Rittz is your traditional rags to riches story. Sort of. Many things have gone right for the Georgia native throughout his music career, and perhaps even more times he’s found himself on the negative side of things.
From bad run-ins with managers and less than stellar contract situations, Rittz has been so close to making it so many times. Finally finding a label home in 2012 with Strange Music after catching the ear of headman Tech N9ne, Rittz has been at a steady incline. He released his debut LP The Life and Times of Jonny Valiant the following year and has since seen his fan base grow. While many in a similar situation might think it’s finally their time, Rittz takes a different approach, and it bleeds into the title of his recently released sophomore album.
During the process of creating his second studio effort, Rittz decided to call the project Next To Nothing, signifying that while he has risen through the ranks of the independent Rap game under trusting hands, he may at any time lose it all via any tragedy. It’s something he takes very seriously.
“Even though I’m living my dream, the financial struggle is real,” Rittz said in describing the album and its title. “And then there’s pressure on the music too, so it’s like one foot in, one foot out. I’ve got a little something, and I’m not complaining, but really if this falls off at this point, it could really be nothing.”
Rittz Explains The “Next To Nothing” Title & Touring Constantly
HipHopDX: Next To Nothing comes out September 9. The title of the album sounds like it’s inspired by this mantra of always being close to losing it all at any moment, so you’re “next to nothing.” Tell me about the album and its meaning.
Rittz: That’s it. I’m probably going to quote what you just said [laughs]. You pretty much nailed it, man. I’ve always kind of found it hard to explain. I’m really happy about my success and fame, but I’m still unsatisfied with where I’m at.
My story when I came in the game is like an older rapper who stuck to his guns and never gave up his dream, even though I almost quit. So I gave a lot of emcees motivation not to quit. I’m kind of like the spokesperson for that for my fan base. I feel like I owe that to them now that I’m finally on, to be honest about how that shit really is. If you don’t ever blow up or get a hit, basically you have to tour constantly to get financially straight. When you get a record deal, you automatically think of the word money and people around you automatically think money, and it’s just not like that. Even though I’m living my dream, the financial struggle is real. Then there’s pressure on the music too, so it’s like one foot in, one foot out. You said it perfectly; I’ve got a little something, and I’m not complaining, but really if this falls off at this point, it could really be nothing. It’s a crazy place that I’m in, and I think the music reflects that.
DX: You’re only as good as your last work.
Rittz: Yeah, you’re only as good as your last cut, that’s what Andre  said in “Rosa Parks.”
Why Rittz Says, “I Attribute All My Success To Yelawolf.”
DX: You’ve seen things go up and down throughout your career, and even when you had things going your way in terms of buzz, you were working a nine to five in a restaurant. Talk about that struggle and how that played out for you.
Rittz: That struggle was crazy, because yeah I was finally starting to get some write-ups in some magazines and stuff. [I was] showing them off at work, and everyone would gather around me for 10 minutes, like, “Yeah, that’s great, but I got to make some cheese bread, and we’ve got 40 open menus out here. Let’s get it in.” I was making no money working all the time, and it was frustrating, man. I’d get off work, and I’d take a little shower in the sink, like a little birdbath or something, and I’d meet Yelawolf at the studio. I would do something at night and then go back to the struggle during the day. It was frustrating, but it was great when I finally ended up quitting that job, and doing music was much better going through that struggle.
DX: You mention Yelawolf. How much do you attribute him to your success?
Rittz: I want to say I attribute all my success to Yelawolf. When it boils down to it, yeah I want to give myself credit, because I worked for so many years. I was doing a lot before I even met Yelawolf. And that’s another thing about being honest—no matter how good I was, even if I said I’m never going to give up—I only really made it ‘cause I got fucking lucky by meeting this dude Yelawolf at the same time and ending up getting on. So it’s really a luck thing, and that has a lot to do with getting on. The timing was right for him, and obviously the timing was right for me to know him and be in contact with him at that point. He’s the only reason anyone knows about me right now. If he didn’t come along at that point, I didn’t have any other options. I waited them all out. I performed everywhere I could, and it pretty much was a sinking ship. He came and gave me a lift. So I could say, besides the work that I’ve put in on honing my skills and getting better and being dedicated, Yelawolf was the actual key, and he’s pretty much responsible for it all.
How Rittz Began Crafting “Next To Nothing” Last Fall
DX: Sonically, the album has a big sound. It also has a touch of darkness, which is not uncommon for a Strange Music release. Tell me about how you crafted the album.
Rittz: It’s great that I’m on Strange Music, and it does make sense. But even before Strange, I made music like that. A lot of my music has had that dark side, and it’s brutal honesty about struggle. I’ve struggled for a long time, and just being a fuck up as a kid, you start to pay for it when you get older. It comes across in the music.
