Ugly

Album: Dark Days, Bright Nights (2001)
Charted: 7 15
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Songfacts®:

  • Bubba Sparxxx (real name: Warren Mathis) was the first successful white country rapper, emerging from rural Georgia with his first single, "Ugly," where he leans into the hillbilly stereotype, flipping the meaning of the word so "ugly" is beautiful. He and his ilk spend a lot of time in the mud and won't be dating any models, but that's just fine. If the rest of the world sees them as ugly, then they'll proudly get ugly up in here. There's a reason it's called the "dirty South."
  • Sparxxx was produced by Timbaland and signed to his Beat Club label, a division of Interscope. On "Ugly," Timbaland recycled the beat to "Get Ur Freak On," the Missy Elliott hit he wrote and produced with her. Timbaland was the hottest producer in the game, with hits for Ginuwine ("So Anxious") and Aaliyah ("Try Again").

    "Get Ur Freak On" was a hit in the summer of 2001; "Ugly" reached its chart peak of #15 in the US that November. The beat was still fresh but also felt familiar, so it was a great way to launch a new artist. With Timbaland, Sparxxx had instant hip-hop credibility and an in to radio stations that were happy to play a new Timbaland jam, even if the vessel was a husky white guy from Georgia.
  • There was little discussion on race or appropriation when Bubba Sparxxx broke into the rap game with this song. Like Eminem, he had the backing of a highly respected Black producer (in Em's case, Dr. Dre). And by this time, white rappers weren't all that uncommon - the Canadian rapper Snow had a #1 hit with the reggae-rap "Informer" in 1993.

    And despite melding country and rap, politics didn't come into play either, partly because there's nothing political in the song, but also because of the timing: The song was released in August 2001 but didn't make an impact until that October - it was one of the first hits post-9/11. This was a time when regional differences were put aside.
  • Missy Elliott and Timbaland both add vocals on the track, with Elliott hitting up her famous "Holler..." from "Get Ur Freak On" along with a few lines from the song ("Copywritten so don't copy me"). Timbaland often appeared on the songs he produced, which became one of his signature marks. You'll hear lots of him in Aaliyah's "Are You That Somebody?"
  • The music video was shot in Athens, Georgia, and directed by Marc Klasfeld, who also did Nelly's "Ride Wit Me." It shows Bubba and his crew getting ugly, cavorting with pigs and rodents as they make their own fun. Timbaland appears, as does Missy Elliott, who shows up on a tractor at the end doing her vocals. Having Elliott in the video pretty much guaranteed airplay on MTV, where she was a shining star thanks to inventive videos like "The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)" and "One Minute Man."
  • Bubba's good buddy Steve Herndon, at the time an offensive lineman for the Denver Broncos, has a starring role, hanging out in the pigpen and around the farm. Herndon played college football at the University of Georgia in Athens where the video was shot - a helmet from the school shows up in tribute.

    Herndon also appeared in Sparxxx' video for "Deliverance" (2003).
  • Sparxxx' next album, Deliverance, was also produced by Timbaland. Released in 2003, the title track was a hit, but by this time Bubba was battling addiction and facing the consequences of an overindulgent lifestyle. Dropped from Interscope, he signed to Big Boi's Purple Ribbon Records imprint (part of Virgin) and had another hit with "Ms. New Booty." He got hooked on opioids after being injured in a snowmobile accident, so he went to rehab, which derailed his career but probably saved his life. When he returned to action in 2013, it was with the album Pain Management, released on Backroad Records, the label founded by another country rapper, Colt Ford.

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