When Rittz dropped The Life And Times of Jonny Valiant the response was overwhelming. Now all of the sudden you have someone who was “local” only a few years ago on his way to becoming a bonafide hip hop star.
Just as overwhelming was the love from one of Gwinnett County’s OG’s who goes by the name of Cheeto Gambine. The first to proudly represent the northside of Atlanta, he was the one who kicked the door open for emcees like Rittz to proudly represent the place they call home, a region that was previously shunned in one of the nation’s hotbeds of hip hop.
You may remember Cheeto going into all of his area’s Best Buys and completely clearing the shelves of The Life And Times Of Jonny Valiant and handing them out for free to his fellow Gwinnett Countian’s afterwards. The bold move was even echoed by Drake and J.Cole recently as they walked into Best Buy and cleared the shelf of J. Cole’s Born Sinner.
We had the chance to talk to Cheeto Gambine and get his thoughts on Rittz, why he’s so important to Gwinnett County’s Northside movement and what he sees for his future.
How did you first get into rapping and when did that happen?
Well you know it’s kind of a childhood thing. I just felt the music. Sitting around and watching videos you know. Rap was the cool thing to be listening to. I just found my way into the lane.
Being from Gwinnett county, what kind of propbles did that present as far as people in Atlanta would perecieve you?
Well I’m originally from Jackonville, Florida. I came up to Atlanta and as I got down here there wasn’t no urban scene or hip hop community. It was like when thugging wasn’t hot, wasn’t what was going on. Atlanta got a more laid back vibe. Atlanta didn’t really respect Gwinnett County. They were more like “Aw, that’s the suburbs. Ain’t no gangstas out there. A bunch of schoolboys,” or whatever.
If you’re coming from where I’m from, the Northside of Jacksonville, and coming to the Northside of Atlanta, I still always had this feeling in me like “Where I’m from the Northside is the shit!” You feel me? You can’t disrespect the Northside where I’m from so I kind of came up here with the same attitude like, that I’m from the Northside, this is the northside, and we’re going to make them respect this. That was pretty much my whole outlook on it and it’s been a journey (laughs).
How did you go about solidifying a rep for Gwinnett County once you got started?
I hadn’t been part of the music scene. I played ball in school which me being in school and playing ball kind of put a lot of light on to me as a person because I could really play ball. A lot of people were attracted to me, being 6’6″, you know what I’m saying, long hair, dreads, tattoos in a place that ain’t never really seen nothing like that. So a lot of people drew to me, you know what I mean? With them drawing to me, it’s like with anything, being the captain of the soccer team, everybody’s looking up to you for the next move like “Okay you said Northside so what are we going to do about it?” So I just had to take on the leader role like there was plenty time spent on things I didn’t want to get involved in that I had to get involved in because, you know, I’m the captain, and the captain goes down with the ship.
So I just pretty much put the city on my back, and wherever I went I had that face, whether it was music, problems, issues with Gwinnett County police, just the whole nine. I just had to deal with it as it came. I told the people what it was, it was Gwinnett County, OSDL, Northside, this is our community and I’m not going to turn my back on the community for nothing. Throughout the years people just gravitated towards me more and more, and after awhile, I look around and the whole city of Gwinnett County is screaming “OSDL!”, “Northside!”, “Uptown”. People I don’t know, a lot of people I do know. It’s just good to see it go where it’s at right now. Now if you go anywhere in Atlanta, I don’t care, if you go anywhere in the USA, and pretty much ask somebody “Have you ever been to Gwinnett County? I heard of Northside of Atlanta or Cheeto Gambine?” they’re probably going to tell you “Yeah, I know about that!”
When did you come up with the hand sign of two fingers and a thumb up?
’94, ’95, ’96. I was still young you know? The hand signal, two fingers and the thumb, in sign language it means “I love you.” The whole concept of it was “This is our hood, if we don’t love our hood, nobody will love our hood. If we don’t stand up for it, nobody’s going to stand up for Gwinnett County.” If we don’t rep the North, nobody’s going to respect it, so I kind of took an “I love you” sign language sign and turned it into The North, North Atlanta. That way, when I throw it up at you, I’m telling you “I’m from the North, but I love you for the same reason.” They throw it back up at me and it means the same thing. Like I was saying, there’s a lot of gangbangers in my city, they’re Crippin’, they’re Bloodin’, it’s in Cali and Chicago and they’re doing the same thing here. The only difference is, is that we fall up under the North. There’s no gang violence in my hood.
