Exclusive: Bubba Sparxxx explains how he went from being a "a human garbage can" to landing back on the iTunes charts with the help of some old friends.
After releasing his certified gold, debut album Dark Days, Bright Nights over 10 years ago, Bubba Sparxxx remained consistent releasing two more albums—Deliverance and The Charm—before entering rehab to battle a drug addiction. Once clean and sober, the Georgia native eventually signed to E1 after severing ties with Interscope and Purple Ribbon, but found himself out of love with the music. He recorded three albums worth of material, but none of the songs hit the shelves due to creative differences and Bubba not delivering the quality material he was known for. And outside of a few appearances, Sparxxx eventually went on an indefinite hiatus. But now, he’s kicked his addiction and is ready to pick up a mic again with his latest album, Pain Management on his new label home, Average Joes Entertainment/Backroad Records.
HipHopDX spoke candidly with Bubba about his struggles with addiction, his new album and the differences between Country and Southern Rap. He also chopped it up about mixing different genres, staying in his lane, his new label situation and his country pride.
Bubba Sparxxx Explains His Seven-Year Hiatus From Music
HipHopDX: There is about a seven-year gap between The Charm and your new record Pain Management. I know you’ve done music in between but not an actual, full album. Was that intentional? Why such a long hiatus?
Bubba Sparxxx: Yes and no. Around 2006 and into 2007, I had some real serious struggles with drug addiction—around the “Ms. New Booty” time. I found a bunch of Ms. New Booty’s, got real high, and the parties didn’t stop there for about two straight years. I went to rehab, came out and really just lost the love… I had signed another deal with E1 Entertainment, so I came out after rehab, and I had just lost love for music. I went about a year-and-a-half without going to the studio for one day. I hadn’t actively said it…I hadn’t declared retirement, but I had just stopped making music. And then I got some inspiration. That would’ve been like 2008 through 2009. I got some inspiration and started going back to the studio when I was signed to E1, which was Koch then.
I recorded a bunch of music, and we had some ideas for what direction we should go in. I recorded a whole album, then we disagreed and they started having some different feelings about what direction it should go in. And all this time, I’m really just working off rust. I couldn’t really say very much positive about the music I was making at that time. It’s like anything else, when you are talking about doing it at an elite level. If you stop doing something for a year-and-a-half, and you pick it back up, you are going to have to work the kinks out. So that’s basically what that time was about for me. Long story short, I did about three full albums of material with E1, and for whatever reason—I love those people over there—but we just couldn’t get on the same page. Eventually we parted ways with them to a degree. I’m still going to do an album with them later this year to fulfill my contractual obligation, but they knew I wanted to go in a different direction with this label that I’m with now out of Nashville—Average Joes Entertainment.
With me being one of the predecessors or founding fathers of the Country Rap movement, these guys have been doing this on a pretty big scale here in Nashville. So I got down with them, started recording music and here we are—seven years later finally putting out an album. I feel good about it, ‘cause I had my moments but consistently, I just wasn’t delivering good material. So in retrospect, I’m really glad none of that stuff came out. Everything happens for a reason, and I’m even in my personal life. I stopped doing drugs and found some peace.
DX: What was the drug of choice?
Bubba Sparxxx: Everything. I was what they refer to in Narcotics Anonymous as a human garbage can. That’s pretty much it. I just loved partying.
DX: Have you ever spoken about this publicly at length?
Bubba Sparxxx: I have a song out now called “Splinter” on the new album. It documents all that, and the video depicts me dying, being buried and somebody digging me out the ground and coming back. I talk about a lot of that stuff. I’m not bashful about it. Maybe my testimony can help someone else. It’s kind of the spirit of Country Music and the Blues with what I’m talking about. It’s one of the more mainstream songs on the album.
DX: It’s definitely not the easiest thing to talk about, but when you give your testimony that might actually help someone else.
Bubba Sparxxx: That’s how we help ourselves, by getting out of ourselves and just helping other people. A lot of times, it’s as simple as taking the time out to share your experience with somebody.
How Bubba Sparxxx Defines Southern Rap & Country Rap
DX: Exactly. I read a few of your comments recently, and you said something that stood out to me. You were speaking at length about Country Rap. So for those that don’t know, what is the difference between Country Rap and Southern Rap?
