My first interaction with Rittz was around a few weeks after he dropped his White Jesus mixtape at a random SXSW showcase. I’ll never forget that moment either. Being the struggling writer willing to cover any and everything, my schedule at that time involved interviewing more up-and-coming artists than anyone really established. A major record label had me interviewing an artist who eventually found himself dropped years later. His tardiness should have been an early indicator. In the meantime, a smaller nearby bar featured a large crowd circling an individual who spat the rapid fire bars “White boy going ham, ya’ll wearing tight jeans / Going glam, going going going damn / Got ‘em buzzin in the club like, boing boing blam / Like a fat couple fuckin in a dodge ram / Cup fulla Crown who drunk as I am? (I am!).” Getting close revealed the brownish orange haired individual who would one day become one fascinating signee to the Strange Music roster. The story of going from an associate of Yelawolf’s Slumerican brand to three albums deep in the home that Tech N9ne and Travis built is nothing short of amazing. This includes the recently released Top of The Line which features guest appearances from Devin The Dude, E-40 and MJG.

During Strange Music’s takeover of the DXHQ in mid-May, Rittz sits down to discuss his latest release, battle with drugs and alcohol and life on the road.

Strange Music’s Tour Regiment Is Exhausting

HipHopDX: Look like all of you guys are coming from a wild night. How’s everything?

Rittz: Good man. I’m a little rough. We had a late night. You know we’re out here on the road. I’m feeling like I need some sleep, but we keep pushing through. That tour life.

DX: What’s it like keeping up with everything that’s going on tour wise? Strange is known for having such a strenuous tour schedule.

Rittz: Yeah they do man. I need to start copying some of the guys on the tour because I’m not doing it right. [Laughs] I started the tour off wild and the thing is, you travel so much, you start making friends in different cities. You don’t have to, but you end up entertaining them. Next thing you know, I can’t sleep unless the bus is in motion. Sometimes, the bus doesn’t get in motion until 6 a.m. We go to sleep around 6 a.m. or 8:30 a.m., waking up at 11 a.m. in a bunk and you’re hopping into meet-and-greets for 100 or so people. So, you’re tired. That’s my schedule. Once, the meet-and-greets are over, I go to a hotel and go to sleep. I just spend the money on a hotel. Even if that means me getting just two hours before the show. I just go rock the show and then we do the same thing again. It’s just day-after-day.

DX:It’s been five years since White Jesus. Looking back at the mixtape and what it did for your career. Is there something you take from that moment years down the line?

Rittz: A lot of people still love it. Sometimes, it’s the age old people fall in love with your first project. It ain’t better than White Jesus people still say, but it did a lot for me. It definitely doesn’t seem like five years to me at all. It’s all just been a flash. Unfortunately, I haven’t really been able to soak it in like I really want to. Some days, you have a moment to soak it in. I remember the day I quit my job a long time ago. It just happened. It wasn’t like I quit and felt it every day. It was like I eased into quitting. On one Sunday, I was in McDonalds eating and I was like dawg, I use to pray just be able to go to McDonalds to eat on a Sunday. I use to work on Sundays getting drilled working doubles. Every tour that goes by and year that goes by, I make more money. It helps me sink in the fact that I’ve made it. I rap for a living and achieved a lot so give yourself a pat on the back. It’s rare to have those moments where you get to let it all sink in. It’s all been this whirlwind of stuff since then. I’m just trying to get bigger and bigger.

DX: What’s been going on with you since Next to Nothing?

Rittz: After Next To Nothing, we basically did a lot of tours. I toured a lot. I went on the OD Tour with Tuki Carter, then toured with Yelawolf and then went on a tour with Crooked I. I basically burnt myself out on the music and the material I had. There’s only so many times in a solo period to tour that much and I was getting wild on tour. I had to go to the hospital, messed up my knee, trying to fight security on the bus, doing drunk stuff and trying to come home hurting from partying too much. When I came home, I had a lot of time off. In that time off, it was album time. It was time to write the next album. Really, that’s what I’ve been doing. That’s when I started working on Top of The Line. That’s where we’re at or were at. I don’t think I’ve had in this five-year-period since White Jesus this much time off just to chill. I got engaged and getting married. Wrote the album and now we’re back out here on the road.