When I got to Gwinnett County there was gang banging, you know what I’m saying? Tripping on people for colors and crap. Where I’m from we don’t gangbang, it’s like every man for theyself. It’s every hood for theyself really, so I kind of brought that to this hood. We ain’t gangbanging. We ain’t going to be out here shooting at each other about no colors bro. We going to stay down with each other. We going to turn up our hood, we going to make Atlanta respect us as a hood and a community, you feel me? As a community that stay together, a community that stick together. What happens in our community affects each and every one of us in our community. So people running around shooting each other about colors, that ain’t about nothing! So I kind of brought to the table “Ain’t no colors!” You got your blue flag in your pocket and you got your red flag in your pocket, I’m the mediation between that. I’m the “Hold up, wait a minute, this nawf nigga! Nothing is above this nawf nigga. This the north!” We ain’t gangbanging! All the generations looking up to me! From the the middle school to the young ones, from the 32, 45, 54 years old. I’m OG. All I did was bring unity to the community.
When I threw up this north, they throw up this north back up. Whether we on the westside, the southside, the eastside, Japan, Spain or Maine, it’s the same thing, we throw it up they throw it back. It’s all love. That way we ain’t out here tripping. There ain’t a lot of gang violence in our hood, you know what i”m saying? I killed that back in ’95.
Now moving on to Rittz man, when and how did you meet Rittz?
I met Rittz out here grindin. Rittz and I have a lot of mutual friends. They used to tell me about Rittz, long back in the G: “Rittz screaming ‘Northside!’ I’m like “Okay, okay!” When I heard him on record for the first time I was like “That’s some good shit! He’s talking what I’m talking!” At the same time he was bringing another side of the community into play with this, because Rittz from the streets. We know Rittz from the street, but so many people look up to Rittz because this is a predominantly white community. It’s just that the city is moving into the suburbs and they’re becoming part of it, but it’s a predominantly white community and with Rittz standing up and grabbing the whole OSDL movement and saying “I’m going to get out here and represent!” It made everybody notice in Atlanta. I always gravitated towards Rittz’s music and what he’s doing. I’m a fan. From “770” to White Jesus to the The Life And Times of Jonny Valiant you know what I’m saying? I’m going to support the community when I see the community supporting itself. I always been on Rittz. Since the first time I heard him I’ve been a Rittz fan. I’m rocking with Rittz.
What did you think of him when you first heard him spit? What did you think of him as an emcee?
I mean me personally I always thought he could spit. I always thought he could rap. I never disliked anything he did. I’m happy to see the progress in the music right now because having the potential to be the best and acting on it and becoming the best is two different things. Now he’s a position to where he’s fighting for the best right now. There ain’t too many rappers out there that can fuck with that boy, straight up! He from the turf so I’m going to give him that extra hundred. They ask me about it and I’m going to tell them he’s one of the best rappers alive – period. He definitely the best white rapper alive, that’s definitely! That’s what I’m going to say. I’ve always been a fan from day one.
What do you think of him just as a person?
That’s my nigga man! I ain’t going to play, everytime I see him it’s all love and eveyrtime he see me it’s all love. He speaks his mind and I can respect that because niggas be scared to rep their shit. Niggas don’t always want to rep Gwinnett County…because they scared! They downplay that! To see him get out and do that, it’s like “Boy I’ve been trying to do this shit all of my life!” To get somebody to see that. That’s all I wanted! I salute that nigga a thousand times! His personality and character, it shows in his interviews. It shows who he is, you know what I mean? The love he put into the community, he shows that energy. “This is my hood! I love this!” That says a lot!
