Bubba Sparxxx's acclaimed sophomore effort Deliverance pioneered a radical brand of bluegrass-inflected rap, but alas, the world wasn't ready for its revolutionary fusion of Timbaland and Yonder Mountain String Band. It's an old story with a new twist: An artist experiments with a strikingly different sound, only to alienate fans and wind up stuck between worlds. The bluegrass crowd wasn't about to embrace a rapper, and the Murder Dog contingent wasn't about to learn square dancing.

Following Deliverance, Sparxxx parted ways with mentor Timbaland and hooked up with OutKast's Big Boi, the executive producer of his accomplished third album, The Charm. Taking a page from Common, Sparxxx has opted for a conventional but dynamic, sophisticated sound from proven hitmakers following a wildly adventurous commercial failure. Big Boi hooked Sparxxx up with Organized Noize, the underrated production team behind many of OutKast's albums.


Deliverance was a failure only from a bean-counter's perspective. But cue "Eye Of The Tiger," because Sparxxx is in full-on comeback mode here, oozing hunger and passion. In spite of his name, he refuses to be rap's answer to Larry The Cable Guy, opting instead for autobiographical rhymes that wrestle intelligently and emotionally with his challenges as an artist and man without sacrificing humor or charm. Sparxxx's music generally defies stereotypes about Southern rap. He isn't entirely averse to glorifying the female form, but he retains a courtly formality that sets him apart, as when he whispers "Whatever it is that you do, you do it admirably" to a sweet young thing on "Ms. New Booty." Sparxxx will probably never move enough units to justify his early billing as rap's next great white hope, but creatively, he continues to exceed even the loftiest expectations.