Bubba Sparxxx: Country Rap is depicting or using Hip Hop as a vehicle for depicting life in really rural areas, as opposed to Southern Rap that’s like Memphis or Atlanta. I would say obviously what some of the guys like Colt Ford do is more Country Music with a sprinkle of Hip Hop, whereas what I do is rooted in Hip Hop music and has a little sprinkle of Country on it. So there are varying degrees of it. Southern Rap would have to only be done in the South, where Country Rap… There is a group called the Moonshine Band that’s from California, and people from Montana. So country Rap could be anywhere in the country—anywhere there is country folk.
DX: Well, you know in Hip Hop, we always put a label on something or somebody, and you’ve pretty much been lumped in the Southern Rap group.
Bubba Sparxxx: No doubt, and I embrace that.
DX: Do you feel as though you represent Country Rap more, or are you okay with being lumped into the Southern Rap group as well?
Bubba Sparxxx: I think I represent Country Hip Hop and Southern Hip Hop. That’s what I’m a representative of. I incorporate different musical instruments in my music like Southern Rock, Blues, Country music, Bluegrass and all kinds of other elements. You aren’t going to find a song where you’re not going to say there is some pretty authentic rapping going on. If you listen to my new album, that’s a predominant theme. If you think about the “Ugly” video with me in the pigpen being a country dude, it’s been embedded in who I am as an artist. I embrace both sides of being Southern and being country. I always say, “Before I’m white, country or Southern, I’m Hip Hop. I believe that Hip Hop defines me.” To me, that’s a testament to how broad that term is and what Hip Hop has done. I don’t think any institution or concept more than religion has brought more people together in any other walks of life than Hip Hop. It’s a beautiful thing. I love being a part of this culture.
Bubba Sparxxx On The Evolution Of Hip Hop In The South
DX: I’ve been listening to Pain Management, and it sounded different than what I was expecting. But after watching the behind the scenes footage and listening to the album, you definitely seem a lot more comfortable. It seems like you’re really in your element.
Bubba Sparxxx: I think that’s probably true. A part of that is because when I was talking about being a white Country boy from the sticks in early and mid 2000s, I was standing on an island with it. It was kind of just me, and now there are a lot of people doing it from Yelawolf on. That’s a huge misconception too, that just white people live in the country. I grew up in a community where it was 50% black and 50% white—so people like Big K.R.I.T.—that’s a country dude holding it down for Hip Hop. People always ask me about stuff like dirt roads, fishing, moonshine, hunting deer and driving big four by four trucks. Country Rap is one thing, but in a sense I do look at 8Ball & MJG, UGK, OutKast and the whole Dungeon Family as Country Rap too. It’s just from a slightly different perspective, but nowadays it’s a lot more popular and cool to be country. So maybe I am a little more comfortable, ‘cause I look around and see I’m not the only one reppin’ it but one of the few reppin’ it at this point.
DX: It looked like you all were kicking it and having a good time despite the rain and some of the other challenges while filming “Country Folks.”
Bubba Sparxxx: Yeah, we were.
DX: And the food on those tables…
Bubba Sparxxx: It looked good didn’t it? We did it up that day in spite of.
DX: Hell yeah, it did! So let’s flip gears here. Tell me about the new album Pain Management. Who are some of the features, and tell me how it all came together.
Bubba Sparxxx: I was really trying a different sound. Like I said, I’ve been off the scene for a while, so I was aware I wasn’t the hottest name in Hip Hop. I really wasn’t in a position to get Drake featured on my album, and everyone beyond the people I do have a relationship with was just listening to it. They liked it, but they really just wasn’t… If you rap about a particular subject matter, and here I come, and the subject matter is vastly different, then it really just wasn’t a fit for some rappers to get down. But I still feel good about some of the people I have on it. Rodney Atkins—a guy that’s had a few number one records as a Country singer—got down with me on the project, and that was huge to me. It was historical and groundbreaking. My boy Colt Ford has done a lot of collaborations with Country singers, but me coming from a more Hip Hop background and bridging that gap, I think that was somewhat historical.