It’s kind of like, we’ve been involved in a lot of people’s careers. Me and Rittz have been involved in a lot of people’s careers and a lot of famous rappers that came from our community that did not do that, that we fed! We did none of this for Rittz, but there’s a lot of other people that’s famous, known around the world, that didn’t come back and say “Nawfside” or “Shout out Cheeto Gambine” or didn’t say “Shout out Gwinnett County” – but they was here! They ate off our plates and all that, so to see somebody who did, who’s running in our immediate circle and repping the hood, that shows the difference between the real and the fake. What have I done for Rittz so special for him to turn around and show me love like that, besides show love to my community? When I got other people that are just as big as Rittz out here in the industry that I did do all that for, that I did take into my house, that I did go to the studio with, that I did show love. It’s not even for me though, I want my community to see that somebody believes in them just like I believe in them.
Did you see the potential in him when you met him for him to be as big as he’s getting?
Yeah! I knew it! I knew it! He will tell you I used to tell him all the time “Everytime I got a show, you open up for me. I don’t care. Please come up here. Because I want them to see you! You’re hot!” I seen it. I knew it. I’m not going to lie. To see him here and now? It’s no surprise. If I told you I was just as excited as him for him to be there, you would think I was dick-riding, but I am! I’m happy to see him there. I want to see him go all the way to the top. I want to see him get bigger. I want the world to look at him the way they look at Eminem, you feel me?
He deserves it! He’s the shit! I’m happy to say “That’s my partner, that’s my nigga right there.” Because when I throw the hood up he’s going to throw the hood right back up at me. There comes a point where the tables turn. I vouche for him in the hood, I vouche for him so much in the hood. The shit that I’m voucing for is like vouching for me. That just goes to show the love in our community and we do, we support each other. We supposed to. So I’m not surprised to see Rittz where he’s at. I want him to get awards for this shit, for real for real.
What are some qualities about him as an artist that give him that star potential?
He ain’t scared! He ain’t scared! Rap is a fight to the top. It’s a rat race and it’s a fight to the top. I’ve been doing this for a long time. It’s a popularity contest as well. Rittz not scared to be who he is. He’s not scared to say what he gotta say and I respect that. For one this is a white boy. It’s a white boy that’s talking reckles. I like that shit! Because that’s the kind of shit that you came up under! That’s the shit you came from! Ain’t no biting your tongue. Ain’t no sugarcoated shit. That’s what I respect the most. Rittz will tell you. These niggas are scared man. These niggas be right up from our city like, I can name them.
Niggas don’t come back and give love to our city. Roscoe Dash is from my city. You know what I’m saying? He never comes here and gives no love. I raised that boy. Right under this Northside community. He don’t come back and give love! And he’s not in Rittz’s position right now but Rittz that dude that’s supposed to have been there and not have done it? There’s no respect there. I don’t get no respect. I’m not even going to lie. I don’t get no respect! You know what I’m saying?
I’m proud of Rittz man. I salute him a million because niggas don’t do that man. Niggas don’t do that. If you know about my community, my community has the biggest mexican population in Atlanta, in Georgia damn near probably. Gwinnett County. It’s the home of the mexican cartel and I got a song called “Mexico” because I rep my community. Regardless of this situation, regardless of where you from, it’s what’s in you that makes you. You could be from anywhere, Iowa, but it’s what’s in you that makes you who you are and when you got the heart of a lion and the mind of a leader you going to conquer something and that’s what I respect. I don’t got that leadership quality, I don’t got that mind that he want to conquer something and I respect that. He picked up my dream and like put it on the worldwide platform.
So you went around and bought all the copies of the album you could find and handed them out for free, what inspired you to do that?
I want people to hear it coming from my hood! You know what I’m saying? They’re putting everything else on in Atlanta! You feel me? They turn everybody else up, they need to turn my homie up. They supporting everything else. They’re going out here screaming everybody else but they ain’t doing what Rittz doing! They look at my homie because he ain’t from the city of Atlanta but my homie the hardest! My homie harder than them niggas. My homie put in work too you feel me? They don’t play my homie’s shit on the radio. For what? I don’t respect that shit so I went around and showed them niggas.
