Warren Mathis is a Georgia-based rapper who was introduced to the mainstream hip hop world in 2001 as an alternative to a certain white artist from Detroit who was still taking the genre by storm. At least, that's how I first heard of him: once Eminem hit the big time, record labels sent their snakes to the far corners of the United States in search of the next white hope, and Warren, who performs under the moniker Bubba Sparxxx, simply fit the bill. That rap name represents Bubba's self-proclaimed image, that of a hip hop hillbilly who prefers the easy-going Southern lifestyle over the hustle and bustle of the big city, which would play well in certain markets.
Dark Days, Bright Nights was Bubba's debut album, but what I didn't know until I started writing about this project is that the version Interscope Records released wasn't the way it had originally looked. Before he attracted the same parent company that handled Eminem's paychecks, Bubba Sparxxx, who had written rhymes since high school, had already attracted the likes of local legend Duddy Ken, who apparently took him under his wing (and appears on all of Bubba's albums as a result), and Georgia-based producer Jermaine Dupri, who actually signed Bubba at one point but let him out of his contract once he realized that he didn't know what the fuck he was doing. Bubba recorded and released the original director's cut of Dark Days, Bright Nights independently on Newtown Records, and after it sold a bunch of copies (relatively speaking) in his home state, it somehow caught the ear of one of the high-ranking executives at Interscope, who tasked producer extraordinaire Timbaland (who had just set up his Beat Club imprint there) with getting the man signed, which took all of, like, three seconds once Bubba found out that Tim Mosely was interested in his work.
Interscope took Dark Days, Bright Nights and removed about half of the tracks, convincing Timmy (and also production team Organized Noize) to conjure up some new songs for mainstream consumption, which they did fairly quickly. Timbaland even signed Bubba to his label, boosting his profile and earning him a shot at conquering the MTV audience. The album hit stores in a post-9/11 world, one which required some much-needed levity, and as a result of that interesting timing, it sold a ton of copies, although most of you two wouldn't ever cop to owning one, as Bubba Sparxxx has long since not been considered "cool".
Well, your mother likes Bubba Sparxxx, so that probably means this album sucks today. But I just have to know for sure.
1. TAKE OFF
This glorified rap album intro (which replaces the actual rap album intro from the original) takes the route of using the idea of a plane taking off as a metaphor for our host's career ascending, and I have to say, it's pretty dull, although Bubba does prove (two bars at a time) that he does have a decent flow and could be considered a great talent had his overall situation been a bit different. Timothy's instrumental is the culprit this time around: his beat is what scientists would play in the background while conducting sleep studies on their subjects. Then again, this just an intro, basically, not an actual song, and I'm sure Timbo wouldn't fuck up that badly with providing his boy with a real beat when the time comes.
2. UGLY (FEAT. TIMBALAND)
And that time is, apparently, now. Bubba Sparxxx wastes no time getting to the lone hit song from Dark Days, Bright Nights, the Timbaland-handled trifle that will, nevertheless, be the only song that anybody still reading this write-up will acknowledge from our host's career (because "Ms. New Booty", his actual biggest hit from much later, shouldn't count). Warren rides on Timmy's borderline ridiculous (and I mean that as a compliment) instrumental like a champion racer, showcasing a fairly entertaining flow while taking the turns in stride. Although it isn't the greatest song that either of these men would ever do together, it still sounds enjoyable enough, even though today it conjures up images of its accompanying video, with its hillbilly theme and its farm setting that was more surreal than shocking. I'm not sure why Timbaland made the decision to switch back and forth between his "Ugly" beat and his work on Missy Elliott's "Get Ur Freak On" at the end (on some websites, Missy is cited as a guest on this track, but it's all just from the vocal sample), though: all it proves is how similar the two instrumentals sound, which is never a good look for an artist who strives to not repeat himself. (This was later drilled into the listener's head with a remix to "Ugly", which played the entire "Get Ur Freak On" beat over "Ugly". Also, there's another remix featuring Timbaland's other artist at the time, Ms. Jade, although that one isn't very memorable.)
3. ANY PORCH
The first track taken from the original version of Dark Days, Bright Nights is this skit. Kind of early to resort to these, huh?
