Atlanta rapper Rittz has had a steady buzz since his 2010 mixtape White Jesus and 2011’s White Jesus Revival. Due to hard work and his relationship with Yelawolf he was able to obtain a deal with Tech N9ne‘s label Strange Music, releasing The Life and Times of Jonny Valiant in 2013. He will be releasing his third album on the label on May 6, titled Top of the Line. Rittz is currently touring with Strange Music, but took some time to speak to us about his life and the process of getting signed, the influence of drug culture and more.

How big was Hip Hop an influence on you growing up in Atlanta?

It was huge. I was born in Pennsylvania so when I moved to Atlanta [around 8 years old] that was a huge culture shock because I was born in like a real small town. As a kid having that change of scenery, Hip Hop was all around me. It influenced me a lot so listening to 2 Live Crew, Too Short basically the worst stuff that you can listen to piss your parents off, that’s how it started for me. When I was like a nine-year-old, like when I was a kid, kid. And then as time went on growing up, that’s all I did. I didn’t really get into too many sports. I was the kid with a studio at his house.

There’s a rumor that you were working at Cracker Barrel right before you got signed?

It was weird because I always had two jobs on and off but I never had any jobs that took serious. When I was about 30 in about 2010 I started to think maybe this would never happen, because all my life I really never doubted it; I’m like, I’m going to make it as a rapper. Me and Yelawolf knew each other coming up in the scene in Atlanta just doing little hole-in-the-wall spots. He had this movement going on and I was lucky enough to start being able to come around and be part of that. Funny thing about the Cracker Barrel was it wasn’t really like I was working there crazy. We all lost our house, me and my girl and my family were living in this condo in Atlanta. And I have this song that was hot called “770” it was good play on the radio, I had a buzz going so people knew me as a rapper. Next thing you know it’s like, “Hey guess what? We’re losing our house everybody’s lost a job, what are you going to do?” I finally had to make a decision I had to go get a full-time 50 hour a week job and just bust my ass. And the timing was crazy because Yelawolf had just finished recording his album and was working on Trunk Muzik, we’re at Patchwerk Studios and the next day I told him, “Tomorrow I start working at Cracker Barrel” and we laughed about it. I worked there maybe two weeks. It was a f****** nightmare.

You were a product of circumstance at that point.

And it’s so ironic that when I finally decided to grow up and thought maybe this would never really happen for you, I mean you’re with a guy who’s signing to Shady and working with Eminem and everything and you think maybe that’s as far as it goes for you. I was getting GED books and my partner would be making fun of me for buying me multiplication cards and stuff. There’s no way to go to college because I don’t have a GED, I failed every grade since 7th grade just being a dumb kid. It was a time when it really sunk in. It’s ironic because I was so close to making it but so close to calling it quits.

How did it turn around from that point?

Yelawolf was gone. He did this thing, he went on. I’m thinking he really doesn’t really owe me anything, so if he doesn’t call me and help me out, I can’t be mad at him. So I’m thinking he may not call me back but he’s a really good dude and he really wanted to help me out.

So he called me he was in the studio  and said, “Hey you want to come to the studio and do this tape, this  Slum American thing we talked about months ago” and I was like, “f*** yeah.” I mean I still had to work while I was recording White Jesus but I knew he was going to hold me down right then. I knew things were going in an upward motion. I’ve been through so many managers in situations where I thought I was going to be on all throughout my career but this felt different. This was real.

I got to tour with Rehab out of Atlanta, I hate to call them rock rap, but that’s what it is. Wolf had opened up for them and they were touring heavy in Atlanta and the South itself. They were cool people and they let me start open up for them and so you’re getting time off of work to go to shows. The lot that went into that I mean I would have bosses that wouldn’t let me off and stuff like that almost ruined it. But at the end of the day I started getting this boss that’s saw the potential in me and let me get off whenever I needed to. I started making more money and the Rehab guys fronted me like $500 to get my first merch, like t-shirts and everything. Then I finally had to quit my job.