DX: I remember reading something last year where you did something amazing for fans.

Rittz: Yeah there was this girl in my hometown. A tree had hit their roof and on the news, they had shown a poster of mines. I just wanted to go to their crib and turns out I knew the person. I talked to the little girl and gave them some gear and stuff like that. I just try to look out like that. This guy was just coming home from Iraq and I surprised him at a party. I just try to do anything that I can. I think the music helps save people too. Hopefully, that’s helping too. That’s what it was. Got to get on the news a little bit.

DX: What was the plan for Top of the Line? This is your third album on Strange.

Rittz: On Next to Nothing, I was kind of insecure about where I stood within the music industry. I didn’t feel like financially – a lot of people put seeds in your head so people, friends and family you surround yourself with think that when you get a record deal, you’re rich or your whole lifestyle has changed. Next to Nothing was me fighting that line of listening to them in my ear and knowing that I’m in the game. I had a lot of frustration. Now, I don’t have that anymore. My attitude is a lot more optimistic and a lot more positive. With Top of the Line, I wanted to make a project with a certain sound. Second, I wanted to make something that this isn’t Next to Nothing. I’m in the game, this is what I do and let me give you the best that I can give. This is the best or top of the line product. It came from the homies that said, “If you’re not fuckin with Rittz, then it isn’t top of the line.” In other words, if you don’t like my music, you don’t know what good rap is in my opinion. That’s some cocky shit to say right? Everybody has their own opinions, but I went into it with that mindset which is good. I wanted it to have a retro sound and wanted it to be classic. I turned out well and it worked.

Rittz’s Album Features Are Always With His Favorite MCs

DX: You always have these really cool left-field features. Even going back to The Legend of Johnny Valiant where you had the Suga Free guest appearance. That’s one of my favorite tracks on the project.

Rittz: That’s probably one of the favorite features that I’ve ever had. One of them.

DX: I remember doing an interview with Suga Free around that time and he said he spent some time studying your flows before tackling that track.

Rittz: Man it was crazy. It was awesome. Last time I toured with Tech, we were on the first Independent Powerhouse tour. We went to a Paid Dues festival or I could be wrong. I had a day off and I got to see a Suga Free set and meet him. What made me happy was kids was getting down to his music. He’s an older rapper. All the kids know his music and he’s a legend out here. He’s a legend in the rap game period, but we were in his territory on the West Coast. It was just dope watching him perform and getting to meet him. I look at features as not trying to get the hottest out or whoever the up-and-coming guy is. I’m a fan of rap since back in the day so now that I am a rapper, I want to work with whoever I wanted to work with back then. It’s not like I started rapping yesterday. I’ve been wanting an interview with MJG and Devin The Dude since 2000s. Now that I have the chance or opportunity, I’m going to take it.

DX: That’s the “Propane” joint.

Rittz:It was dope honestly. I had the record and thought that Devin would be dope on this track. I met Devin who is one of the coolest dudes in the game too. I had already done a track with 8 Ball on White Jesus and I thought how dope it would be to get MJG. It just worked out with the Southern OGs in the game. I think that MJG is one of those rappers that’s responsible for the cadence of hundreds of rappers to come from the 2000s on. I think his cadence and the way he flows doesn’t get the credit that it deserves because so many rappers have tried to mimic that style. If you don’t have the good ear, you can’t tell, but I can tell. I also think that Devin The Dude is slept on so hard lyrically. If you listen to The Dude album, all his syllables match perfectly. They might be simple words, but sometimes simplicity is clever. Less is more in other words. His syllables match so well. I listened to him all the time and this guy is a great emcee and he doesn’t get the credit I think he deserves as being known for that. I think that needs to be known a little more than the weed smoking guy. I think he is more than that to people in certain circles with an ear and those who really appreciate his music. His rap style has influenced mine so much. You probably can’t tell from the way we rap, if you really break it down and listen in terms with syllables and the way they match, He’s definitely in my top ten.