4. BUBBA TALK
This should have taken the place of "Ugly" as the first real song on Dark Days, Bright Nights, as it is more successful at preparing the listener for exactly what to expect from Bubba Sparxxx. It also helps that it's a fairly underrated (in my mind, anyway: does anybody sit around in a circle talking about Bubba's back catalog?) and is, in fact, a much better song than "Ugly" is anyway. Bubba provides three verses that make up his mission statement, talking his shit in a clear and concise manner that helps him sound convincing, while Timbaland takes a simplistic beat and throws in a kitchen sink's worth of sound effects (unless a cow and a horse really did wander into the studio during the recording process). This holds up surprisingly well today.
Bubba immediately squanders any goodwill he's earned up to this point with "Lovely", a truly lazy track that was, curiously, the second (and possibly final) single from Dark Days, Bright Nights. Although he doesn't deviate from what other rappers have done and will continue to do, his braggadocio about stealing another dude's chick and ejaculating all over her comes far too early in the program, when at this point he's supposed to appear likable for the women in the audience. Timbo doesn't help matters any with his generic instrumental, which could have been cooked up by anybody with a Tim Mosely fetish and three minutes to kill. Milk was a bad choice.
6. BETTY BETTY
The first non-Timbaland track on Dark Days, Bright Nights (taken from the original) is a fucking hot mess. Fat Shan's instrumental aims for a Southern feel but ends up sounding like somebody broke the drum machine, and Warren responds to the challenge by, once again, potentially alienating his female fanbase, which all rappers do (even the women!), but most don't sound as socially reprehensible as Bubba Sparxxx when they do it. Even If Timbo had something to do with this song (which, let me be clear, he did not), it still would have fucking sucked, and not just because the title, which Bubba helpfully explained on "Ugly" is slang for "[his] girlfriends", is truly terrible. This is not going well for me.
7. ALL THE SAME (FEAT. BACKBONE & SLEEPY BROWN)
With a guest list like that, you're forgiven if you thought "All The Same", a new addition to the project, was going to sound like a Big Boi outtake minus the star attraction. The awful instrumental from the previous track (which shall now remain nameless) segues into Fat Shan's work on here not as jarringly as one would imagine, but overall this track has a ways to go before it will impress anybody. The Sleepy Brown-assisted chorus actually ends up being the equivalent of a "White people do this, and black people do that"-kind of comedy routine, except that it isn't funny. This isn't sociology, it's fucking hip hop. Anyway...
8. GET RIGHT (FEAT. TIMBALAND)
This wasn't bad, although the returning Timbaland's instrumental sounds bland, as though he found it in the recycle bin on his Mac and decided, "fuck it". Bubba at least sounds decent enough to not get run over by the beat, which is more than you can say for a lot of Timmy's past collaborators. Our host doesn't say much on here, but what is said, in between the random boasts, speaks volumes, especially the part where he mentions that, while he does love some of them, he generally doesn't even like women. Huh.
9. OPEN WIDE (FEAT. SEBASTIAN)
Timbaland's beat sounds like a leftover from his early Missy Elliott/Ginuwine/Aaliyah (R.I.P.) sessions, but Warren works hard to make it his own, and he almost succeeds, as his two verses are among the most entertaining on the entire project. The momentum dies a horrible death when Timmy's brother Sebastian steps to the microphone, as he delivers a nonsensical verse that would have sounded out of place had it been performed on a Sebastian solo album, it's that bad. Thankfully, Timmy lets the beat ride out at the end, as if to apologize to the listener directly.
Not terrible. Khalifani's instrumental is annoying at first, but it grows on you, and in almost no time you realize that it was much darker than you originally imagined. Bubba Sparxxx carries the "infection" metaphor as far as he possibly can, but even though it doesn't make any sense after a while (when he threatens to fuck your girlfriend if you choose to neglect her, wouldn't the title of the song imply that he plans on passing along a sexually transmitted disease to her as a way of punishing you?), our host sounded confident behind the mic, so that counts for a little something.
11. TWERK A LITTLE (FEAT. TIMBALAND)
A lot of you two will probably think that the instrumental on "Infected" was alright and this one is the annoying-as-shit one, and I accept t hat. On his final appearance on the project, Timbaland kicks an actual verse, boasting about banging both your mother and your sister (because he had nothing else better to do, apparently), and it sounds just as bland as you would have imagined. Bubba comes into this club-ready mix as only he can, but this utter tomfoolery is too difficult to overcome.