Obviously Yelawolf went with Shady, how did the relationship with Strange Music develop?

My manager was always peeping out Strange. He always had them in the back of his head. He would say, “You need to check out Strange.” I mean, I knew who Tech was and what not. So Tech and Krizz Kaliko and [publicist] Richie Abbott had come to Atlanta and Wolf calls me up about two in the morning, I’m sleeping, and tells me, “Yo, I need you in the studio.” I’m like forty miles away, so I go. We started to get a relationship, I showed them my music and that kind of put me on with them. With Yelawolf being a new artist he didn’t really have the ability to start his own label, so it’s kind of like he was looking for a place to put me.

Did it surprise you when you went on your first Strange Music tour through the Midwest and saw the following they had developed in some of these towns?

First of all, it still blows my mind right now. I’m on a two month tour with Strange. It still blows my mind. Holy f*** all these people they dress the same and rep this empire that Tech has built through his music.

There’s always some surprising situations where you didn’t think they had rap fans and you see these cult followings, it’s just crazy. We just had this crazy signing in Reading, Pennsylvania but like you know you go to these little towns and you’re like wow, this is crazy. But it’s cool because you’re constantly gaining more fans. Like even the Strange fans don’t totally all know me yet because they’re so Tech Tech Tech, they kind of only know me from my first album or what not but constantly gaining fans.

This album is a little different from the last ones—a little bit less drugs and depression, it seems like those are common themes?

There’s a whole generation of people that are influenced by drugs. Some people f*** with it and some people don’t and some can be successful and still go to college or whatever. Some people grew up around weed and they smoke it everyday into their twenties and start doing other things. Drugs just come with the territory, you’re just a kid you do this and do that, next thing you know now you got a real problem. I’ve seen so many people that have grown up to be weed heads and other drugs and it’s all fun and games then their whole life gets based around it and now you’re an adult and you don’t have s***. And that s*** sucks. I see that a lot, I want to rap about it because I see so many people go through that. Especially everybody I grew up around going to a job they hate or can’t get a job because of drug test or whatever. It’s an overall struggle.

In the “My Window” video there’s a scene where the kid tweets you about being depressed and you hit him back. How often does that really happen?

Every day. It’s impossible for me to to respond to everyone. And I want too so bad, because you just look through and you have 99+ requests, people saying how much your song helped them or they want to kill themselves and I reply to them as much as I can because you never know who’s really going through a rough situation or who is just messing around wanting to see if you reply to them. But how the f*** would you know?

Who has surprised you the most out of everyone you worked with?

Honestly I have to say Mike Posner. He’s probably the nicest dude, that dude is a special person. Sugafree on my first album I mean he was so cool I don’t think you understand how powerful a Sugafree feature is until you go to California and see how many people are rocking with him.

But Mike Posner, this guy has been on so many albums and he’s just a great songwriter working with Justin Beiber, Maroon 5 and he’s done all these things but he’s just so humble. Whatever issue comes up with whatever record he’s the first one to go to the label and voice his concerns and try to make it happen. He’s a good, genuine person that’s always had my back and worked with me on songs.

This is your third album on Strange. Where do you hope this album will help you grow?

I just wanted to keep growing with the music. It’s basically that simple. We all want some kind of Sunday hit to take it to the next level, or you catch something switching lanes radio wise. Being as I’m on Strange, you know a lot of those fans hate the mainstream, but I’m a firm believer that everyone wants to be a mainstream artist because you want to have the highest level of success. Why wouldn’t you? Ultimately the goal is to be as successful as possible, but to be realistic as well. I just want to keep growing I want to hit these little towns so more people can recognize me for what I’ve done and put me as the soundtrack to their life.

Rittz’s third album Top of the Line drops today [May 6, 2016] and features E-40, Mike Posner, Devin the Dude and of course Tech N9ne and is available on iTunes.

RITTZ TOTL Cover