Following a classic debut is no easy task, but Rittz took to the challenge by crafting the follow up to The Life And Times Of Jonny Valiant with the new and upcoming Next To Nothing. Will it live up to the high standard that he’s already set?
According to Rittz, that’s the goal and then some. We talked to the Slumerican ambassador to get his perspective on the new record, how it was made, and what he expects from it. Rittz gave us a detailed look into the Next To Nothing mindset, his patented process of making a record and why, despite all the success he’s had so far, there’s still so much farther to go.
What does the title mean?
My whole story is like a guy who tried to rap and stick to his dreams and never gave up and finally made it and got a record deal. So many people I think look up to that story of me being that guy – the success story of somebody who can make it if you just stick to whatever you’re doing – but Next To Nothing is kind of describing where I’m at right now. Even though I did make it, I put out an album, signed a record deal, things aren’t as stable as I would like them to be and I really have next to nothing. It’s like, I have success but still so much more work to do. It’s just more like a realistic outlook of where I’m at right now.
What decided the image on the cover? Was the irony intentional of you calling it Next To Nothing but you’re next to a cool car?
Nah it wasn’t man. I had a whole different plan for that cover. I honestly wanted to be standing next to a fucking trash dump and just have it like me shining in a pile of trash. Basically that’s the title. I guess one good way to word it is one foot in the game and one foot out. I almost have both feet in –I really do have both feet in but the negative side of me is thinking about the one foot out and just being worried about losing it all. To go back to the last question, I guess that’s a good way to put it.
Initially I wanted the trash dump idea but to the eye I don’t think my idea would’ve really came together. So I was like “Well maybe we should just do something like me in an all-white background,” and then I started thinking about the Too $hort Born To Mack cover. I was like “Maybe we should do something like Too $hort, Born To Mack where it’s just me in a car – all white, clean background.” When we shot the pictures though it turned out that the picture where I’m squatting down was the best looking one even though it wasn’t the look that we were going for. Somebody put some funny shit up like “Rittz Next To A Car” and scratched out “Nothing” (laughs). But yeah it wasn’t what I was going for. The blank background was just to be clean. I was supposed to be sitting in the car. It should’ve been me in the car Next To Nothing but it didn’t work out like that. It really doesn’t have that much to do with the title.
The cover’s dope though.
I like it man. It’s clean, it’s classic. It’s a classic look. I always like shit with dope cars and just classic rap shit. I like it.
From listening to this album and from what you’ve told me, it’s clear that despite “making it” and getting a record out, being on the BET Cypher, getting some recognition, going on these tours, all of these good things, it still seems that there’s a bit of a chip on your shoulder. Even after all this recognition you get, do you still feel looked over?
Yeah totally. I think that’s where a lot of that aggression and the chip comes from. I definitely feel that. I just feel like I’m too good of a rapper to be looked over like that but it happens. I definitely feel like that. Don’t get me wrong too, I feel like my shit is constantly growing daily and all these things that I’ve done have done so much for me and they keep getting bigger and the tours keep getting bigger and my fan base keeps growing, so it’s not to be negative to the people that support me. It’s just that people have to hear about it.
You think it’s going to be magic. When Yelawolf puts you on you think you’re going get all of Yelawolf’s fans. When Tech N9ne signs you and co-signs you, you think you’re going to grab all those fans and it just isn’t magic, you know? It’s all work. A lot of people that’s around you don’t understand the work and they see the magic part of it. I think a lot of that makes the chip even bigger on your shoulder, like “It ain’t what y’all think it is.” You know what I mean? But I definitely feel like I get looked over as far as my skill level. I think I should be a little more successful than I have been but at the same time, fuck man, it’s a Catch-22. You feel like you should but then again I’m grateful for how successful I have been. I think this album really explains that too. There’s some songs where I’m talking about how I’m a little disappointed about where I’m at and then there’s songs talking about how grateful I am to be where I’m at. It’s a weird space.
Grateful but definitely not satisfied by a long shot.
Exactly. Perfect way to put it.
Does success bring with it a whole new set of problems and things that are irritating?
Yeah, it does because people think I’m rich. People are like “Now that you done blew up,” or ‘Now that you done made it,” or “Now that you done did this.” People get the wrong idea, like they have eyes into my bank account. People have no idea what my life is like.
