Bubba Sparxxx, the country boy from Georgia-turned-superstar rapper, is the kind of artist whom marketing men sit and dream about. Not only is his story a classic tale of rags to riches – one minute he's serving up fries in a fast-food joint, the next he's on a plane to meet the music industry's hottest producer – but lately he's been touted by the music press as the new Eminem.
It would be easy to dismiss the latter claim out of hand. Record companies are forever signing up feeble facsimiles of already successful acts in the hope of hoodwinking music fans. But there are distinct similarities between Sparxxx and Eminem. For a start, they are both white and come with a unique rapping style. They both originate from a white-trash background – Eminem was brought up in a run-down district of east Detroit, Sparxxx in a house at the end of a dirt track in the Deep South. But there's more. Sparxxx was "discovered" by Jimmy Iovine – the same man who tipped Marshall Mathers III for the top – and was quickly signed up by Interscope. That's the same label as Eminem. Then there is the Dr Dre connection. As the NWA rapper-turned-producer adopted Eminem as his protégé three years ago, he has likewise been outspoken in his praise of Sparxxx.
But here the similarities start to taper off. In the looks department, they couldn't be more different. Sparxxx is 6ft tall, and chubby and has a penchant for camouflage clothing. Despite being only 24, he also looks considerably older than the baby-faced Marshall Mathers. And though Sparxxx has voiced a respect for Eminem, he claims to be more inspired by his fellow Southern hip-hop crew, Outkast.
As the increasing popularity of St Louis' Nelly and New Orleans' Mystikal demonstrate, the flagging momentum of urban hip hop is now being reinforced by a new generation of regional rappers. Sparxxx parades his rural roots with the same pride as urban artists do their ghetto beginnings. The video to his debut single "Ugly" sees him rolling around a pig-sty with his homies flapping around doing chicken impressions. These aren't the antics of ghetto-fabulous gangstas. We know that, unlike Eminem, Bubba loves his Mom. On "Ugly" he raps "This is Bubba's moment/I'll put my mother on it/I said my momma/It seems as if I love her don't it?" If that's not enough, he recently told a reporter: "Who cares about Bentleys, and the big houses and all the Playboy Bunnies? I'm just happy to be doing music." Well, it's early days yet.
You might say that Sparxxx is a maturer presence in hip hop than the cartoon-like Slim Shady. And though there's an undercurrent of rage in his forthcoming album Dark Days, Bright Nights it doesn't come anywhere near Eminem's sociopathic fury. However, like his city-dwelling contemporaries, Sparxxx's lyrics extend no further than his back yard. "Bubba Talk", which includes the sound of farm animals, bears the fabulously sardonic refrain "You don't know me at all/I say the same thing but slower than y'all/A little Southern tongue to top it off/Okey dokey, you's let Bubba talk". "Betty Betty" is probably the closest he gets to bad-boy rap, where he cusses the more, erm, flighty women in his neighbourhood. Musically, he is surprisingly eclectic. On Dark Days, Bright Nights you can hear the sounds of Spanish guitars ("Open Wide"), horns ("Bubba Sparxxx") and tabla ("Ugly"). "Ugly" features a sample from Missy Elliott's "Get Ur Freak On" with the R&B queen joining in the tractor race in the accompanying video.
The youngest of five siblings, Sparxxx was born Warren Anderson Mathis. Bubba is less a Slim Shady-style alter ego than a nickname given to him by his mother when he was still in his cot. Born in Georgia in 1977, he grew up outside La Grange, a town that boasts a population of 482. His father was a meat cutter while his mother worked as a cashier in a grocery store. Sparxxx's introduction to hip hop came via a neighbour, a black kid who lived a mile away who had been receiving compilation rap tapes from his cousin in New York. The first rap song Sparxxx ever heard was a track by 2 Live Crew. He was later introduced to the likes of Run-DMC, NWA, Too $hort and Eazy-E. After college, Sparxxx moved Athens in Georgia, where REM began their career, where he met his now-manager Bobby Stamps. For a while he worked with another rapper, Jason Brown, under the moniker One Card Shi though they parted company in 1998. Sparxxx decided to go it alone and recorded a version of Dark Days, Bright Nights and put it out on an indy label. A tape of his album found its way to Jimmy Iovine's desk. Iovine played it to Tim Mosely, aka Timbaland, the starry producer who has already sprinkled his fairy dust on Missy Elliott and Snoop Dogg's albums, and Sparxxx was swiftly flown to the West Coast to discuss a deal. It was the first time he'd ever been on a plane.
Sparxxx is carving a niche for himself – according to Rolling Stone, he's champion of "hillbilly hip hop". He's also half-way to being a millionaire. His album sold 500,000 copies within a month of its release in the US, and looks set to do exactly the same over here. But the new Eminem? I think not. This Bubba ain't badass enough.
'Ugly' is out now on Beat Club/ Interscope. The album 'Dark Days, Bright Nights' is released on MondayReuse content