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Bubba Sparxxx

Timbaland and Bubba Sparxxx are the new tag-team champions of rap. With Deliverance, the second Bubba album produced mostly by Tim, they've made the best hip-hop album since Jay-Z's 2001 entry The Blueprint. The undying punch of their collaboration seems amazing when you consider how far they travel for their common ground.

Sparxxx, born Warren Mathis, is a white man who grew up dirt poor in rural Georgia but somehow caught the hip-hop bug. He also developed a more-than-competent cadence and sense of identity. Timbaland, a black man from Virginia Beach, has reinvented urban music over the past decade with his eccentric rhythm patterns and instrumentation. He draws strength as a producer from being geeky, beautiful and cool all at once.

Sensing the vastness of their differences (Dr. Dre and Eminem both grew up in huge, terrifying 'hoods; they aren't that diametrically opposed), Tim and Bubba continually challenge each other, and they transcend the crassest of marketing. Think the new album's title is coincidental?

The hillbilly boy scores his credibility points largely by taming the trickiest of Timbaland's beats. The widely employed producer essentially recycles two of his best works -- the woozy wigga-wigga-boom of Justin Timberlake's "Cry Me a River" (here, it's "Nowhere") and the mystical propulsion of Missy Elliott's "Get Ur Freak On" ("Hootnanny"). Undeterred, Bubba taps into his charisma to gain as a monologist ("Let these cats amuse you with comical depictions/Where we from/Being broke is no great distinction") and as a joke-teller ("I need another farm to bequeath my next of kin to").

Meanwhile, Timbaland uses the singular Sparxxx persona to do something he'd never be able to do for a black rapper. Over the course of the record, he invents genuine country and western hip-hop. "Jimmy Mathis" is still undeniably a Timbaland creation but installs a jammin' harmonica loop to weave in and out of the skittering clap-drums -- Bubba's evocation of his bus-driving father on the hook is wholly appropriate. On "Comin' Round," the producer samples bluegrass band Yonder Mountain String Band and beatboxes (?!) alongside the fiddle. Other tracks use acoustic guitar, juke-joint horns, and drunken choirs.

The partners each score their biggest triumph on the title track. Not an ode to cinematic sodomy after all, the song is a star maker on a par with 50 Cent's "In Da Club." Bubba's short verses showcase his lyrical gifts and a casual confidence ("Legends are made out of vulnerable men"). And Timbaland's melodicism and charming goofiness (the front-porch blues guitar and "woo-hoo!" background vocals) help the shtick about carrying a fishing pole and drinking a bottle o' shine sound hip. He's never concocted anything quite this catchy.

Deliverance may be the best thing either man will ever do, which, given Timbaland's all-encompassing profile, says an awful lot.