Trust me, if I had a hundred gs in the bank my raps would sound a lot different. I’d probably be rapping about shit that I’ve been buying. People get the misinterpretation that I’m in a position to help them, not even financially but with music or shed a light, and it’s like “Guys, I’m trying to help myself still. I’m still getting established. I don’t have my feet permanently cemented.” That’s why it’s like, with this album and everything I drop, until I get a solid fanbase that’s actually nice and large, it’s hard to know that I’m going to make a living off of this for the rest of my life until I can get a fanbase that’s large enough to do that. That’s the discouraging thing.
There’s a lot of work to do and people just don’t understand that. They just think it’s magic. Like I’m going to be able to tour forever now and do all this just selling what I sell and being who I am? Nah, it’s gotta grow and the growing all relies on the music so the pressure’s on and it’s just a lot of shit.
Speaking of new music, what did you learn from the making and the reception of your last album and how did that apply to the making of Next to Nothing?
Well one thing that went into it is I found my lane. I learned that the last album was successful and my fanbase has been growing strictly off the last album so I’m like “Don’t switch up nothing too much. You’re just getting started. Keep going with the same formula. Take time picking your beats. Take time doing that.”
The success of the last album put me in a space where I know what people want to hear from me, but it also let me know that on certain things I can slow it down a little bit here and there. On the first album, especially the first album on Strange Music, a label that’s known for chopping and coming up under Tech, I was really trying to show off, like “Let’s get in and be as fast and intricate as you can.” I still try to do that on each album but on this album I try to also slow it down on ones and give some songs certain feels that were necessary. I don’t know if that makes any sense.
You’re not trying to cater around a flow so much.
Yeah, like the last album was like “Murder!” And I hate to say that because it’s like that every time. Every song I write is the same way in that I want to kill the verse but I don’t know. I know from the last album what fans want to hear from me and then I also know that I have this much room to try something else or try this or try that.
They say your entire life leads up to your first album.
So after making The Life And Times Of Jonny Valiant did you feel more free as to what you can make your songs about?
I did feel a little bit more freedom and I had a new set of topics because my life has been changing since Jonny Valiant. I have been on the road a lot and just having an album out and doing the awards and doing all these things that I’ve experienced and being in the public eye and just being this guy who I am. I’ve had a lot of new experiences to write about than I did last time too. It does give me the freedom to do other shit.
What is it about your music that you think has caused so many people to gravitate towards you?
I think for the most part it’s the honesty. I think there’s a level of honesty in my songs that fans admire. That I come out and say shit that a lot of people don’t say. It’s not anything risky or nothing it’s just real emotion, just being an open book and being open and letting your emotions show. Even if it’s not about sad shit, just saying shit. I think that makes people gravitate towards the music.
I think people, no matter where you come from, can feel the realness in the music and not having any boundaries and not having any walls put up and just letting it go and being yourself on a track. When people can feel that they can connect with it, whether it be a song about cocaine or a deep song about your relationship or song about your money or rappers or anything. Just being open.
I’m sure there’s a lot of fans who definitely want you to keep doing what you do but there’s always some that want to hear something new. What did you do on this album that you haven’t done before?
I think it just shows a lot of growth. Everything’s not just me trying to do my fastest rap or hardest shit. It’s more well-rounded. It’s showing a little bit of me growing up and me evolving as an artist. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what it is that people will think is new about this one. I’m waiting to see what they see because I can only look at it from an artist’s standpoint for myself so it’s hard to judge my own work.
What led to your production choices on this album?
Well the production is always the same with me. I do this the same way every time and I don’t think this will ever change and I think this is very important to any rapper’s formula. I think the production is key so it’s like whatever feel you’re trying to make the album have, I start getting producers to send me tracks early in the game. I had these tracks and 90 percent of the ideas last October. I basically had 90 percent of the ideas, 90 percent of the tracks, 90 percent of the cadences – how I’m flowing – on each record. I had damn near most of the hooks down already when I was on the road last time – just humming them out. So when I got off the road I had these tracks for so long I knew exactly what topic I wanted to put to them, exactly what cadence I wanted to do. All I had to do was fill in the blanks with the words and the verses.
That’s my process. I always get tracks early when I start a thing, I get a big folder of the tracks I like for an album and then I slim that one down to what realistically will make the cut and then start writing to them. I never get tracks and just start writing and then pick from my songs. I always start with the beats first and then line them up. If the beats have the right feel to them then I go back and start writing songs to them. That’s my process. I don’t know too many rappers that do it like that.
