“Fuck a limousine, I’d rather ride Caprices,” sneered Rittz on “Box Chevy Pt. 3,” a standout on last year’s “Trunk Muzik.” Since then, the greater Atlanta-raised red beard has released a flurry of double-timed amphetamine raps that demand evaluation on a proper system, while going 85 down 85, or 110 on the 110.
The combination of Burn One’s backwoods country burners and Rittz’s machine gun funk sounds natural. The first signing on Yelawolf’s Slumamerican imprint, the Gwinnett County native helps flesh out what’s fast become the label’s specialty: Southern Gothic bounce. Jim Beam in dixie cups. Late model Cadillacs. Cognac Blunt wraps, gold flakes and candy paint delivered in the rollicking double time of a Big Boi disciple. He’s only released a half dozen songs over the last year, but they’ve been good. Enough to make me wonder who the weird white boy with the fraggle rock fro was. Hair recognize hair. “White Jesus” comes out next week. Hopefully, the transubstantiation comes later.
Your sound obviously bears strong Southern roots. Has your family been in the Atlanta area for generations or are you relatively recent transplants?
I was actually born in a Pennsylvania country town, right by the West Virginia border. There was no hip hop up there, but when I was 8, I moved to Atlanta. It was total culture shock. I’d been living in white bred America, and then I was getting introduced to hip hop through kids listening to Kilo at school.
Were you from a musical family?
My dad was always in a band and trying to make a living as a musician. We were basically just living off what he was making at shows, and it wasn’t much. When we moved to Atlanta, it was when he had finally said ‘fuck it.’ So he got a job down here at TBS.
What kind of rock music did he play?
Straight up rock and roll. ZZ Top-type stuff.
Did you ever try to play guitar?
Yup, I was always trying to find my place in music. But it was in middle school when I was introduced to rap. I loved it and got into the whole culture fairly immediately.
Considering they were rock and roll people, was your family against your decision to make rap or were they pretty supportive?
It was weird, I was the only one in my whole family to do things somewhat differently, and they definitely weren’t feeling it for a long time. Plus, I was fucking up in school and doing bad shit. But they’ve always supported me doing music because it was something natural to all of us. But they didn’t understand my music for a long time– they do now and have for the last six or seven years. But for a long time, they thought it was just ignorant music, all the typical stereotypes from people who don’t get rap music.
What were you listening to when you were first getting into rap?
Early Geto Boys. Early Rap-A-Lot. A lot of early solo Scarface. The next thing you know, I was trying to rap. At first, I’d walk around sounding like I was trying to be Willie D, talking about killing people and my guns.
Eventually, I got better and once Outkast came out, that was the sound of Atlanta that I could relate to. I was able to find my own style based off those influences. So I formed a group and from 95 to 2003, we were just putting out tapes and CD’s locally.
What was the name of the group?
We were called Rollo and Rittz, and we were based in Gwinnett County — which is the north side of Atlanta, really it’s the suburbs. I was one of the only dudes locally with a studio, so I just pumped out tapes.
Beyond it obviously being good, what was it about the early Rap-A-Lot stuff that drew you in?
I think it was just that I could see the South in it, it reflected where I was at. Of course I was listening to other stuff–early Spice 1 and Too Short along with all the Death Row stuff. But there was something about Rap-A-Lot and Scarface and Devin the Dude. He’s one of my favorites of all-time, along with Scarface. He was a major influence on me.
It’s interesting because growing up in California, you never heard any of those guys on the radio. The first time I think I ever heard a Scarface song played on the radio other than maybe “Mind Playing Tricks on Me,” was “Smile,” the song he did with 2Pac. And that was only because of who he did it with.
I think that’s because they never went commercial with their beats and subject matter. Everyone was always talking about them down here. But a lot of people still don’t know about Scarface.
What was it about Scarface and Geto Boys that made them your favorite?
