The term “country rap” has started to take its run in mainstream country formats. With the recent success of country artist Colt Ford and The Lacs , along with current “rap style” hits by country mega stars Jason Aldean (“Dirt Road Anthem”), Toby Keith (“Red Solo Cup”) and Tim McGraw (“Truck Yeah”), one would think that this is a new concept. But if you are a true music historian, you would recall that this movement actual began in 2001 with the release of Bubba Sparxxx’s debut album Dark Days, Bright Nights. The video for the first single, “Ugly,” featured Bubba and pals in the mud with pigs, on tractors and performing in front of a house covered with bug lights. If that’s not the epitome of country, then nothing is.
Fast forward eleven years, and you find Bubba re-uniting with his original collaborator Shannon “Fat Shan” Houchins, whom, over the years, has built the successful record label Average Joes Entertainment on the foundation of blending musical genres. “Bubba and I grew up listening to hip-hop and riding in jacked up trucks,” Houchins says. “I was producing mainstream rap and R&B records when Bubs first came to me and said ‘why don’t we combine the music we like with lyrics about the lifestyle we live’.” This wake up call led to the creation of the movement.
The platinum certified Dark Days, Bright Nights debuted on Interscope Records in October 2001 and was produced by Houchins and superstar producers Timbaland and Organized Noize. It was followed-up by the critically acclaimed 2003 release, Deliverance.
“I remember thinking, as a 12 or 13 year old kid, that the spirit of hip-hop music wasn’t a whole lot different than the spirit of the “outlaw” country music I had grown up hearing around my pops and uncles.” Bubba recalls. “The rebellious nature of say NWA, or 2 Live Crew, or The Geto Boys, in the late 80s, early 90s just wasn’t that different from the movement that guys like Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Billy Joe Shaver and others created by simply being themselves and saying what they wanted.“
At that time, Bubba’s surroundings were changing in the rural area where he grew up in LaGrange, Georgia. Various drug epidemics had penetrated his small neck of the woods, and the “reality” of life in the country had begun to shift. Folks were still hard working, and had traditional values, but drugs and violence had become more prevalent, as a new generation of boys and girls became man and women in this hostile environment. In many ways, the lower class, started to identify as much with rap music, as country music. This coincided with hip-hop, and rap exploding on popular culture, and the merging of the two genres. In terms of people riding around listening to both genres, this musical adventure was developing organically long before a “country rap” song was ever recorded.
“This is what we knew, and Colt and I started trying to sell Fat Shan on in the late 90’s. Now, Shannon was a country guy, but had been living in Atlanta for a few years, producing traditional hip-hop, and R&B, so he wasn’t necessarily seeing firsthand, what we were witnessing in outer provinces of the state. Then one day Shannon, and I took a trip back to Valdosta, Georgia and went to a local honky tonk. He was blown away when around midnight, the line dancing came to a halt, and the DJ started playing Kilo, 69 Boyz, and a lot of other ‘booty-shake’ music. And, these ‘rednecks’ we’re going crazy, lovin’ every minute of it! That’s when I knew I had him,” recalls Bubba.
With Bubba’s first album Dark Days Bright Nights, it was obvious as to what audience they wanted to reach, but knowing exactly how to reach them wasn’t as simple. This was also be the same dilemma they ran into with the release of Bubba’s second studio album, Deliverance; released a couple years later. Collaborating with with Organized Noize, and Timbaland, two of the most accomplished and respected names in urban music, they had a accomplished creative team committed to marrying the two genres.
bio2“This was an exciting time! We were very successful with the first album, taking baby steps toward bringing the two worlds together,” explains Bubba. “The lyrics, and imagery were definitely country but the music was still pretty urban leaning. In retrospect, that’s probably right where we needed to be at that time. As we prepared to record the second album, Deliverance, it was actually Timbaland, who decided the music needed to match the lyrics and imagery.“
As bold as Deliverance was, it was probably too big of a leap forward to win commercially when it was released in 2003. The record label was still marketing, and promoting the “old way” and spending tons of money at radio and trying to get MTV and BET to play the music video. It was also at a time when Lil John had the whole world “crunk.”
“We just didn’t know how to reach the people we were representing. Keep in mind there was no YouTube, and the Internet was still an infant in terms of the impact it would soon have on music. Interscope Records did the best they could, based on the way they did things at the time, but in the end we all failed miserably in thinking of ways to market an album so outside of the box,” says Bubba.
Deliverance had failed by Interscope Records’ standards and as Bubba plainly explains his family “couldn’t eat critical acclaim.” Keeping that harsh reality in mind during the production of his 2006 release titled, The Charm, a conscious effort was made to play it a little safer, and head back towards the “middle.” From that third studio album, “Ms. New Booty” was released to radio, propelling Bubba to the top of the radio playlists, peaking at #7 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts.
Back in the studio once again with his new label home, Backroad Records, Bubba has taken the time to sharpen his unique sound while observing recent accomplishments of close friends Colt Ford and Shannon “Fat Shan” Houchins who have built a huge following make music their own way without apology.
“It took time, but Shannon and Colt eventually ironed out the kinks and really spearheaded the post-Deliverance ‘country-rap’ movement with the success of Colt’s music penetrating through mainstream audiences. I salute everybody doing his or her own thang’ in this vein of music,” explains Bubba.
Quick to remind every artist trying to break the mold of traditional and mainstream music to keep steady in creating their own path in music, Bubba encourages his fans to remember that his brand of music isn’t particularly mainstream country music, and it isn’t rap music, but it has a home somewhere in-between the two. And he is perfectly content where he stands.
“It’s some new shit that traditionalists on both sides may never accept, but that’s OK. Who cares? THE PEOPLE WILL, and that’s the point,” says Bubba. “We fought wars for this, and it wasn’t always this easy. And, I will slap anybody who questions my right to sit at this table, and eat.”
Just try him. We dare you.