12. TAKE'M TO THE WATER (FEAT. DUDDY KEN)
This is the most "country" that our host has sounded on this entire goddamn album, which makes sense when you find out that this was also taken from the original incarnation of Dark Days, Bright Nights. Duddy Ken pops up in an attempt to provide a sound contrast to our host, but both guys end up sounding exactly the same over Fat Shan's instrumental (although Ken does differentiate himself with a quick comment about "bitch-ass n----z"), which isn't always a bad thing. But is the song itself any good? You won't want to listen to it on repeat, that's all I'll say.
13. WELL WATER
"Take'm To The Water" segues seamlessly into the second half of what should be called "The Water Suite", which is quite an accomplishment, as these two tracks were placed nowhere near each other on Bubba's original vision. Too bad that this song is boring as shit: even though the Fat Shan production wasn't horrible, the chorus will make you sleepy. Guaranteed. It's like aural Ambien.
14. THE 1ST WHUTCHACALLIT
This holdover from the original version of Dark Days, Bright Nights retained its goofy-ass title but sacrifices any sense of continuity, as it doesn't quite fit into what Interscope wanted to do. Khalifani's beat is minimal and interesting enough, but our host wastes it by bragging about sex (at one point he even insinuates that he hooked up with Mya, of all people), which clashes with the backing track more than a little bit.
15. BUBBA SPARXXX
Bubba Sparxxx is already a unique-enough rap name: it should be easily memorized by most of the audience, even if you don't care much for the actual music. So I'm convinced that the only reason our host wanted to include this song (a new addition produced by Organized Noize) on his major label debut was to have his name printed in many more places on the back cover and in the liner notes, all in an effort to finally impress that girl from high school who never gave him the time of day and left him with a hole in his heart, a hole that he has since tried to fill with fast food, drugs, and strange pussy.
16. REGARDLESS (FEAT. C.I.)
Our host's frank talk about his version of "hustling" in his youth reminds me of a certain Marshall Mathers at the beginning of his career, back when he was complaining about how shitty his life was because he was poor. Guest star C.I. fits in pretty well (as he should have, since this is another holdover), giving this project a late-album surge. It's a "too little, too late" strategy, but that doesn't mean that "Regardless" wasn't entertaining.
17. IF IT'S BUMPIN' (FEAT. KOSHA OF STONEWALL & BOHAGON)
I believe this is the same track as "End Up Wit Yo's" from the original version of Bubba's debut album. If that is truly the case, then this track was meh. And if it isn't, then this song is so obnoxious that it can go fuck itself.
18. DARK DAYS, BRIGHT NIGHTS (FEAT. TRIPLE PLATINUM)
Bubba Sparxxx ends the evening with a subdued title track that includes a useless hook (albeit one that even our host seems to question the existence of, which was a nice touch). Fat Shan's plucked strings paired up with an overactive drum machine serve their purpose, and Bubba takes the opportunity to reflect on his darker days with actual thought, clarity, and passion. However, the fact of the matter is that Dark Days, Bright Nights is waaaaaaaaaaay too long for a debut album, so by the time you reach this point, you just won't give a fuck. And so it goes.
FINAL THOUGHTS: I haven't had the luxury of listening to Bubba Sparxxx's original version of his debut album, Dark Days, Bright Nights, as it is pretty rare, so I have no idea if it flows seamlessly or what, but Interscope Records screwed the pooch on the mainstream release. Lyrically, Bubba comes across as a guy with obvious skill behind the microphone and the added benefit of a specific niche (white guy from the South) that he is an ideal representative of, and both the older songs and the newer additions showcase these skills admirably. Surprisingly, the A-list production from Timbaland hurts the project more than it helps, as his guiding hand seems to have missed the point of the entire album, taking Bubba to the club instead of allowing him to flourish on his own. Dark Days, Bright Nights isn't a terrible album, but if you put it in water, it doesn't float, whatever the fuck that means. It also doesn't connect with the listener, which is an even worse offense.
BUY OR BURN? Burn this one. Bubba Sparxxx has actual talent, and Dark Days, Bright Nights has a few choice highlights, but his better days were still to come.
BEST TRACKS: "Bubba Talk"; "Regardless"