You know how they say that 2pac has that voice that gives you goosebumps. Scarface’s lyrics give you the same sort of chills. And Willie D had that anger and that rebelliousness. Plus, those beats had the funk and guitars and they were just slamming.
Did Scarface’s skill at telling narratives have a major impact on the way you approach writing?
Definitely. A lot of times when I go to write now, I’ll have the tendency to stick right to a topic and go into storytelling mode. That’s one of the things I always liked with Devin, he’d do the same thing but in a humorous way — without being hardcore. The Dude had a lot of melody in his voice and very soulful hooks. I gravitated more to the later Geto Boys stuff. The early albums are more gangsta, but when Scarface started putting out albums like The Diary, you’d just get those goosebumps. It was around that time when I really started getting heavy into Goodie Mobb and Outkast.
Yeah, I’ve always said that Atliens is my favorite rap record of all-time, but I’m pretty sure everyone else prefers Aquemini? Do you have a favorite of those records?
I constantly go back and forth between the two. Atliens is the one I’ve bought the most times–probably more than any other record. I used to get so fucked up to that record. I used to wake up and smoke weed and acid and listen to that and Goodie Mobb’s Soul Food. Rollo and Ritz always tried to mold ourselves as the white Outkast. That’s why it felt so crazy during the “I Just Wanna Party” video when I was just chilling on the same couch as Big Boi.
How did Dungeon Family change the way you thought about rap music?
I began to understand that I could rap about my real life. Andre on “Thought Process” showed me what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. It wasn’t that I wanted to copy him, but I just wanted to get better. I wanted to get as good as that.
What’s Gwinnett County like?
It was weird because when I first moved here, it was just normal suburbs with a lot of people. The schools were multi-cultural, at least compared to Pennsylvania. Everything changed after the ’96 Olympics. I was around 16 at that time, and a lot of people had moved here to Gwinnett. People were people coming from different cities and backgrounds, and the atmosphere changed. Crime went up. Gwinnett’s a weird place.It’s really about how you live your life around here. If you don’t fuck around with drugs, you might not get into the same kind of trouble.
Were drugs pretty heavy there?
It’s a huge drug hub of Atlanta. A lot of the shit that goes down, the huge drug busts happens in Gwinnett. I got into a lot of shit growing up there, and when I was in high school, my parents split up so it got out of hand. I saw both worlds.
Before signing with Slumamerican had you come close to signing with any other labels?
I went out to LA about two years ago to go take a meeting with Interscope. We were staying in Inglewood and we were convinced the shit was about to go down then. We thought that we’d just play them our demo and that would be that [laughs]. It was crazy to think that in two years the shit with Wolf would happen at Interscope.
Had you even started working with him then?
Nah, we hadn’t done anything at the time.
What happened when Rollo & Ritz broke up?
That happened around 03-04. I was trying to do my solo thing, my friends were growing apart. I still had the music in me , so I had to try it out on my own. Time went by. I had a little single called “Gwinnett” that had radio play. The people I was working with put money behind me, and I didn’t have to work anymore. I had a connection with a dude from Interscope, and as soon as I walked in the room, he said, ‘I don’t need to hear your music. I don’t sign people off talent. Someone has to cosign you.’ As soon as we came back from LA, the money in the accounts that had been behind me got frozen, my girl lost her job and the house.
That brought us to where we are now. I thought I should given this shit up years before. I decided that after 15 years I should quit if I wanted to have a future in something. I’ve never had to pay bills like that, so I got a full time job and started busting my ass at a day job. I got a place with my money and right around that time, Yelwolf reached out to me and said, come to my house and do a asong with me. I’d met him on some Myspace shit a few years prior, and we both had a mutual respect for the other’s work.
So I laid my verse down and he never called me. I thought I’d snapped pretty hard on the verse, but I didn’t hear a thing. Then all of a sudden, when I was at my lowest point, he called and told me that he thought that I’d killed the verse. So I sent him every song that I had. He listened to them and told me that he thought he was about to get put on and he could see us being a crew.