I see a lot of new names, at least for you, tell me about some of the production choices you made for this album.
The main thing that was new was Seven. Seven didn’t do anything on the last album. Seven just really dialed into my sound like crazy. I was so impressed. He was just sending me beats and he sent me so many other dope beats too. I always set the backbone of the album, like what type of sound I want the album to have and if it’s got this vibe like how I want it, then it’s like “Put a hype song here, girl song here, drug song here,” as long as I got that backbone. Seven really helped me establish the backbone of the album. Even if some of the songs aren’t on the album, the beats he was submitting to me really established where I was wanting to go. So I would say he was one of the main changes of this album.
I had Willpower on there who did “Profit”. I’ve worked with him before on White Jesus, so that was always cool to me. He’s been doing all the Yelawolf stuff that he does. It’s always great to have him on a track. Best Kept Secret, those came from Mike Posner. I’ve never met those guys and I never knew who did the tracks. Mike sent over the record to me but they’re obviously really dope because I love the records. They’re new.Who else is new? I’m trying to think. I’ve worked with Lifted before. Burn One’s on there, Burn One and Cory Mo. Cory Mo teamed up Burn One and did the first song on there, “Explode”, so that was cool having Cory Mo production on the album. Kato’s a producer with Funk Volume. I toured with Jarren Benton last fall so having him on there was dope. It’s a few new people man but still the same with Lifted. I had a couple tracks from him. Matic Lee who I worked with last time on “Misery Loves Company” and “Say No More”.
So it’s a nice blend, but I’d say Seven was the newest fucking boost to the game for me on this album. He really just dialed in and did it one hundred percent.
From paying attention to Seven’s production, he did some beats we haven’t heard from him before, at least on Strange Music. What did you tell him and in asking that what was the backbone that you told him you were looking for?
First of all, Seven is crazy talented so he could listen to my old stuff and know where I was wanting to go. That’s the first thing that’s – I don’t even want to say surprising because it downplays how talented he is. His track record’s amazing. But it was more like, like you said, something we haven’t heard from him before. I wasn’t sure if he could go there. He was like “Man I think I got some tracks for you that kind of go with your sound,” and I was like “Okay we’ll hear it.” He just automatically knew from hearing my old shit. When I actually spoke to him on the phone, which “Crown Royal” shows this, I was like “I’m looking for some beating drums but laid back. I want some tremelo guitars and just some really cool sounding, like we’re riding through the desert with some 8o8 shit.” He just nailed it. He kept sending me tracks. The same way as the last album I wanted West Coast basslines over southern drums and some 90s gangsta rap shit I can double time on. That’s still my style and he sent me some shit like that but some of them didn’t cut it. He really dialed in on the “Crown Royal” song though and that kind of set the tone.
Lifted makes a return on this album. What is it about his beats that have him making a comeback on your second album?
I think with Lifted he brings the beats that I don’t normally go for. Like I said, when I talked to Seven, I’m always wanting mellow. I’m always wanting laid-back. I’m always wanting ride and smoking music – shit that is real cool sounding. Lifted was doing “Fuck Swag” and “For Real” on the last album. He makes these real hard beats but they’re kind of dark but they’re aggressive. He actually gave me another mellow track too with “Bounce”, the song I got with Twista. I didn’t really think that was in his range to do that and he surprised me with that one.
I met him through Bootleg Kev and the last time I was on the road he hit me up and was like “Yo, I want you to hear some tracks,” when I was in Arizona. We got in his truck and listened to the tracks and I was like “Yo, I want that one, that one, that one,” and I picked them and when I got home I really narrowed them down and I was crossing my fingers that when I called him back they were still available and they were. I just think he’s crazy talented. I think his beats sound really futuristic and I think he’s a little bit ahead of his time. He has the different spice that throws people off and they always end up being the first release because they’re just so hard. The beats just have an artistic feel to them too and they’re crazy.
Tell us about some of the features you have on this and why you went about choosing them.
Well Yelawolf and Shawty Fatt is obvious. Slumerican. I wanted to bring that back into the fold as always and always represent that because that’s where it started from. So with that, that was obvious. Got that there. With Twista, I’ve always wanted to do a track with Twista. He’s one of my main influences as far as double timing. So I was lucky to get that.
