Rittz, the Slumerican-affiliated DJBooth favorite who delivered White Jesus, and later his Revival, has released his Strange Music debut, The Life and Times of Jonny Valiant.
The album comes locked and loaded with 16 tracks in total, including lead single "For Real" and Booth-approved selections "Switch Lanes" and "Like I Am." Joining the Atlanta emcee on his latest musical journey are Big K.R.I.T., Krizz Kaliko, Mike Posner, Suga Free, Tech N9ne and Yelawolf, while notable production credits belong to DJ Burn One, Lifted, M. Stacks and Track Bangas.
The Life and Times of Jonny Valiant Album Review
But then something happens. You grow up. You travel. You break beyond those boundaries that once seemed so absolute, and as you do, you discover there are more people like you than you had ever imagined. Maybe not exactly like you, you’re pretty much guaranteed to always be the only white rapper with giant red hair, but fellow outcasts. People who know what it feels like to take a different path, and suffer the stings of that different path. In fact, you start to realize that the people who always made you feel bad for failing to live up to the perfection they projected, are just as imperfect as you.
It’s tempting to write that these last three years are the story of Rittz moving from outsider to insider status, but the truth is that his rise is the product of embracing his outsider status. In many ways that makes Strange Music, a label whose success stems from finding unity by embracing difference, the perfect home for the man they call White Jesus, and explains why his new album, The Life And Times Of Jonny Valiant, is so thoroughly, if I can coin a term, unapologetically Rittzian.
It’s no accident that the first four tracks of Jonny Valiant are as much manifestos as songs. Intro is about as fearlessly honest of a song as you’re going to get; plus Rittz brings back the random Japanese lady from White Jesus’ intro. Longtime fans know what I’m talking about. Similarly, My Interview not only answers every question you’d have about him, but every question he’s ever been asked, while if Like I Am is the first Rittz song you ever heard, you’d still understand exactly who he is. And just in case there was still any confusion about the man’s proclivities, the rapid-fire F**k Swag closes out the album’s opening.
It has to be acknowledged that Johnny Valiant does make at least one attempt at sitting at the cool kids table with the requisite “song for the ladies”, Switch Lanes. I’ve written far too much about Mike Posner to pretend to enjoy the man’s musical stylings now, but that doesn’t mean I’m mad. For what it aims to be it works, but this isn’t what makes Rittz stand out. Amen, on the other hand, now there’s a song literally no one else could make, and the same goes for Sober. How many other people who have used their label debut album to bring on legendary Bay Area rapper Suga Free for a track that sounds like some old school Blackstreet or Jodeci, only with more cocaine and homemade porn? That was a rhetorical question. No one.
While a close listen to Jonny Valiant reveals a far more subtle and intricate emcee than it might first appear, there are always going to be people who remain immune to subtlety. Those are the people you have to smack over the head to earn their respect, and Rittz has some smack-worthy material for them as well. Say No More becomes a new school Strange Music classic by bringing on Tech N9ne and Krizz Kaliko for some seriously high caliber microphone work, and For Real can’t truly be appreciated unless played at window rattling volumes. You may not love him, but there’s just no way you can claim to love rap and not at least respect Rittz’ skills after listening to Valiant.
Will The Life And Times Of Jonny Valiant be the album that blows Rittz a superstar? No. But the last thing hip-hop needs is another superstar. Hip-hop needs someone every outsider can relate to, someone who remains dedicated to being himself (and sounds damn good in the process). If Rittz can continue to do that, and Jonny Valiant suggests he can, he’ll attract more fans than any poser possibly could. The secret is that the outsiders outnumber the insiders, we’re just waiting for an artist to build something large enough to hold us all.
DJBooth Rating - 4 Spins