Most young music fans know the story: Sparxxx, 24, (born Warren Anderson Mathis) grew up in a rural setting near La Grange, Georgia and moved to Athens in 1996. After intermittently working on demos for a few years, he finally compiled his best tracks onto a disc in ’99, hooked up with Interscope Records in 2000 and began recording. He released his major label debut album, Dark Days, Bright Nights (Interscope) in October, 2001 with a massive bang that’s been rumbling across the charts since.
The BBC recently called him “A foul-mouthed white American rapper who’s currently causing outrage and excitement… his rural perspective is light years away from Eminem’s Detroit strut.” MTV News referred to him as a “blue-chip wordsmith” who wears “signature bright Polo shirts, which are totally en vogue in his adopted semirural hometown of Athens, Georgia.”
Sparxxx celebrated the official release of his new album with a wildly packed “release” party in downtown Athens at Gator Haters bar on Clayton Street on October 10. The scene was replete with television and sports celebrities, limousines and screaming fans. The highly syncopated track “Ugly” was all over MTV and BET at the time.
Sparxxx just topped off an incredible season with a New Year’s gig at the Athens Music Factory and stands poised for further financial and artistic success in 2002. A clip by video director Chris Robinson for “They Ain’t Ready,” the Timbaland-produced next single off the Ruff Ryders compilation Ryde Or Die Volume III: In The R We Trust. surfaced on the music video channels last month. Sparxxx also performed on Timbaland’s remix of Limp Bizkit’s “Re-Arranged,” which can be found on LB’s forthcoming album, New Old Songs, and recorded on the new Dungeon Family album due out this winter. The follow-up video for the new single “Lovely” entered heavy rotation on MTV just before Christmas.
Among all the commotion, Sparxxx finally took a few minutes on a recent afternoon to speak (quite politely) by telephone from New York City about his rapid rise to the top and his musical approach.
Flagpole: What’s happening, Bubba?
Bubba Sparxxx: Hey, what’s goin’ on, dog?
FP: So, how long you been up in New York?
BS: Actually I’ve been here off and on for about a month. I haven’t been home much at all.
FP: That album release party at Gator Haters looked pretty crazy from outside.
BS: Yeah, it was unbelievable, man. I got there at, like, midnight. It was great just to bring that moment back to Athens, you know what I mean? Especially with it being a hip hop thing. I think the Athens hip hop scene has struggled to flourish over time. Everybody got together, and it went off without a hitch.
FP: How did you first get started with rap?
BS: Hip hop was always just like a reclusive thing with me. I didn’t have a block to go stand on and rap with other cats. It was more like an internal thing… getting issues off my chest. It was almost like I wrote raps like writing poetry. When I moved to Athens, I started pursuing it heavily.
FP: Who were some of the local acts who inspired you?
BS: Aside from me, this is a real wonderful moment for Athens hip hop. Lowdown & Duddy, those are my people. It’s going down, seriously. I just happen to be first cat out of the basement, but by no means will I be the last.
FP: Is there an Athens hip hop style?
BS: I think so. It’s unique… a little Atlanta influence in there, but with its own personality.
FP: Did you have a lot of your material ready when you started putting the new album together?
BS: Nah. You normally start with the track and then you bring everything together based on how the track makes you feel. I was fortunate enough to work with some really wonderful producers – including Organize Noize and Timbaland, who’s the best producer of music on this planet. Those guys are musical craftsmen.
FP: Is there a signature sound to your music?
BS: As important as a beat is, there’s still a great deal to be said for the artistry that’s required for making it translate. I don’t think there’s anything musically that’s a “signature” about it. I think I can be equally effective on any type of track. What’s more signature is me totally and what I bring the track vocally and lyrically.
FP: Describe your vocal style.
BS: It’s just Bubba talk. Different tracks require different things. That’s one thing that Timbaland taught me. At the end of the day, your voice is really just another element in the music. That’s why tone is so important. The way you make a marriage from a rhythm standpoint with the beat; that’s just vital. I don’t see where anybody can say I just rap slow or I just rap fast… and my drawl, yeah, I was born on a dirt road in La Grange, Georgia, so I can’t control that! [laughs]
FP: There seems to be a running theme of “authenticity” in your lyrics.
BS: That’s what hip hop’s about: honestly tell people who you are and what you’ve done in your life. That’s why people respect me in this business, because I’m sticking to the code of hip hop that’s already been established. Authenticity. I’m just giving my life and telling what I’ve seen and what I’ve experienced. I think that falls right in line with everything hip hop stands for.
FP: Are there a lot of hip hop artists who don’t adhere to that code?
BS: Yeah, definitely. I think people get caught up in perceived reality as opposed to true reality.
FP: What are some of the most surprising criticisms about you that you’ve heard?
BS: I don’t get near the credit I deserve as a writer. I just think sometimes people use dialect to gauge intelligence. People sometimes think I’m just this country bumpkin and call it “redneck rap” and “hick-hop” and all that stuff, man. It does me a disservice and this wonderful culture of hip hop. Anybody who actually spends time to try to get to know would understand how absurd that notion is.
FP: How did you survive the whole ordeal of the mega promotion on MTV’s “TRL” and BET and all the media stops this fall?
BS: It was real overwhelming, man. I went from shit to sugar. After all those years of hard work, it just really started jumping off almost overnight like that. I just tried to keep people around me who’ve always been around me; people who I know where they’re heart’s at and where their interests lie. You gotta make fun of the whole thing, you know what I mean?
FP: Have you been able to rub elbows with any celebrities?
BS: Yeah, I was hanging out with Leonardo DiCaprio in L.A. For him to approach me and say ‘Hey, I’m such a fan,” that’s unbelievable. What can you say about that?
FP: Have people asked you about your connection the Athens rock scene at all?
BS: Yeah. You know, I met Michael Stipe the other day. I don’t know if we hit off, exactly. He’s kind of a different kind of guy.
FP: What’s surprised you the most about all the recent fame and hoopla immediately following the album’s release?
BS: I knew it was going to be hard work, but I don’t think anybody can really prepare for such an onslaught. I mean, there’s a part of me that’ll never breathe again; you can’t just walk in the mall anymore.
FP: Do you plan to stay in Athens for a while?
BS: I’ll probably live in Athens all my life. I love being able to go out in Athens. I’ve gone through cycles everywhere downtown, but I really like hanging out at the Brass Monkey and some of those places on Clayton Street. I think that Athens is such a melting pot with diverse cultures and musical vibes. That’s why things just pop up from there. And it was just a matter of time before hip hop came up.
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