I have a process every time I make an album or a mixtape. I start gathering up beats, and I already know in my head what I want my next album to sound like. Last fall when I was on the Life And Times Tour, I started getting beats together. I get the beats together, and that’s my first part of the process. The beats have to be right. I’ll even put the beats together as I hear them going on the album before I have words to them almost. Once that happens, I start humming out cadences and choruses and different things. I never just get a beat and just write a song. I sit on it for a long time, and I just knew from the state I was in with my career and everything else that I wanted to have an album that had a little darker side. The Life and Times of Jonny Valiant was a little bit darker, so that’s how it came about.
As far as sonically, that just goes along with how I create other albums. I kind of have a vibe that I wanted. I went to Seven, a producer from Strange Music and told him the vibe. It was the same with DJ Burn One, even though Burn One’s tracks aren’t on there that much, they pretty much set the tone of what I was looking for. Then I just start putting in little pieces and insert crunk songs here, insert beat songs here, and just figure out what was missing. I always like setting the backbone of the album first with the sound of the music and the actual beats. I think it worked out, and I think a lot of the darker songs are just more realistic, and it’s a nice mix. It’s just like the album title. There’s some songs on there that’s reality-based, and then there are some celebration songs on there that I’m happy with where I’m at too, so it’s a little bit of both.
DX: In a previous interview, you said it takes you a while to write because you’re focused on the lyrical content and the story you’re crafting but also the technical delivery. Did it take you a while to make this album?
Rittz: Yeah, it took a while. The cool thing of how I did it was, when I was on that tour, having the cadences together really helped me out. Normally I don’t follow them that heavily, but being on the road, I had nothing but time in my hotel room. So I kind of knew exactly the flow patterns and everything I wanted to get in on 90% of these records, and a lot of the hooks were already done. So when I got back home off tour, all I had to do was put in the words.
I don’t want to make it sound like it was easy, and it’s really rough. It takes me a fucking while to write a verse. Unless it’s something that’s coming straight from the heart and some reality shit, then sometimes it just flows out of you. But a lot of times, I’m my own worst critic, and I end up slamming my tablet and my pen like, “Fuck this shit!” I end up lying down and telling my girl, “I can’t fucking write, and I don’t know what to do,” and you start feeling the pressure. It becomes more work than fun, but when the song’s actually done, you’re so satisfied with the work you put in it. It’s fun hearing it, and the whole time you’re like, “What was I tripping on? This shit turned out great.”
Rittz Says, “Some Double Time Rappers Really Ain’t Saying Shit.”
DX: Twista is also featured on the album, and he’s someone who was a big influence on you. Talk about that and why you wanted him on Next To Nothing.
Rittz: Twista is probably the number one person who influenced me to rap double time. To me, and this was even before I got into Tech N9ne’s music or a lot of other people… Of course I listened to Bone Thugs when I was younger, but Twista is by far my main influence, as far as double time goes. I think he’s up there as far as the best double time rappers there is. To have him on the record with me is fucking huge, and I can’t believe it. It’s weird to me, and that’s the era I’m from.
When I was 17 and 18-years-old Adrenaline Rush came out, so to have him on a record with me is amazing. I noticed that when a lot of double-time rappers do songs with Twista, they always try to make these hardcore songs like, “Let’s see who can rap faster. Let’s see who could kill it the hardest.” I wanted to make sure whatever I put Twista on was some laid back, pimp shit ‘cause that’s what I used to hear him on. As much as I like Adrenaline Rush and stuff, I wanted to do something that was me. I wanted to do something that was nice, something that you could ride to, and something smooth. That was the first time I heard him—when he was on “Po Pimpin.” We’re about to shoot a video for that record too.
DX: When flows are fast, a lot of critics say the substance takes a backseat, and you’re just trying to present a fast flow for shock value. Is that something you take into consideration and try to break from?
Rittz: Yeah, that’s actually a huge pet peeve of mine. A lot of people come up to me on the road and try to rap fast, and they think it’s going to impress me. I even rapped about it on the song “Basket Case.” A lot of people get away [with it] ‘cause there’s some double time rappers, and I’m not necessarily talking about people who are on, just people rapping period. They can kind of get away with murder, and they think that they’re snapping, but they ain’t really saying shit. It doesn’t offend me, because I realize the average ear doesn’t really understand the different types of delivery of double time and the fast rapping. They don’t even understand what I’m saying, so to them it just sounds like that. It’s just very irritating, because I put in a lot of time trying to make sure I say shit while I’m rapping fast. When people don’t hear it, the work kind of goes unappreciated.
One of my main criticisms is that I sound the same on a lot of records. Whenever I see someone saying something bad about me they’ll be like, “I like dude, but he sounds the same on a lot of records.” But any rapper that I listen to, I listen to them because I like the way they rap. When you put in a Jay Z record, he doesn’t rap the same on every song? If I just put in someone and their rapping is just double the speed, they can’t understand the fast rapping, so it makes it sound repetitive. I like Lil Wayne. He raps the same on most records. I feel that I don’t deserve the criticism of sounding the same, because my cadence is different and not just fast.
