Last year, Rittz seemed to realize his once-longshot Hip Hop career’s breakthrough moment. After signing to Strange Music late in 2012, the Georgia emcee released his debut, The Life And Times Of Jonny Valiant. Both moves followed an extended Yelawolf assist in the form of a prominent feature opportunity in 2011 and carry-over Slumerican affiliation. The Life And Times… fared well, peaking at #25 on the Billboard 200. The Strange Music signing also validated traits in Rittz common among the label’s roster, namely, he has an appreciation for rapping in intricate patterns and has earned his own following organically. Next To Nothing confirms both of those things—in places he seems acutely aware of fan expectations—but settles too deeply into a single groove at times.
The production on a handful of songs is built from similar synth work and Trap-friendly hi-hats. On these tracks—songs like “Explode,” “Turn Down,” “Wish You Could”—Rittz’s delivery is immediately gratifying, a Southern drawl barely creeping out of his practiced bravado. Still, the songs that fall short don’t succeed at distinctly distinguishing themselves from previous ones. “Crown Royal” is an obvious single, it’s hook inspired by a line from Rittz’s own 2013 track “Switch Lanes.” It’s a peek at Rittz’s knack for catchy hooks and generally stylish rapping.
Traditional songs dedicated to rap brags are evened out by the likes of “Basket Case,” which serves as an example of his agonizing self-doubt. It serves Rittz well that even when other vulnerable moments such as “White Rapper” don’t hit their mark and evoke the type of empathy he presumably expects, the argument is still relevant and timely, as evidenced by the Lord Jamar reference. Here he dwells on a lifetime of feeling like a misaligned outsider, a white person who takes Hip Hop seriously and can rap well by offering the following:
“I would go out and perform at open mics when no one’s white / No one like to clap or give you dap, clubs you be scared to go inside.”
As with all things, for various listeners it will boil down to a matter of personal preference.
To Rittz’s credit, he never sounds off-the-mark or punched in. His flow—or at least speed of delivery—is built on the hard-earned trick of perpetually transitioning into the next bar; the pleasant effect is shared with other fast-spitters like Twista, who features on one track, but less staccato than Yelawolf, who appears on “Profit.” Rittz also manages several-syllable rhymes at speed, but when he switches up his flow considerably or slows down completely he pulls off some of the album’s best moments. “Going Through Hell” is one of them and stands apart from most of the rest of the songs as specifically and especially personal as well as a live instrument outlier. A strong case could be made for Rittz sounding his best on electric guitar tinged tracks. In the second verse he cops to a fear-fueled abortion experience after a generally bleak life update in the first: “My lady just told me she pregnant and begging that we can keep / The baby that she conceived / And wouldn’t consider the total, we gotta get rid of it. Why are you tripping and acting like you don’t remember what we agreed?”
Rittz sounds at home over the more dynamic production on Next To Nothing, and certain songs are proof that he can stick to making an increasingly forgiving type of vibe music to good effect as well. At times when he slips into his impressive double-time for extended bursts and songs on end, the effect seems too isolated to sustain itself, even if the White Jesus emcee rightfully prides himself on rapping intelligibly at speed. It’s more than a trick, though Rittz does well when he steps outside of it. At times Next To Nothing is hard to cut off but there’s too many déjà vu moments and first-time misses to listen through comfortably at once. To a certain extent, that won’t hurt Rittz’s appeal or alienate him from fans. And at the same time, there’s enough to take away to become a new one as well.