Nigga I get down with any age group and they respect my gangsta! So I feel like “Shit, if they going to respect my gangsta about everything else that I do, they’re going to respect my gangsta when I give them my nigga Rittz!” You feel me? I’m going to get out here and buy this shit and make these niggas listen to it. I’m going to put this shit in the real hood. I’m going to put this shit in niggas traps! I’m going to make niggas pull up and say “We going to listen to this shit all day!” Matter of fact listen, I’m going to show you some real shit. (To someone else) Put the CD player on. Nah, leave it on! Listen, what CD in here? This the Rittz CD? Already! (Rittz starts playing in the background)
I’m riding around listening to Rittz everyday! I’ve had that CD in my tape deck everyday until it scratch! I’m riding around the block everyday. I’m walking up my block right now. G shit. I’m on my block right now, walking down the block. Someone going to walk up on me and say “What’s up Cheeto?” and I’m finna tell them “My nigga Rittz!” (To someone else) Hey give me the address to the restaurant to pull up! Okay okay okay, I’ma come up there. You know what I need you to do? I need you to download this CD. I’d bring you a CD but I ain’t got no more. It’s a CD called Rittz: The Life And Times of Jonny Valiant. You know what I’m talking about! Rittz, the white boy with the big old hair! Big red hair we used to do shows back in the day. Go get that shit man. Go get that shit, that shit crazy. What!? You fucking crazy man! I’m out of here man. To the death! To the death! Don’t talk reckless!
What do you think about the new record?
I like all of them. I know it all by heart.
That says it all right there.
(To someone else) Hey, hey, hey come here. What’s your favorite song off the new Rittz Record?
(Someone in the background) “You ain’t like us, we ain’t like them” (They both start singing “Like I Am”)
You feel me? I like all of them. We listen to that shit everyday. That shit stay in my tape deck.
What do you think the future holds for Rittz?
Man I hope the top of the world man. I hope someone major starts calling him one of the best rappers alive. I don’t know. I don’t know how far rap can get you, you know what I’m saying? I don’t know. I don’t know how far rap can get you because I’m a rapper and rap ain’t – I mean everybody loves my music but they respect more of the fact that I associate with the public a lot and everybody knows me. “Oh there’s Cheeto!” and he comes hanging with all the locals.
So I don’t know how far rap can take you but as far as it can get him, I don’t see why nothing should hold him back. I don’t see there being no hoops over him like “Oh he can’t do this, oh he can’t do that.” Naw because rap he got that covered. I don’t know what else rap can bring besides some money. I’m pretty sure though he’s going to make a lot of that doing that. I’m not sure, you know what I’m saying?
I can say this, that I’m happy that he did get on that Strange Music train. I can say that. In my time when I was locked up I read about Tech N9ne’s struggle and I can understand that. To see Rittz gravitate to that, he came from the same type of struggle. So to see somebody struggle like that and to come up with Tech N9ne in the world, I feel that because that’s the kind of hustle I came from and that’s the kind of hustle Rittz came from. So now to be there with that, that’s a good match for him. Where Tech N9ne doing what he doing over there at Strange Music, that’s a good look! I’m happy for him on that shit. Straight up. He’s got a good look all the way around. I’m supporting it.
What can fans look forward to from you?
Yeah I just released a mixtape a couple months ago. It was called Fuck Yo Mixtape Pt 1. I got a new one coming out and it’s called Fuck Yo Mixtape 2. So I got that coming out. I got three singles that’s hitting hard right now in Atlanta that’s catching heavy in all the strip clubs. One is “Money Swag Foreign”, one is “Trampoline” and one is called “Puppy Love”. I got those three songs in the street right now and a lot of people know me from “Mexico”. They can check out my videos on Worldstar. I’m in the studio everyday working with artists: artist development, helping artists. I write a lot of music. You can look for me on 8Ball’s last two CDs, Premro and Premro 2. I’m on both of those joints. I’m on Big Kuntry King’s album. I got a couple songs on his album. I got a song with Trae The Truth. You know, just working. It’s always coming more from me. I have my own camera crew, videographers, production company, so shout out to Triple L, Signature Cinema. Shout out to them. They do all my visuals. More videos and more music.
Can we expect anything with you and Rittz?
Yeah of course. Me and Rittz going to put something together. I actually been getting some tracks already. I know what he like already so I borrowed some tracks submitted from different producers. Pretty much working on putting together hooks or whatever so when we can settle down, yeah Rittz will probably be in the studio putting something down.
Anything you want to say before we get out of here?
Nawfside. North Atlanta. We family. We forever, you feel me?