Will the real Mr. Mathis please stand up, please stand up, please stand up? In a seven-year career Bubba Sparxxx has experienced more ups and downs than the Red Hills of Georgia. On his 2001 debut “Dark Days, Bright Nights” he surprised the hip-hop nation with “Ugly,” a Timbaland track that put the previously unknown country rapper on the map and sent the album rocketing to gold. If Eminem set the mold for white rappers to have hip-hop credibility, Bubba broke it and recast it in his own vision of growing up hard in the rural South. 2003’s “Deliverance” proved that Warren Anderson Mathis was the real deal, but unfortunately the mainstream had concluded he was either a fad or largely Timbaland’s creation, and thus his sophomore album was snubbed. “The Charm” pulled off a double play by simultaneously moving out of Timbaland’s long shadow and topping the charts with the Mr. Collipark produced “Ms. New Booty.” Unfortunately that success was ironic in that it traded in the very charm that made Bubba such a unique artist in an occasionally repetitive genre of hip-hop. By the latest numbers the album still hovers just under RIAA’s certification for gold two years after its release, so one might wonder if the chart-topping single combined with the shine being rubbed off his artistic creativity was really worth it.

In that same two year span Sparxxx disappeared off the map only to resurface completely unannounced with “The Lost Tracks.” To my knowledge this release is only available on surfaces like iTunes and Rhapsody. This is undoubtedly a low-risk venture for Sparxxx, as he could master the entire album in his own Twice On Sunday studios and distribute it digitally without having to pair up with any major labels or give them a cut of the profits. The flipside of that profitable equation is that it’s hard to generate interest in an album without the juggernaut of publicity those major labels can provide, even for a fairly popular Southern rapper with three albums under his belt. I stumbled across this album’s existance entirely by accident and various discographies of his career online don’t even bother to put it on the list. Since RapReviews.com is purposefully shining a light on “The Lost Tracks” that stance may have to change. While a low-publicity digital-only release undoubtedly won’t move the units that previous big label projects did, the song “Never Scared” illustrates that Sparxxx’ has returned his focus to authenticity and made it a priority over chart success:

“E’rybody’s so fuckin tough on these rap songs
E’rybody from the hood and used to get they trap on
{*pbbbt*} Well somebody’s lyin I promise you
Ran ’em through the Macintosh, you ain’t even half a block
Talkin ’bout half a block, boy you soundin real retarded
Wasn’t no dope until you started writing so creatively
If tellin folks the truth means I’m hatin then I’m hatin
But it ain’t nothin glorious in misleadin your audience”

That refreshing honesty can also be found in the song’s chorus, when Bubba vows that unlike other hard-assed MC’s he actually might be scared “just a little bit, cause I ain’t tryin to die tonight about no foolish shit.” Self-preservation doesn’t come with cowardice though, as Sparxxx still vows to defend himself if pushed to the limit. It’s a healthy dose of reality in a time and age where rappers make grossly exaggerated statements about blowing a hundred million dollars as if it were a hundred dollars, which besides being absurd is impossible to accomplish almost anywhere other than Wall Street. There’s nothing Wall Street about Bubba Sparxxx though, or even “street” per se at all, unless you consider that street a gravel road somewhere on the outskirts of Athens, Georgia. “Simple Gentleman” takes a simple horn loop, drum break and bounce sound and uses them in a simply effective way, as he vows that country boys don’t believe everyone who professes to be a G. “Easy Way” is a little more reminiscent of his Timbaland days, rocking a sung chorus and smooth piano backdrop, while “Get Em Shawty” featuring Killer Mike rocks an incredibly hardheaded beat as crunk as anything in the South. If the title seems familiar the song was also featured on the digital-only Mike release “Ghetto Extraordinary” but it’s apparent from this album that multiple versions of the song featuring different guests must have been recorded.

Sadly like most digital releases liner notes and producer credits are unavailable, so I can’t fill you in on who did superb tracks like “Too Much Pain,” with perhaps the single best use of a washboard in a beat hip-hop has ever heard or ever will. Someone deserves the credit for a song that goes down sweeter than Southern style iced tea, not to mention the rappers who collaborate with Sparxxx on the song can’t get their props either. It’s hard to consider such drawbacks a major consideration given the quality of this release, or the fact this is a welcome return for an artist who seemed at one time to have lost his way. Perhaps that’s just how they do it in Athens – you come back to your roots and do something a little more down home that may not sell as well but better reflects who you are and what truly matters the most. As such I give a toast to “The Lost Tracks” and hope that no matter how many units Sparxxx sells from this point on, the real Mr. Mathis will continue to stand up for rural hip-hop.

Bubba Sparxxx :: The Lost Tracks
7.5Overall Score