Rittz doesn’t rap like your average rapper, nor does he look like your average rapper either. Throughout the early portion of his life, the Georgia emcee kept telling himself and others he was a rapper (when he wasn’t), whether it was during hangouts with his friends or during his nine-to-five shifts at the local barbecue joint. Rittz finally broke out in 2010, appearing on Yelawolf’s “Box Chevy,” followed by a highly-successful mixtape, White Jesus, and finally, locked down a spot on Yelawolf’s Slumerican tour a year later along with the release of White Jesus Revival.
Rittz’s “I’m a rapper” statement is now legitimate. He is in fact a rapper, and a pretty good one, too, lighting up crowds with his high-powered energy due in large part to his speedy double-time raps. It’s something that Strange Music architect Tech N9ne can relate to, as he later signed Rittz to his label this past August.
Although it’s rare to see a rapper in his thirties considered as a rookie, that’s the label he’ll stick with for now. Can the underrated Slumerican ride the momentum and follow up from his previous mixtape success? April 30 was the first day we got a glimpse into whether or not that’s true, as he released his debut album, Life And Times of Jonny Valiant, which features a variety of guest spots from Yelawolf, Mike Posner, Big K.R.I.T, and Strange Music buddies, Tech N9ne and Krizz Kaliko.
We caught up with Rittz to speak about what it’s like being labeled a rookie, his thoughts on the WorldStar Era, the reasoning behind his album name, and why he hates the word “swag” so damn much.
Rittz Gives The History Of His Jonny Valiant Alias
HipHopDX: Explain why you chose Life And Times of Jonny Valiant as your album title.
Rittz: When Yelawolf came out with “White Jesus,” I was rapping with another group of people, and my album was going to be called Jonny Valiant Volume Zero. Jonny Valiant is like a nickname of mine…like an alias. It was something back in the day when I was coming up with aliases and shit. Mine was Rittz aka Jonny Valiant, and my real name is Jonny. So the album is real personal. This is the life of Jonny Valiant. It’s a personal look into my life. With White Jesus, it is what it is, and now let’s move on to a more mature stage and really let people in and show who the fuck I am.
DX: Do you think you’re going to come up with another alias later on in your career?
Rittz: I don’t know. I think this might be the end of the nicknames. I’ve always been Jonny Valiant, and people always call me White Jesus. So at most, out here on the road, I’m never White Jesus. It’s never going to leave. Everybody sees me like, “White Jesus!” I doubt it, man. Jonny Valiant is just like my real name. It’s on some real personal shit.
DX: How has your approach to this album different from the previous mixtapes you’ve done with White Jesus?
Rittz: It’s different because I was in a huge time crunch. I was on the Slumerican tour, and I knew I had to write the album…so it’s really hard to write on the bus. I might’ve wrote five songs on the bus. I had a deadline to get an album done on January 31, with recording and everything. I had to come back from the tour in late November and really write it all so fast. The good thing is I knew it was coming, so I got with DJ Burn One about the type of production I wanted. Once I got the backbone of the production, I can put the different spices in different tastes of flavors on top of that. But I needed that backbone. Luckily, Burn One already had those beats sitting in my e-mail to give it that sound, and then I really took the words to it. The difference from this and other projects is really being in a time crunch. I really had to just not over-critique myself and wake up every morning and say, “Look, no matter what happens today, you gotta get at least a song or two done. And you got to present it until this thing’s done.” I never had to do that before.
DX: Do you work better under pressure?
Rittz: Maybe I do. I talked to Yelawolf on the tour. And when I was on the Slumerican tour, I was really stressing out about not being able to come up with the album in that timeframe. He’s like, “Dawg, you work good under pressure.” Everytime I’ve done a verse for him, it’s been under pressure. I don’t know, maybe I do. Maybe that’s the key, because I’m really happy with how it turned out.
How Tech N9ne & Yelawolf Impacted Rittz’s Career
DX: Yelawolf makes a cameo in the album. Has your relationship with him changed at all now that you’re with Strange Music?
