It's not often that you can say a musical artist was actually "ahead of his or her time." But Bubba Sparxxx can claim that distinction.
If you want proof, just turn on a country radio station these days. Artists like Florida Georgia Line, Jason Aldean and Colt Ford sprinkle rap and other hip-hop touches over acoustic guitars and lyrics about cars, dirt roads and throwing back a few cold ones. But before that — even before the chart-topping single Over and Over between hip-hop hit-maker Nelly and country superstar Tim McGraw — there was Bubba Sparxxx's debut album Dark Days, Bright Lights in 2001.
The beats may have had the polished, eccentric thump of mega-producer Timbaland, but Sparxxx's verses and the aesthetic of his music videos were all about the back roads and country folk of his Georgia stomping grounds.
"I definitely could have predicted country being present in hip-hop and hip-hop being present in country," the 37-year-old MC says. "To me, it wasn't that farfetched."
Sparxxx, born Warren Anderson Mathis, blended his affection for hip-hop and his love of his country roots to make some huge hits. Dark Days, Bright Lights produced the hit singles Ugly and Lovely. He gained his biggest success during the release of his third album The Charm, which featured monster smash and Top 10 single Ms. New Booty featuring the Ying Yang Twins.
But if you ask Sparxxx what he's most known for among his biggest fans, it was his 2003 sophomore release, Deliverance. It may be the perfect balance between country and rap. If it came out in 2014, it would probably be massive. But more than a decade ago, Deliverance didn't deliver commercially.
"A lot of people were expecting a follow-up to the club-type songs," Sparxxx recalls. "Country radio said it was too rap. Rap radio said it was too country."
For Sparxxx, it was the period of time after Ms. New Booty that he could have used his own deliverance. Despite his success and leaving Virgin Records to start his own label, he was stuck in a ditch of opiate addiction that kept him from the studio for much of the late '00s and led to a very public arrest in 2008.
"I had some very well-documented struggles with addiction," he says. "It took a while to get back on the right track."
Even though he didn't get back in the studio to record a proper album, he did manage to do shows a few times during the peaks and valleys of his addiction and treatment. Often times, it was Colt Ford, an artist who has also made a career crafting songs where country and hip-hop come together, who would later play a key role in reviving Sparxxx's career.
"Just being out there and seeing how happy people were to see me, it just energized my soul," Sparxxx says.
Now, after moving out to a farm in his native Georgia, getting into shape and undergoing extensive therapy, Sparxxx has a renewed spark. He signed with Backroads Records (a subsidiary of Ford's Average Joes Entertainment) and has released two albums since 2013: the aptly titled Pain Management and this past summer's Made on McCosh Mill Road. Both records seem to channel some of the Southern-rap-meets-country-rap magic of Deliverance. But when he performs live, as he will when he takes the stage Aug. 29 at Buffalo Wild Wings in Morehead, he says he'll bring a party to his fans that isn't limited to his latest musical direction.
"Everything is me. Everything I've ever done puts an aspect of me on display," Sparxxx says of his discography. "Every aspect of (my music) is what people pay money to see."
In a career that's seen plenty of highs and lows, from hit singles to personal struggles, Sparxxx continues to persevere with a new definition for success.
"I definitely wanted to make $100 million back then," Sparxxx recalls. "(Now) I just want to continue to grow. I just want to have a good life."
Blake Hannon is a Mount Sterling-based writer.