DX: You even got the “Inside of the Groove” with E-40 who has his own legendary flow as well.

Rittz: E-40 is homies with Strange from Travis to Tech and everybody. I met him through them and they hooked that up. It was real dope. The thing about E-40 is what other rappers do you know has been around that long and stayed relevant constantly on the radio? You even go as far back as him having that Lil Jon joint with Sean Paul to “IDFWU” with Big Sean. Then there are the million other records in between. The dude has the ability to stay relevant and he’s successful as hell. He has his own beer and wine and shit. I don’t get used to those things, they aren’t normal to me. I don’t think it’s normal for E-40 to be on my song. That’ll never be normal to me. Having artists like E-40, Devin The Dude, MJG and Suga Free never gets normal to me. The day it does get normal to me, maybe I need to check myself a little bit and step my game up. This is shit you dream about as a kid and it’s happening. I have legends on the track with me.

DX: Any other legends you’d like to work with in the future?

Rittz: I’ve been trying to get Big Boi on a record forever. Of course, getting Andre 3000 on record. I’d love to get Snoop on a record. I’d like to have Scarface on a record. Who can I think? I haven’t had Bun B on a record. There’s a lot of other people that have influenced me. I like Fabulous a lot. I’d like to do a record with Fabulous. The list goes on. It’s crazy because these aren’t old rappers. These are OGs. These are people who’ve been doing it.

Rittz Explains His Battle With Drugs & Alcohol: “I Don’t Think There Ever Is A Light Out Of The Tunnel”

DX: One of the highlights of Top of The Line is the “Just Say No” track which tackles your battle with drug abuse. How hard was that battle and light out of the tunnel?

Rittz: I don’t think there ever is a light out of the tunnel. I struggle with it all the time. It’s weird because it’s not anything to where I go home and have this huge drug problem right, but I’m an alcoholic. I like to drink. So when I drink, I take pills for anxiety. Then I start wanting to put stuff in my nose. It’s something that I’ve said before. The thing is, as a kid, we all experiment with marijuana. You got kids who hang out and everybody smokes. Don’t matter how old you are in the game now; everybody smokes weed. As a kid, everyone starts to smoke and then you start dabbling into other shit. Some people dabble and let it go. Some people go through their phase and let it go. Some people find that one thing or a couple of things and then they get hooked. It’s cool to feel like you’re hooked. You’re 25 or 26-years-old and you think it’s cool, but then you turn to 30-years-old and it really starts to become a real problem because it’s affecting your life. You can’t get a job and I’ve seen it happen to people I’ve grown-up around. With me, it’s the same issue. These are the things I use to dabble in as a kid and then when you get older, it turns into a real problem.

What happened was that I was on the bus on the Slumerican Made Tour and it was too many states in a row. I was putting different shit up my nose. It’s really embarrassing for me to talk about it because I don’t think it’s cool at all. I’m not promoting it. It was embarrassing. I had to call my parents like mom, something’s wrong with my nose. Like that muthafucka looked like Gonzo. It was a real story so I had to go to the hospital overnight and see what was wrong because it looked like my face was about to explode. It was just a lesson of slowing down. Everything you have right here is handed to you, what the fuck are you doing? I’m like I’m never doing that shit again ever in my life. Never. And then you do the same shit. It’s just like, it’s self-control and being strong and figuring it out. I had a rough run. I caught an infection and it was too much. It was a wake-up call. I went home from that tour kind of exhausted and just beat-up. I said I was going to change the next time and I didn’t. I didn’t change. I did the same shit. It’s just something I deal with. It’s a true story. A lot of people talk that shit, but it’s real shit. It’s real shit because fans will come up to you like yo and they’ll give you a mound of drugs. I don’t do drugs like that, I just get wild sometimes. Where do you draw that line at? That’s what “Just Say No” is about. It’s really just me telling people not to just fuck with it to begin with because that’s the main thing. Don’t fuck with it to begin with and you’ll be good to go. Just leave it alone.