Rittz: Nah, not at all. We’ve just both been really busy. He’s been busy for a long time, and I’ve gotten extremely busier, so I don’t get to talk to him as much. Yelawolf will always be responsible for me existing in the Rap world. I had to have him on the project. I initially wanted him on “Fuck Swag,” but we didn’t end up making it happen. So I sent him “Heaven,” and he ended up getting on it.
DX: When was the last time you spoke to Yelawolf?
Rittz: Probably when he did the verse, like last month.
DX: You mentioned how he’s responsible for you getting started in the industry and now you’re under the wing of Tech N9ne. How would you compare working between the two?
Rittz: It’s two totally different relationships. Yelawolf kind of took me in. We were coming up together, but then he happened to get there first and he was always a step ahead of me. He always kind of mentored me, but Tech [N9ne], I’m just a fan in seeing how it works. It’s totally different. I will say this, Yelawolf and Tech both have the same intensity and same type of intense personality in the studio. I’m loving Strange Music. Everything is so organized and structured. I’m loving the whole crew. It’s been a great move for me.
DX: It’s been less than a year since you had signed, correct?
Rittz: Yeah, I signed last August.
DX: But it feels like you’ve been there for much longer. Are you still getting used to living the life of a rapper as opposed to the regular nine-to-five life you used to live?
Rittz: Yeah. What’s good about it is all my life, my story about the nine-to-five changes up. All my life, I’ve been living like a rapper. It’s just when I decided to give it up, swallow my pride and act like I wasn’t a rapper for a year or two, that was weird. But yeah, it never sinks in. I had stopped today on MTV, and a single came out yesterday. I was just in some other magazines. It just doesn’t ever sink in, and I think that’s a good thing. I think the situation I got in my home life and the people I keep around me keeps me grounded. I’ve always felt like a rapper. Now, at least I can say it without being fake, because before people would ask what I do, and I’ll be like, “I’m a rapper.” I knew damn well I didn’t make any money, but now I can at least say I’m a rapper and make some kind of money doing it.
DX: What did you mean by you were living like a rapper before you were actually a rapper?
Rittz: Like, just saying it. People come up to you and are like, “Are you anybody? What do you do for a living?” [I’d tell them] I’m a rapper. You know how many people say that? They don’t make any money but you have those dreams. When I went through the hardest times and I had to get a job that I had to take seriously, I had a mindset where I’m like, “Maybe I should really stop trying to let everyone know I rap and just focus on this job.” By all means, that lasted two weeks. Next thing you know, I’m really a rapper!
DX: Did that ever hurt your ego? It’s like you’re in this rapper bubble but then you’re working at a barbecue place.
Rittz: Yeah, it’s crazy. That’s the worst thing, but now, to be able to say it is really cool. To be able to say it and be signed to a label. It hasn’t really sunk in. I have a crazy life that makes it not sink in. I think maybe it’s a cool thing.
DX: Do you still feel you have a rookie label placed on you?
Rittz: Oh, yeah. Definitely.
DX: Does it feel weird being that you’ve been in the game for so long?
Rittz: I guess in all due respect, I am a rookie at this level. But my mind isn’t in the mind of a rookie. Anybody that works with me knows that I’m not coming from a rookie. From an outsider looking in, I am just getting into the game. I did just sign a record deal, and I hadn’t put out an album yet. I can understand the rookie label. The good thing is that I’m probably the most seasoned rookie there is.
Why Rittz Says, “Fuck Swag”
DX: Going back to your album, one of the records is “Fuck Swag.” Does that record speak about the culture we’re living in nowadays? Not just Hip Hop, but more so the younger generation.
Rittz: Nah, it was mainly the word, “swag.” It’s one of those songs where you’re angry. The beat already had the sample saying swag on it. It’s irritating. It’s like, “Swag, swag,” so I was like, “Fuck swag.” I’m just hanging around the studio and all the dudes be like, “You good, man? How you doing? I’m good, man. Swag.” They like to say swag where it’s not even necessary anymore. Having swag used to be having that swagger on the mic and you know, the little pauses and that. But it’s almost too much swag these days. Everybody is just so swagged out. It’s like, “Fuck swag and fuck you.” Nowadays, everybody tries to be so different that to stand out as an artist, being different isn’t different anymore. It’s almost too far and too many rappers looking like Lenny Kravitz. I’ll be at clubs, and I can’t tell who raps, who sings in Rock bands. It’s all just a big mess. So you ask people about mess and it’s like, “Shit, that’s my swag.” Well you know what? Fuck your swag [Laughs].