The main theme of this album was just being innovative and incorporating a lot of different genres into the Hip Hop genre—Southern rock, Blues and Country. There is a lot of different stuff going on, and I’m really proud of it. When someone listens to it, I don’t think there will be any denying that nothing has ever hit their ears quite like this. I think that’s rare these days, and that’s what I’m most proud of. A lot of people make stuff that’s just different, but different doesn’t mean good. But this is different and good at the same time. I feel good about it. I’ve worked with some not-so-well-known and some really dope producers. I met Dan Rockett when I was hanging with one of my best friends, Polow da Don in L.A., and they were working on a Lloyd record. He and I started talking about musical theory, and I shared my vision for this project like three years ago. He had a lot of great ideas, and he jumped on board and did nearly half the record. Some guys named 5 Star; they are based out of Atlanta, and they are up and coming. I have a guy named Jodi Stephens, as well as my boy Mike Hartnett who’s a world-renowned ATL guitar player and producer.
I don’t want to leave anyone out. There’s Noah Gordon, who is a well-known writer from Nashville. There’s also The Lacs, and one of my best friends that have been on all my albums, Dirt Reynolds. I got I4NI, David Ray and Stump Phillips…it was good to get them on the album, and we have a real dope project on the way. Daniel Lee and Danny Boone from the band Rehab, which is a Southern Rock/Hip Hop band. So there is a lot of different stuff on there, and I’m proud of it. I think People that are open-minded and willing to listen gone dig it. If you liked me before, you probably gone love me now. If you loved me before, you gone love me even more. And if you hate me, you probably just gone keep on hating me, but that’s just how it goes.
DX: You have a lot of features on the album…pretty much on every track. Was your goal to have heavy features to showcase the different genres?
Bubba Sparxxx: I can’t sing, so I wanted to have big, powerful melodic choruses, hooks and bridges. I just wanted to focus on the emceeing, but I was involved heavily in the production. Fat Shan—Shannon Houchins from the label Average Joes and my manager Bobby Stamps—we executive produced it together, so I was involved heavily on the production side of it. I really just wanted to focus on making sure that the product of me as an emcee was strong and leave the singing to the pros.
DX: Everybody doesn’t know how to do that.
Bubba Sparxxx: That’s humility. Knowing you have some strengths, and knowing you have some liabilities. Emceeing is a strength of mine, and singing is a liability, so I go the other way from singing.
How Bubba Sparxxx Connected With Average Joes Entertainment
DX: So how did you connect with Average Joes Entertainment and Backroad Records? How did this partnership come to be?
Bubba Sparxxx: One of the partners in the label and the primary artist that blew the label up was Colt Ford. I’ve known him for 20 years. We were in a Rap group in Athens, Georgia in the late ‘90s, and we hooked back up. Shannon Houchins is the other partner in the label. Colt executive produced my first album Dark Days, Bright Nights with Timbaland, and I was signed to his production company at the time. My manager Bobby Stamps grew up with Colt Ford, and introduced me to Shannon back in the day. So I’ve had a relationship with these guys forever. They kind of just stepped over and did their thing with the Average Joes movement, and that was around the same time I was kind of struggling on Koch. Shannon reached out and was like, “Come on, man. Let’s try to do it over here.” And since I respected the brand they were building and the movement, I was eager to get down.
DX: You’ve somewhat had the best of both worlds with Interscope and Purple Ribbon as well as E1. But do you feel like it’s a better fit this time around? Do you feel like you’ll be here for a while?
Bubba Sparxxx: I think so, because even if I did enter into a situation or majors were knocking down my door again, I don’t think all that’s necessary. Average Joes is a well-funded independent, and you have so much more freedom. It’s freedom not only in terms of the music, but when you go the independent route, you have freedom to do how you want to do at retail, in the marketing strategy, the merchandise. It’s every sense of what 360 means. We just have freedom, and I enjoy that. I’m not going to say it wouldn’t be nice to have a million dollar radio budget to chase a record at radio. But even with that said—even with this sub-genre that we kind of created over here—it’s really not a radio format for it. So it wouldn’t do any good to be on a major. It’s like with this genre, what the majors are strong at is kind of obsolete. It kind of doesn’t matter anyway, and on this label, people are selling hundreds of thousands of albums, so there is not a lot that we can’t do over here. They’ve also given me my own New South imprint over there. I have the freedom to bring in other artists, and that’s cool as well.