Why Top Of The Line Is The First Rittz Album Without A Yelawolf Feature

DX: Top of the Line is also the first project you’ve done without a Yelawolf feature. Was that intentional?

Rittz: Not at all. It’s actually kind of a shitty subject because I gave Yelawolf three records I had on my phone. I was telling him right to this one, the name and track. He sent me to the verse with MJG and Devin on it and that wasn’t the right one. I wanted him on the song “Pull Up.” He said he wasn’t really feeling “Pull Up” so he wrote to “Propane.” It was partly my fault for sending him the ones in the email. He wrote a dope ass verse too. The problem was that the day before, I had given MJG the deposit. So, what was I going to do, hit MJG up and cancel it? I’m in a hard place. The songs had to be under five minutes long too because it starts messing with your publishing. So, I couldn’t put everybody on that record. So Wolf wrote a verse for the record. It just didn’t get on it simply and only because business had already been made. The contracts had already been signed through people so I was kind of stuck. I hated to call his ass up and tell him he couldn’t get on the track. The first album, he gave me a crazy verse. The second album Next to Nothing, I got an old verse from Wolf. This was like a genuine verse which wasn’t intentional at all. I just wish he was on the album on “Pull Up,” the song I originally wanted him on. He would have set that muthafucka off.

DX: What’s the status of Slumerican?

Rittz: To be honest with you, the status of Slumerican is that I’ll always represent, but that’s his business and label. It’s going to be dope, but that’s his shit. It’s an official label. I wish him the best and I always shout him out and represent. He’s taken it to a different level and that’s more official for him as far as him being CEO of his own label. It is what it is. I have to promote Strange and Clintel is my crew. I have a clothing line that I’m working on. Trying to do my own thing too. As far as giving my fan base something to gravitate and call themselves. Slumerican, I’m always going to represent.

DX: How’d you feel about the flack he got last year over the Confederate Flag?

Rittz: You know it’s hard to speak on that because I’m from Pennsylvania, bro. I live in Georgia so for me to really have an honest answer to that would be me talking out of my ass. I can’t take a stance on something I’m not fully aware of in regards to his position and I understand the negativity that’s played into the history of America. With his position, if he believes so strongly, he obviously wanted to say something about it. I will say this that regardless Wolf is not a racist. Not the slightest bit. That sucks. I hate somebody that’s not racist getting that. I guess it’s about how people feel about that. To be honest, that’s none of my business to talk about that. It’s not my thing. I don’t rock no rebel flag and I’m not against the rebel flag, but I’m from Georgia and raised in Pennsylvania. I don’t give a fuck about the rebel flag or any of that shit.

DX: You have your own movement forming through Clintel. What have you learned from your years at Strange Music?

Rittz: There’s so much to learn from Strange Music. Everybody wants to learn Strange’s formula. Everybody in the game.

DX: But you’re close to them obviously.

Rittz: Of course, I get to see it first hand what goes down. It’s awesome, but you just can’t be anybody, study Strange and just copy it. The reason why it happens is Tech N9ne is Tech N9ne and Travis O’Guin is Travis O’Guin. You just can’t be them. The reason it’s so organized is because of them and the trials and tribulations they’ve been through. They’ve been through millions of trials and tribulations just to get this shit right, but they learned. All you can do is look at Strange and try to take in as much as you can. There’s not a person that I met or rapper that doesn’t want to be like Strange. They all want to do what Strange is doing, but everybody can’t do that. You can do that thing like set up your own merch and label, but you’re not going to be able to do it as perfectly as strange. You’re not going to be as meticulous as Travis or make the songs and build a following like Tech. You can try it. Take not and see how far you can take it. It’s a blessing to see that first hand because it’s amazing. You go to Kansas, City. I’m from Atlanta so I’ve visited there a lot lately and I’m out there every year like five, six, seven, eight times a year. When you go there, you’re always in awe of the operation that’s going on and it’s all built off of music. The music, hard work and good business. I just admire it. It’s hard touring with them, though. You have to get in shape, shit.

Rittz’s Top of the Line is available on iTunes and Strange Music’s website.