DX: It seems you got a lot off your chest on that record. You must have went ham on that track.
Rittz: Yeah, I like that record a lot. It’s not about anybody in particular. It’s just more about the culture and the word swag. I think a lot of people want to say that. When Jay-Z came out with “D.O.A,” at the same time I think people are tired of that word. I think it’s time to use another word. “Fresh.”
DX: Would you feel great if you were responsible for the death of the word swag?
Rittz: Oh yeah. It’d be awesome, but it’ll never end…it’ll never happen. Swag is way bigger than me. Now after I did that song, I can’t even say the word either. That’s my swag [Laughs].
DX: It’s all a part of this Internet Age, but what are your thoughts on WorldStarHipHop and this era that we’re in with Hip Hop and urban culture?
Rittz: I think it’s cool. Every morning, I get up and I check WorldStar for interesting shit. The bad thing is I’m not really looking for Rap videos. I’m looking for fighting and dumb shit.
DX: Just like myself.
Rittz: Yeah, I think that’s what most people do. You’re checking up on interviews or somebody talking shit. It’s not really positive, it’s negative. It’s not to bash WorldStar, because I look at it. But I think people still watch television though. I still wish there was some way to play more music videos on TV without having to get the extra special package and get the special channels. I still think people watch TV. I think that’s missing. I guess most people are on YouTube on their laptops. I guess that’s why there’s a lack of TV. I really can’t complain about [WorldStar]. I don’t want to sound like some older guy that’s mad about it. I want to learn how to make it work to my advantage. If that’s the state of Hip Hop and where it is, then that’s the state we’re in. You gotta adjust.
DX: What’s the most ratchet, crazy video you’ve seen lately on WorldStar?
Rittz: Um, fuck man…I’m trying to think. I know I’ve seen some fucked up ones not too long ago. Shit, man. You fucked me up with that one. I can’t think off the top of my head which one I’ve seen lately. I’ve seen some fucking horrible ones. Bad thing about the Internet, everybody’s attention span is so fast. I’ve seen a guy run from the cops and get hit by a fucking train on WorldStar, but I move right onto the next video like, “Oh, it’s not a big deal. Next video.” Everybody’s attention span now is so fast that the next thing is one click away.
DX: It’s like we’re desensitized to this. It’s normal to see this stuff happen nowadays.
Rittz: Yeah. A lot of it is fucking terrible. You see people getting knocked out and convulsing. It’s really some sad-ass shit, but people just watch it. Like yeah, we don’t care anymore. It’s crazy, but oh well. Back in the day I used to buy death videos and used to try and get fight videos. It’s the same shit but more acceptable now.
DX: Were you ever a fighter back in the day?
Rittz: Nah, hell nah. I was really never much to be a fighter. I’ll fight somebody. I don’t give a fuck. Understand to be in this business, we gotta not give a fuck and be down to do whatever it takes. I could go without that feeling in my stomach. It’s sad because most of the people I get angry enough to beat the fuck out of are the people that I love. It’s never a stranger that I’m going to fucking fight. You always gotta be ready for shit like that, because there’s a lot of people drunk as fuck at these shows. But nah, when I was younger I got into a few fights, especially when I was real young with my parents moving to Georgia. I got my ass kicked a few times just coming up [Laughs]. I did have a wild group of friends and got into scraps, jumped some people and did that stupid shit. But it was totally not what I’m about. I’m a pretty cool dude unless somebody really pissed me off.
Rittz Talks Mainstream Fame & Race In Hip Hop
DX: In the past you talked about wanting more people in the public to know your name. It’s like you’re hungry for that recognition, and you always wanted to be mainstream. A lot of rappers would be like, “Nah, I’ll just do my thing and the rest will come.” It’s good to know that you’re putting it out there and you’re not shying away from wanting that fame that everybody strives towards.