DX: Your relationship with Mike Posner actually comes from him just hearing you rap via a BET Awards cypher, and he’s also on the album. Him and Tech N9ne are people who you’ve won over because of your rapping ability. Why do you think your ability has been able to impress more than a handful of people who are big names in the industry.
Rittz: That’s the greatest thing about it. It makes me feel validated. For me, I’m realistic. Everybody normally breaks it down to me having a job and my story, and it’s just like I just realized how many people rap. There’s so many fucking millions of people who rap. For me to be lucky enough to be one of those guys to even be talked about… I do have a record deal. Mike Posner who does pop music or Tech N9ne who’s a legend in the game, or I did a song with 8Ball, or I got this song with Twista. That shit never gets old to me. I’ve seen rappers get on and then seen their mind be like, “This is my life,” and they kind of forget. I don’t forget, man. This shit’s amazing. The fact that I’m even doing an interview, it never gets old to me.
I’m just so happy that this is my life, because I worked so long to get to that point, and it finally has happened. I just hope more people like me and appreciate me for it, because that’s the goal. Mike Posner’s on the phone with me, and we’re talking about some music shit, and how I’m struggling to write. He’s an easygoing guy, and he was like, “Man you got to think, we do music for a living. Just think about that.” And I was like, “Yeah, man. I do think about that, but I didn’t write “Boyfriend” for Justin Bieber, man. I’m struggling over here [laughs]. There’s a lot of pressure on this shit. I don’t want to go back to living in a bedroom, man.”
Why Rittz Feels “White Jesus” Was Like An Album
DX: Just the fact that you called in for this interview on time reveals that you care [laughs]. But anyway, moving back to Next To Nothing, how would you compare this album to The Life and Times of Jonny Valiant?
Rittz: I think it’s better first of all. I think it’s more well-rounded. The Life and Times of Jonny Valiant is my first album, and everybody says that your first album is your whole life. It takes you your whole life to make your first album. I kind of agree with that, but at the same time that would have been White Jesus. White Jesus would have been an album. I think The Life and Times of Jonny Valiant was like the first album after I got a record deal. It let me just show everybody how dope I am, and being with Strange Music, I tried to cater to that fan base a little bit too as well.
I put a couple of songs on there that show I dabbled in Tech’s lane just to let them know I could do it. On this one, I kind of went all the way around me, and I wanted to make sure I didn’t change up my style too much, ‘cause I didn’t want people to think I changed for my sophomore album. I also wanted to do a couple of songs that weren’t as snapping my ass off. I wanted to make sure I slowed it down a little bit, and also with some of the double time, I wanted to make it a little more clear for people to understand what I’m saying. I think I’m just in a different space too. I’m in a different space than I was when I made The Life and Times of Jonny Valiant, so obviously the content is going to be a little different.
As far as the overall music, I don’t think it’s that different, because I always have the same formula, and I always like laid back, smooth shit. That element is always going to be in my music, and I sprinkled it in with some aggressive shit here and there, but to me, the backbone’s got to be like “Bounce” on that album or “Crown Royal.” Those are just some songs that are cool to lay back and ride to.
DX: Are you where you thought you’d be maybe five years ago? Have things been on schedule for you as far as your goals?
Rittz: In simple terms no, but at the same time, when you break down the goals I’ve set personally, yes. I kind of get this false sense. I learned it in about 30 minutes, where I was wrong, and it didn’t take me long. There’s that immature side of you that’s kidding you and looks at the Rap game from the outside looking in. You think, “He’s cosigning me, and I just put a mixtape out. Every one of his fans is going to come like my music, and he’s got 100,000 Twitter followers. I’m going to get 75,000 just right off the top.” And it just doesn’t work like that. It took me about 10 minutes to figure that out, and even then, you slip and make that same mistake like, “OK, I’m signing to Strange Music. This is it. I’m ‘bout to get all this. Watch this.” And it’s not. It’s more little bits at a time.
It’s the same thing with the BET Cypher. It’s probably the biggest look I’ve ever got, and more people recognize me off that than anything I’ve ever done. From that BET Cypher, I just imagine overnight things have changed, and they don’t. So I would say I’d like to be a little more financially set, and I’d like to have a bigger fan base of course, but can I complain? I just did a tour with sold out shows, and my fan base is constantly growing. I always said that I’ve never blown up, but my career’s always been at a steady incline, and it’s good for me. I’ll take it. I did set some realistic goals with touring, like, “When I’m off of this tour, I’m going to get a car.” I got the car. [Then I said], “When I’m off the next tour, I’m going to move out this fucking bedroom in my parent’s house, and I’m going to get a house.” I got the house. But now it’s just setting goals personally, and it’s finally working out for me, so life is better than it’s ever been before. Period.