Once again, Atlanta has launched a simple catchphrase into the national consciousness. Several weeks ago, it was "lean wit it, rock wit it." This time, it's "booty booty booty booty rocking everywhere!"
Love it or hate it, "Ms. New Booty" is a hit. As of this writing, Bubba Sparxxx's collaboration with the Ying Yang Twins and producer Mr. Collipark (the man behind hits like Ying Yang's "Wait [the Whisper Song]" and David Banner's "Play") sits at No. 9 on the Billboard singles chart. The surprise isn't that another innocuous party song is ascending out of the ATL, but that an accomplished lyricist of Bubba Sparxxx's caliber wrote it.
An MC from LaGrange by way of Athens, Warren "Bubba Sparxxx" Mathis first emerged with Dark Days, Bright Nights, a self-released album that netted him a deal with Interscope Records and legendary producer Timbaland's imprint, Beat Club. When Dark Days, Bright Nights was rereleased in 2001 with several Timbaland hits, including "Ugly" and "Lovely," many fans didn't know what to make of Sparxxx. As he parodied his farm-boy origins on the campy "Ugly" video, some wondered if he was simply a perversely Southern twist on the black Svengali/white protege phenomenon a la Dr. Dre-Eminem.
If Dark Days, Bright Nights made Bubba Sparxxx an MTV star, his 2003 follow-up, Deliverance, secured his critical reputation. Musically, Organized Noize and Timbaland allowed him to expand into country, rock and blues while retaining his hip-hop underpinnings. His songs spoke of broken hearts, long and weary journeys, and an ongoing mission to define himself. Gospel-like choruses augment tracks like "Deliverance" and "Overcome," enhancing Deliverance's theme of lifelong struggle and triumph.
"I'm proud of that second album," says Sparxxx. At one point, he even calls Deliverance "one of the top 10 albums in hip-hop history, period." Unfortunately, it didn't yield a hit single on the scale of "Ugly" and got lost amid a 2003 holiday crop that included OutKast's Speakerboxxx/The Love Below and Jay-Z's The Black Album. Deliverance's disappointing sales eventually led Sparxxx to leave Interscope. He quickly recovered when OutKast's Big Boi recruited him to be a flagship artist on Purple Ribbon, an imprint distributed by Virgin Records.
"If I have one regret about that [second] album, it's that I alienated the clubs. I came in with 'Ugly' on my first album," says Sparxxx of the gold-certified Dark Days, Bright Nights. "Ugly" helped him break into the hip-hop market with an "uptempo and high-energy" track. "I felt like maybe on the second album I alienated that element a little bit. I just vowed to never do that again."
So now it's the "Ms. New Booty" campaign. Accompanying the single is a hilarious video where Sparxxx hawks a mysterious "Ms. New Booty" package on a home-shopping channel facsimile to a conclave of busty babes. He's also working with Florida-based Mantra Films to host a 2006 spring break edition of the Girls Gone Wild DVD series. The partnership already has produced a titillating website, www.msnewbooty.com, on which 18-and-over women can post pictures of their glutei maximi. (A visit to the website reveals that a few underage girls managed to post pictures as well.)
"We just filmed it with Joe Francis and all the people from Girls Gone Wild. I'm pretty excited about that. It'll be out in the next month," says Bubba Sparxxx. "I'm kind of a spring break, beach, 12-pack-of-Bud-Light type of guy. Spring break coincided with the whole [DVD] deal, and they thought [the 'Ms. New Booty' single] would be a good fit. Obviously, I thought it was a good money-making opportunity. We're getting 30 percent of the profits from our DVD, and we got a nice little advance."
The video and ad campaign, however, prompted a widely circulated protest from Lisa Fager and Paul Price, two former record executives-turned-industry-activists who complained on their www.industryears.com site that "Virgin Records' 'Ms. New Booty' is another conduit to sex, pornography and misogyny aimed at children." Sparxxx says in response, "If you're worried about 'Ms. New Booty,' then you've got too much time on your hands, man."
When asked how he came up with the concept for the song, Sparxxx explains, "I had recently just become an ass man, and started appreciating asses over breasts. I had always traditionally been a breast man. I wanted to celebrate that. [Mr. Collipark and I] went to a club, and we talked about different ideas and different approaches to interacting with women. We drank a little Patron tequila, went back to the studio, and that's what came out."
Still, some fans ask, did the artist behind Deliverance disappear? Released April 4, Bubba Sparxxx's third album, The Charm, is neatly balanced between club joints like "Ms. New Booty" and "Claremont Lounge" (which, if you're wondering, is inspired by the infamously skanky dive bar and strip club on Ponce de Leon Avenue) and Deliverance-style cuts. At the moment, "Ms. New Booty" is overshadowing The Charm's more complex, battle-style tracks like "Ain't Life Grand" and "The Otherside," where he ruminates on his career's peaks and valleys. But even booming party songs like "Represent" are deceptively shallow. A closer listen reveals lyrics such as "Just stack/Get your mind right but get your cheddar better/Volcano goin' erupt it won't lay in rest forever/Every level of the game, these country boys get into it/Nothing but your lips is moving, hustle 'bout your shit and do it."
"I feel like albums should encompass the roller coaster of emotions that life is, the ups and downs, the everything in between. I felt like [Deliverance] was one mood," Sparxxx says. He concurs that music critics seem to prefer albums with a singular theme -- think Nas' Illmatic or Jay-Z's Reasonable Doubt. Contradictorily, mass audiences like a mixture of sounds and styles, a formula that doesn't always make for the best art but keeps the audience's fleeting interest.
Sparxxx thinks that he can finally achieve lasting success by offering a mixture of party cuts and introspective raps on The Charm -- a title that references the common saying "the third time's the charm." He says, "I know for a fact this album's going to be my most commercially successful album. I know this."