If you want to hear a fairytale, turn on your radio. Every four minutes or so, indestructible superheroes vanquish their foes without retribution, adorn themselves with gold and diamonds, and somehow always have time to f*ck your b*tch. Be it an escape from reality or just a source of our hopeful, if misguided, aspirations, this music is the soundtrack to our lives, even if it’s usually fake.
Strange Music artist Rittz, though wizard-like in appearance, does not deal in fairytales. The Gwinnett County, Georgia, native is a blue-collar journeyman who uses his debut album, The Life And Times of Jonny Valiant, as an opportunity to bare his soul. His real life stories of drug use, struggling to make ends meet, trying to maintain a relationship while being too busy to give it the attention it deserves and making a name for himself in the face of detractors will hit home for many listeners.
Rittz’s combustible vocal style, which ranges from assault rifle rapid-fire to an unpredictable military snare cadence, almost doesn’t match the content. Some of the dark corners turned over the course of the album almost seem more appropriate for a grizzled blues singer. But it’s this combination of reality-based subject matter with his otherworldly delivery that results in a solid and satisfying body of work.
The Big K.R.I.T.-featuring “Wastin’ Time” is a look into a past that’s filled with regret by the now grown and successful duo at the younger, unfocused versions of themselves. That sense of reflection is a common theme throughout the album, and the more you listen, the more you hear a man shaken by guilt. “Always Gon Be,” featuring Mike Posner, is a pensive but tense love letter aimed at his other half from a tour bus in the middle of nowhere. On “Amen,” we find a desperate Rittz panicking after having gone overboard with the party favors, praying for another day to get on the right path as well as for those less fortunate than himself.
Still, Jonny Valiant is not all melancholy and regrets. On “Like I Am,” he’s right at home over a smoldering bass line and bluesy guitar licks, displaying mastery of the double-time flow and loads of confidence. “F*ck Swag” is a breakneck attack on the persistent focus on style over substance that pervades this era’s hip-hop. The track also includes some well-placed shots at critics that say he raps too fast: “What? You slow homie?/You handicapped?/What you need: A walker? A hearin’ aid or a fanny pack?” Strange Music head honcho Tech N9ne also brings Krizz Kaliko to the firing range with Rittz and they empty a few hundred round drums at opponents on “Say No More.”
Rittz knows his comfort zone, production-wise, and he stays there for much of the album, and while there is a good mix of topicality, personal content, and upbeat free-for-alls on Jonny Valiant, many of the tracks blend together sonically. Thankfully, the Slumerican emcee demands attention with every syllable, making it virtually impossible to be bored listening to him. There are few low points on the album (like the disappointing collaboration with Yelawolf, “Heaven”) and many high points. With his solo debut, Rittz has employed honesty and stylistic flair to create a solid foundation for a promising career.
Label: Strange Music | Producers: Track Bangas, Five Points Music Group, M. Stacks, Lifted, Kaspar Brightside, Coop Take Off On Em, Mike Posner, Matic Lee, Jonathan McCollum & L. David McCollum