DX: Tell me about that. What’s the name, and have you started working on building that imprint? What can we expect?
Bubba Sparxxx: It’s called New South. The main project that I’m working on is the I4NI project, and that’s my first order of business outside of just me as a solo artist. But then there are other people I’d like to get involved. Dirt Reynolds is featured on my album, but I’d love to do an album on him and see where it goes. But right now, as far as this situation, we are really focused on getting Bubba Sparxxx back in a good space.
DX: So will you be hitting the road?
Bubba Sparxxx: I did a tour this summer. I probably did about 50 to 60 shows in three months. And I did an 18-city West Coast tour with 18 cities in 23 days, so it was good to get out there and see my West Coast fans and reconnect with that energy. Right now, I do about eight-to-ten shows per month. I get around, and I think it says a lot that I haven’t put out an album in seven years and really haven’t had a major push and since the album came out. It’s been as high as the high fifties on the iTunes overall all genre charts. It’s been in the top 100 the whole time, and that says a lot. And not to mention, how many people could go seven years without putting out an album? It’s rare if they can go out, travel and put 300-500 people in a club in every major city in America. I’m getting a lot of that. Twitter is fun, and people get to talk shit and not be held accountable, but you can look at the 10% of that bullshit or you can appreciate that 90% of what you get is love. Look at how cool that is that so many people are just excited to hear I’m back. They’re excited just to get the album and hear it, and that’s the cool thing about being gone for seven years. People hear me and they are like, “Whoa, I forgot how dope Bubba was.” I think everybody should step back at some point. Maybe not like I did for seven years, but it would do a lot of people good in the eyes of the consumers. Give people an opportunity to miss you.
DX: A lot of people artists don’t know how to do that. Speaking of, a while back you spoke about this “mixtape” era where people just flood the market and don’t step away. I’m sure you and I come from the same era where an artist would put out an album and go 2-3 years before releasing a new one and they’d just work from that project.
Bubba Sparxxx: Absolutely.
DX: And now cats are dropping new mixtapes every other week.
Bubba Sparxxx: That’s because Hip Hop or music in general became such a hustle. And that’s cool, and it’s okay for everybody to make money, but at some point the art… There is a lot of people that throw out mixtapes all the time and still do good albums like Rick Ross. So a lot of people do that, but you’re right. A lot of people put out four mixtapes a year and one album, and you can’t tell the difference between the mixtapes and the albums. It’s all the same thing, so you are right, I do come from that era where OutKast would put out an album every two or three years. And everyone would be foaming at the mouth with anticipation of the new ‘Kast record. And people would just listen to it for months on end. But the reason people have to proliferate and put out so much music now is because everybody else is doing it, and so much music becomes available via the Internet everyday. A hot record today is gone with the wind by this time next week.
DX: Exactly. You also mentioned that your family couldn’t eat critical acclaim, which I thought was an interesting take on critics.
Bubba Sparxxx: No doubt. We all want critics to like what we do. I had an album…my first album was so-so in the critic’s eyes and sold a million copies. My second album was heralded by critics and viewed as an absolute Hip Hop classic. A lot of people say Deliverance was one of the top 50-100 albums if not in Hip Hop history—certainly in the last 10 years. I got fired from Interscope as a result of that, and then came back with a record like “Ms. New Booty” off The Charm that was slapped in the face by critics but sold three and a half million downloads. So it’s like, you just try to get in the middle. You want critics to like it, but you want it to be something that’s marketable. I think Kanye has always walked that line beautifully between those two worlds. It kind of is what it is. You gotta just be true to yourself, try to make good music and hopefully you can please as many people as possible.
DX: So what does the post-Deliverance era look like right now for Bubba Sparxxx?
Bubba Sparxxx: I’m not by any means a rich man. I don’t want for much, but I enjoy being me. I like the guy I meet up with in the mirror eye to eye a lot more than when I had millions of dollars in my bank account. I’m enjoying making music, being back in the saddle and having another opportunities. There were so many times where it didn’t look like I was going to ever put out another album because I was struggling with my addiction, or I just shifted gears and gone in a different direction. So I’m happy to be back making music and to be back to my roots and just having a good time. I’m experienced and wisdom comes from experience.