I’d seen so many ups and down in the rap game that I tried to take it in stride. But I’d seen his shows in Atlanta before and knew that he had a real following there. I figured at least this guy’s legitimate and not blowing smoke up my ass.
So he calls me a little while later to put my verse down on “Box Chevy Pt. 3.” All I heard was that everyone loved it and that he was about to go on the road. I don’t hear from the guy for months and months and figured that he’d gone back on his word. But sure enough five or six months later, he came back and had his deal. So we started going hard in the studio. Everything’s been really great since then — to the point of where it’s so weird that I’d been on the verge of quitting for good.
Did you ever think that it wouldn’t happen because you’re white, and historically, most non-indie white rapper have been wary of putting on other white rappers.
It’s weird. White rappers are normally very competitive of each other. There aren’t many in the industry, so it was a strange thing for us to both respect the other one. I was used to people kissing my ass to get put on, but he was the first dude who had his own deal to co-sign for me.
Do you think it’s easier today to be taken seriously as a white rapper than say even five years ago?
I think so. People are a little bit more open, but at the end of the day, it’s a black culture and a black music. People are always going to be skeptical at first. The good thing is that anyone who wants to rap can rap. With the Internet, you can get your music out there easily. You don’t have to worry about making songs for radio, you can just make it for your fans.
Has your style always been that double time fast rap?
I’ve always done it, but I’ll switch it up every now then. I think that a good amount of my best songs are the tongue twisting songs–so was the song that I did with Yela. Once “Box Chevy” kind of hit, it seemed like that’s what people are expecting from me now. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it. But I’ve got some more songs that aren’t double time coming out soon.
Yela said that one of his biggest influences was Twista. Were you pretty into Midwest speed rap?
I love Bone Thugs and Twista and Tech Nyne’s early shit. I was also really into the G-Unit era and afterwards, when everyone started rapping over beats with slower tempo. So when I heard the slow beats, I realized that if I rapped slowly to them, I’d just sound like the next rapper doing it. Sometimes, if you don’t double time it can get boring and repetitive. But it really just depends on the beat.
So were you keeping the Shady Records news a secret for a long time or were you mostly in the dark?
Somewhere in the middle. I knew about him going to meet Eminem, but it was a secret fr a while thereafter. The whole thing is unreal to me,. I got a job and shit and I’m like what the hell is the going the job, all this shit is happening. It’s great and the fact that it’s Eminem is even more surprising. You wouldn’t expect Eminem to sign the guy who might be the next Eminem.
How did you hook up with Burn One? You guys seem to have a really good chemistry on the songs you’ve done.
He was actually DJing for Yela, and when he finally brought me on tour, Burn was with him. He’d said he was a big fan and had checked out Myspace. We ended up talking and he said that he had beats. And they were dope. I feel like they’re the perfect beats for me. I make my own beats too, but I stopped for a while because I wasn’t keeping up with technology. I like beats that are spare and melodic, with down south drums , the cool UGK-type stuff. Before Burn, I never could get those type of beats. I’d been just picking beats off different producers that I found on SoundClick.
Gotta ask. What’s up with the hair?
Ha. I actually used to rock a fade, but I always knew I could grow a fro, my hair was real thick. So I just started letting that shit grow like Snoop and Cypress and B Real with the fro picking out the hat. When I’d go out, I’d separate it and it worked as far as the image thing. It was dope once you get it past the ears. It’s out of control, but it makes me recognizable. I guess I fucked up though and created a monster. Rolling with it, is a bitch in the summertime [laughs].
So what’s next?
We’re going to release White Jesus on Feb. 15 and I’m going to try to take my feet out of the working world. It’s just about at that point. I just don’t want to make any stupid moves. I just want to hit the road hard and start doing shows and killing it on the feature route. The same thing that Wolf did. I want to get as many people interested in Slumamerican as possible — make the value go up. Things were fucked up for a long time, but everything looks good right now.