With a new label and a new, club-friendly sound, southern rapper Bubba Sparxxx is viewing his third album as a new beginning.

With a new label and a new, club-friendly sound, southern rapper Bubba Sparxxx is viewing his third album as a new beginning. "It's like the sun comin' up in the morning after a long night," Sparxxx tells Billboard.com of "The Charm," due in April on Big Boi's Purple Ribbon imprint via Virgin. "It's refreshing. To me, it wipes the slate clean."

The album includes tracks from past collaborators like Timbaland and OutKast producers Organized Noize, but "Ms. New Booty," which features crunk duo the Ying Yang Twins and was overseen by Mr. Collipark, is most indicative of the new commercial mindset. "It's distinctively different from the first two albums," Sparxxx says. "But at the same time, it's still me."

Sparxxx, whose real name is Warren Mathis, grew up in LaGrange, Ga., and used those rural roots to his advantage on the 2001 Interscope debut "Dark Days, Bright Nights," a surprise top three hit on The Billboard 200. But he came to regret his overall-clad appearance in the video for "Ugly," convinced it made him appear to be a redneck novelty rapper.

His response two years later was "Deliverance," a collaboration with Timbaland that fused hip-hop with old-fashioned country and Appalachian music, and found Sparxxx waxing introspective about Southern life. The disc won critical raves, and Sparxxx still proudly calls it "a timeless piece of art. I think a lot of people are gonna look back on it as one of the best records of the last 10 years."

However, "Deliverance" failed to generate a significant hit or match the sales of the debut, and Sparxxx acknowledges its hybrid sound made it hard to market. "It just kinda fell between the cracks. Rock stations said it was too rap, and rap stations said it was too rock," he says. "Even in retrospect, I can't put a finger on what we should've done differently."

When Timbaland's Beat Club label ended its partnership with Interscope, Sparxxx was set free. He considered releasing "The Charm" independently, but "something about me wanted to take another shot on a grand scale." After running into fellow Georgian Big Boi in London, and learning of his plans for Purple Ribbon, Sparxxx says the decision to sign with his longtime hero was an easy one.

"OutKast is the most precious thing to me that has ever been in music," he declares. "Whatever they said was law. For me to be in this position is just a huge honor."

Sparxxx says plans are being discussed for a Purple Ribbon tour this spring or summer with cohorts like Killa Mike and Sleepy Brown. In the meantime, he's hopeful "The Charm" can win back his club credibility. "I will never again have an album that has nothing for the clubs," he says. "But then again, I'll never have an album that doesn't have any substance, either."

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboard

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