BUBBA SPARXX, "The Charm"
Sparxxx is still one of hip-hop's most lively practitioners of verbal gymnastics, which go on full display in "Represent" and "Ain't Life Grand."The Georgia-based rapper Bubba Sparxxx is one of the more reliably inventive MCs to emerge from the the South, having hit it big with his tongue-twisting debut, "Dark Days, Bright Nights," and expanding his Dixie-based assault with "Deliverance." Both albums benefited from his association with superproducer Timbaland and his lyrical and musical embrace of his homeland. But hip-hop has a short memory, and since sales for "Deliverance" were by his admission not quite up to par, Sparxxx opens "The Charm" by -- stop me if you've heard this before -- dropping a single about strippers that features a whispered verse by the Ying Yang Twins, as blatant a lunge for airplay as you're likely to hear all year.
Sparxxx is still one of hip-hop's most lively practitioners of verbal gymnastics, which go on full display in "Represent" and "Ain't Life Grand," a melodic and introspective number in which he cops to his tenuous position in the hip-hop game. But mostly, this is by-the-numbers stuff, especially since he's given up the Dixie-fied sonic trickery that set him off from the pack (as he raps on "Ain't Life Grand," "I'm getting sick of banjos and fiddle s---," but taking its place is an assortment of easily forgettable beats). Sparxxx's lyrics are strong enough that there's a fraction of a great album in here, but mostly "The Charm" feels like a guy operating at half-speed and knowing it. -- Jeff Vrabel