Rittz: Yeah. It’s not just the fame. It’s not just about the word, “fame.” I just feel like I can rap as good as these guys.
DX: Do you feel you’re underappreciated?
Rittz: Yeah. Maybe not underappreciated, but not enough people know about me yet. That’s obviously what it is because if a lot of people knew about me when they named out Mac Miller, MGK, Yelawolf, Action Bronson, or whoever the other white guys are. I never get mentioned every time. It’s nothing that I’m mad about. I’m glad the other guys are being mentioned. It’s just that I can rap just as well if not, better.
DX: Are you ever envious of the shine they get and how you’re still not getting that?
Rittz: Well, yeah, but they deserve that shine just as much as I deserve mine. I think it’s the timing. I can’t say it’s fucked up, but it is true. My name never gets mentioned. I guess what it is, is not enough people know about me yet. What bothers me when I don’t get mentioned is when, c’mon man, y’all are leaving me out. Don’t sleep on me. A lot of these motherfuckers ain’t fucking with me. I don’t have a cocky attitude. It’s just on some Rap skill shit. I take pride in trying to be a good rapper. I take a lot of pride in trying to rap well. When people mention Nas, Jay-Z, Rakim and all the classic people, there’s some other people that aren’t as popular but they still mention because they can rap well. I just want to get my recognition at some point. Maybe it’s the timing, though.
DX: Tech N9ne talked about how he won’t go to mainstream but mainstream will come to him.
Rittz: I think that’s pretty dope. That’s a dope-ass statement. I’m out here with Tech right now, and every show is sold-out. I think that statement is 100% correct. I wouldn’t say my music has a mainstream sound but it’s not as—like Tech N9ne’s up there. I think my music has a little bit more of a mainstream sound to it, but I don’t know. I don’t worry about the mainstream. It will be nice. I’m not going to shy away from it. I don’t believe in the words, “selling out.” I think the goal is to get a job and move to the top of your job. You want to do the most you can possibly do. If you’re a rapper and you’re making money off rapping, next thing you know, you’ve sold a lot of records. If you want to do a goddam Pepsi commercial, that’s not selling out. That’s you getting a Pepsi commercial because you rap well. I don’t get that. You’re supposed to do that.
DX: Is your next album going to have more radio/club-friendly records?
Rittz: Nah, probably not.
DX: Have you ever thought about making those types of records?
Rittz: Well, I made a record with Mike Posner called “Switch Lanes” that got a nice radio sound to it. As far as club shit, they can play my shit in the club right now if they wanted to, but it’s just that I rap so fast. That’s why one of the main reasons I signed with Strange Music. Coming up in Atlanta, there was so much focus on making that club record or making that radio record. I don’t ever have to worry about that ever again if I don’t want to as long as I’m with Strange. As long as I’m successful, I’ll never do that again. The only reason I’m here right now, besides the fact Yelawolf put me on, is that I make the type of music I like to make. I know I’m not going to change it just to get spins in the club.
DX: Do you ever get tired of the white rapper label?
Rittz: Nah, not really, because I do the same thing when I see other white rappers. It doesn’t really matter. [I’ll say], “Is that a white guy?” I don’t think that’s ever going to change. It may change 50 years from now, but right now, there’s a lot of white rappers doing shit. That title is always going to be there because Rap is a black culture. It’s like if there’s a sudden surge of black country singers, then they’re going to call them black country singers.
DX: Are you familiar with LL Cool J and Brad Paisley’s (Brad Paisley) latest record, “Accidental Racist?”
DX: It’s pretty much a record that’s meant to open up discussion about race from both white and black culture, but they did it in a more controversial way. It was all over the news through its lyrics. But my general question is, do you still think racism exists in Hip Hop?
Rittz: Oh, fuck yeah.
DX: Has racism ever gotten through to you, whether it’s through a fan or such?
