So the grapevine has Hollyweird pondering a film based on late-1970s TV Dixiana The Dukes of Hazzard. The Grandfather Clause prevents me from voting for Brad Pitt, Wes Bentley, and Jennifer Herrema as Bo, Luke, and Daisy Duke respectively, making it more certain the cited lightweights will prevail: Paul Walker, Ashton Kutcher, and (horrors) Britney Spears. This project is somewhat more apocryphal than CBS’s recent thwarted attempts to make a reality version of The Beverly Hillbillies, yet still summons the important question: Who will sit in for the late, great Waylon? If they’re really gonna spin thangs 21st century, why not hip-hop hillbilly Bubba Sparxxx (né Warren Mathis)?
That’s Mathis not Mathers. Our Warren is laid-back and gutbucket, whereas the Motor City Mouth is tetchy and petulant. Referencing the long shadow the 1972 film Deliverance cast on America’s subconscious, Sparxxx’s trips down the Cahulawassee a fur piece to where forgotten wigga roughneck Everlast got deep and introspective as Whitey Ford. Like Joni gone jazz, Bubba takes the inevitable next step of all “serious” white musicians trying to extend their shelf life past the juvenile forms of rock and its successor, rap: He’s discovered The Blues.
At the tricky forefront of Eminem’s “white rap invasion,” endorsed by shamanic Authentic Negro Timbaland, Sparxxx—obviously biting the bad niggerdom of Redd Foxx—might could shake up the arena of miscegenated aesthetics. Certainly he’s ahead of Dirty South pretender Haystak and comely “streetwise” Stagga Lee, who dared rip off the ’57 Lloyd Price hit: “So I was like, ‘Yo, man, that’s like me.’ And I loved the name, so I took it.”
Fitty’s “In Da Club” has spawned a host of answer records, among them 50 Shekel’s “In Da Shul”; the best is Sparxxx’s “Back in the Mud.” As the North Mississippi All Stars’ Luther Dickinson sings: “I’m in the mud and the mud is in me.” Brer Bubba seconds that emotion, reveling in filth with pigs, his “fishin’ pole and a bottle o’ shine,” arriving at white trash transcendence almost on par with the year’s foremost Dirty South jam, Lil Jon & the East Side Boyz’ “Play No Games.” Deliverance as divine pastoral, sanctuary where the New South shines, rather than the dark, deep places of Aintry County where inbred aggressors hunt grown-ass pussyboys. In the video, tractor-riding Missy Elliott is replaced by Bubba’s homie in iconic Delta bluesman-at-the-crossroads guise, picking his country licks as a highway call to come on home.
If Eminem is hip-hop’s Elvis, then Bubba is its Gregg Allman, the white boy embraced by lowdown Little Africa, especially fellow musicians. Deliverance shows Sparxxx evolving and hardly stymied by the crossover hesitance of (the still great) Kid Rock. Could pig slop rival the Cosmic Slop? The O Brother Where Art Thou-inspired Bryan Barber mini-opus illustrating the title track actually displays a Bubba trying to get knee-deep in the metaphysic—with the aforementioned allusion to black genius throwing down at the crossroads, a multiracial baptism, aquatic rapping at least a tenth as interesting as Hendrix’s, and, most fascinating, the saga of Odysseus complete with potbellied Cyclops and a trio of Georgia peaches as Sirens. When Bubba presides from a hayloft over the summit of two deified geezers rocking to harmonica and antique radio while his two-tone posse gets loose, even Big Gipp would have to flash all that gold up in his grill.
So the New South continues its redemption, through a fuller embrace of the dark union that is the region’s lifeblood. To wit: the Kentucky Headhunters; they shore got some purty mouths. Them boys make hot buttered soul jams sooo good, they make you wanna co-star in a 1970s auteur epic consisting entirely of boudoir scenes with Kris Kristofferson. Unlike the Allmans and Skynyrd, who bore the onus of proving rednecks were not troglodytes, on Soul the Kentucky Headhunters easily draw on the rich legacies of Memphis and Muscle Shoals, recasting them for post-Carter freebirds and crunksters both. The ‘Hunters avoid the Negrotarian wreck ‘n’ effect of Robbie Van Winkle and Michael Bolton, fusing black and white folks’ shared sensibilities to produce the best blue twang since the Mavericks covered “Hot Burrito # 1” and Travis Tritt took on “Modern Day Bonnie and Clyde.” And, more ably than red-white-and-blue-bleeding Toby Keith, Soul extends Ronnie Van Zant’s lost art of blue-collar poetics. Showcasing legendary pianist Johnnie Johnson, reinterpreting Eddie Hinton’s “I Still Wanna Be Your Man,” looping Willie Mitchell and Al Green on a sonic conference call (“My Sunny Days”), and invoking the Band and Carl Perkins, Richard Young and ‘nem triumphantly, seamlessly, and organically blend country, rock, and r&b. And that’s not all: In “You Got It” they redeem their Nash-villain peers’ war-induced xenophobia with the simplest of messages: “Hey, little dark-skinned girl/What’s going on in your world?/ . . . Now from a distance, I got to say/ You hold my heart in your hands/Even though we’re from different lands . . . “