Mike Posner and I just have a fucking dope musical relationship where we just click so I never go out of my way to get Mike Posner, he just ends up hitting me up being cool as fuck and being like “Yo, I got some records for you that you’d sound dope on,” and he sends them over and I’m like ‘Oh, these are fucking amazing” and they just work out. On the one Mike Posner record I was like “Yo, I want an Atlanta artist, who do we get?” and B.o.B. is huge, he’s got so many hits and he’s already got a relationship with Tech and with Strange so it just made sense to get B.o.B.
Trae The Truth, I was recording at Treesound Studios and Trae records there with my engineer Watson and I got to meet him and sit down with him a little bit and we were like “Yo, we should do a track.” I thought I was actually getting another rapper on that track and was like “Man, I don’t have nothing for this album but I really want to do something with you” because Trae The Truth is huge. Everybody works with Trae The Truth and he’s a dope ass rapper. The rapper that I was going to get on there fell through and so I was like “Trae, can you hop on this?” and he fucking hooked me the fuck up, so that was huge to get him on there. Trae was the last one I got on the record and that was big.
Some records have a ton of features but you really hold your own on a lot of these tracks. Was that a conscious decision?
Yeah it’s always a conscious decision with features. I don’t ever want to go out of my way and get features and just water it up and down with features. When I do I’m always like, I’m the most pessimistic rapper I guess. I always look at albums like “Man, what if you don’t get to make another one? Who would you want to get on there?” So I always go for the people I was listening to when I was younger. I want to do a song with Scarface real bad or Big Boi. I always go for people that I grew up listening to. I just look to make shit classic and I think in order to do that you can’t over-flood it with features. Features have to be really special.
Do you have any favorite songs on the record?
Yeah I do. I got a few. I think my favorite. It’s hard, it’s a tie. I really love “Bounce” with Twista. The overall vibe is great. “Bounce” is by far my favorite beat on the album. I love the melody of the girl singing in there and just love the beat. The whole vibe: that’s the type of shit that I like to ride to when I ride. As far as the vibe goes that and “Crown Royal” is my favorite vibe of rap music. I love that sound. That mellow just laid back cool shit. Not too soft, not too hard, just right in the middle. Cool rap shit.
My favorite song is probably “Turning Up The Bottle” because it’s more personal. It’s like, my real life as of right now or as of where I just came from. So “Turning Up The Bottle” is probably my favorite because it’s a goosebump record for me. Even if anybody else doesn’t relate to it, even though I know some people will, it’s probably my personal favorite.
What expectations do you have for the performance of the record?
I just hope it does better than the last. The goal is to keep building and to make everybody go “Hey, everybody who liked the last album is either going to like this one just as much or like it better.” That’s the goal. Hopefully it just keeps growing man and is more successful than the last album and just keeps building my fanbase. That’s the only bar I can set for it. I always want to say “Yeah, it’d be nice to have a hit song on there” and shoot to the fucking moon and who knows? Deep down inside I always think there’s some of those. I thought there was some of those on my last album but you never know how that’s going to go. On a basic level though I just hope it does better than the last and I hope that it just keeps people buzzing about me and keeps my name spreading and just keeps me being respected as an artist. That’s the main goal I have for the performance of this album. I just hope people like it. I don’t want to disappoint anybody.
How has the reception been so far as far as the songs that have come out?
Good. It’s been good. I think the way people are these days, they expect you to release the big guns at the beginning and it’s like “Whoa, there’s a warm up process. We have to start with this and start with that.” But I could read a thousand good comments and I could read one comment by some dickhead and it ruins me. You know what I’m saying? There’ll be one guy that says “I don’t like his new song” out of fucking 3 thousand and that one guy can have me really second guessing myself which is fucking stupid. That’s why I just gotta not read the shit but I think the reception has been amazing. Everybody’s been loving it and ninety nine point nine percent of people have been showing positivity towards what we’ve been releasing and I think when they hear the package as a whole, if they like what we put out already, what we got in store left is even bigger and better. So yeah, I’m excited. People are really showing love. I just got off tour so that’s growing and I think my name just keeps spreading man.
I agree about the rest of the record. I didn’t hear any favorites until I listened to the whole thing.
Yeah man Tech called me a few days ago and he just heard a couple songs and he was like “Yo, I’m just hearing these. These are fucking amazing!” So that was dope.
Is there anything you want to say before we wrap this up?
I’m still hungry and I got a lot to say. And there’s still more work to do.
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