Rittz: Nah, but I’m sure there’s a million people who—I mean, if you look at a bunch of shit online and you see a picture of me, there’s going to be some people that don’t click on my picture because they don’t want to hear a white boy rap. It’s like, “I’m tired of this shit. These white boys and this Hip Hop shit.” That attitude has got to be there. I don’t think it’s a common thing. I’m not talking shit about it. It’s funny because I’m white, and I say the same shit. So it exists. I see a white rapper and it’s like, “Oh shit. Another white rapper.” You might not even listen to it because he’s white and you’ll be guilty of the same shit.
DX: Like you said about people seeing a picture of you and possibly not clicking on it. It’s like something people think, but won’t actually admit to. Do you think that’s true?
Rittz: Yeah. I mean, I just admitted to it. Not everybody is going to admit to it. Some people will admit to it like, “I don’t want to hear this fucking white boy.” But then some people will click on it and be like, “This motherfucker is jamming.” It depends. With Hip Hop, it’s pretty bad, but all of us judge people when we meet people. Everybody judges people whether it’s about their race, or where they’re from, or how they dress. That shit is never going to change.
DX: Do you look at it as ignorance that will never go away when it comes to stereotypes and such?
Rittz: I don’t know if I’ll look at it as ignorance. It can be done in an ignorant way. I just think it’s the way human beings and their minds are conditioned to judge and size people up. And part of that has to do with stereotypes. Sometimes you can be ignorant with those stereotypes. I don’t know, it’s kind of complicated. In a perfect world, it’ll be gone but it is what it is. It’s human nature.
DX: Do you think it’s tougher because it’s Hip Hop?
Rittz: Yeah, everything is harder in Hip Hop. It’s rougher in Hip Hop. One of my main things that I keep saying lately is that I hate when anybody hears a track and they go, “Aw man, he murders him on that track.” I hate that. Hip Hop is the only music that does that. That only started because Eminem did “Renegade” with Jay-Z and Nas was like, “And Eminem murdered you on your own shit.” Ever since then, everyone’s like, “He murder it!” Back in the day, you didn’t hear Method Man and Biggie on a song and be like, “Man, Method Man murdered Biggie.” You just liked Method Man. It was different back then. If you like Method Man’s verse, you might be like, “Method had the best verse,” but you still liked them.
DX: It’s about enjoying the music.
Rittz: Yeah, it’s about enjoying the music, I hate the whole murdering thing. Even when they say I murdered somebody, or I’ll go home and do a verse and they’ll tell me to re-write that verse so I don’t murder them. I don’t mind re-writing the verse. I’ll do the same thing. I don’t like the terms. We’re just making music together. Let’s just enjoy it. In other words, if I get Tech N9ne on my record, Tech N9ne is going to kill it. Using other people’s terms, he might murder me on my record. But I want him to do that. That’s why I got Tech N9ne on there. He’s a beast. He’s supposed to murder me on it.
DX: To you, it’s not a negative thing, but to others, it’s like the worst thing that can happen.
Rittz: Yeah, it’s too much competitiveness. It’s like just sit back and enjoy both of us on there. Enjoy each person’s verse. I did a song with Andre and T.I.’s like, “Andre killed me, but it’s Andre.” I mean, Andre didn’t kill him. Andre had a dope-ass verse. I just hate that term.
DX: To finish it off, you’re doing a show tonight. Do you have any rituals, habits, pre-show routines you usually do to get ready?
Rittz: Yup. I eat a Klonopin and I take a couple shots of whiskey, and then I’ll make a big-ass drink of whiskey and Coke, and that’s it. [Laughs.] I’ll pop me a little pill. It’s nothing crazy. Just a pill to relax me. I’ll pop a pill, take some shots, get a drink on stage, and go on stage and get it in. I pray before I go onstage and I go get it in.
DX: Any weird stuff on your tour rider? For example, Usher would require that his M&M’s have to be organized and separated by color before all of his shows. Are you a superstitious person in general?
Rittz: Oh hell no. That some asshole shit. Not at all. I am a religious person. I just pray before a show not just so it goes well, but that I’m grateful and here we go, please don’t let me run out of breath. [Laughs.]
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