Farber of the New York Times as "a vast improvement" over Dark Days, Bright Nights, showing a strong, more precise style, and making "more informed use of Southern sounds." Sparxxx himself was happy with the new album, and has said he feels that no matter where he goes from here, he can rest easy knowing he has produced his best possible work.
Southern or Northern, black or white, city or country, Bubba Sparxxx has set out to prove that Americans are far more alike than different. "I think a lot of people will be able to relate to what I'm saying," Sparxxx said on his website. If continuing strong sales of his albums are any indication, he may be right.
by Michael Belfiore
Bubba Sparxxx's Career
Released debut album, Dark Days, Bright Nights, Newtown Music, 2000; released debut on Interscope, 2001; released Deliverence, Interscope, 2003.
- Selected discography
- "Ugly," Interscope, 2001.
- "Lovely," Polygram, 2002.
- "Jimmy Mathis/Deliverance," Interscope, 2003.
- Dark Days, Bright Nights Newtown Music, 2000; rereleased, Interscope, 2001.
- Deliverance Interscope, 2003.
- Atlanta Journal-Constitution, May 3, 2002, p. 3P.
- New York Times, September 21, 2003, p. 29, section 2.
- New Zealand Herald, November 17, 2001, Entertainment.
- Toronto Star, December 4, 2001, p. D8.
- "Bubba Sparxxx," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (March 1, 2004).
- Bubba Sparxxx Official Website, http://www.bubbasparxxx.com (March 1, 2004).
- "Interview Archives: Bubba Sparxxx," Playgrounds Magazine, http://www.playgroundsmag.com/music/archives/archint.htm (March 1, 2004).