Interview With a “White Rapper”: Rittz on Race, Respect & Hip-Hop
As a white person who both loves hip-hop and has made it my occupation, I often think about how I maneuver in an art form rooted in experiences and circumstances drastically different than my own. And I only write about hip-hop. If I'm constantly thinking about where I stand in the intersection of race and music, what could be going through the head of someone who's white and is actively practicing the art form? Today we got Rittz' forthright answer in the form of his aptly-titled, DJBooth-premiered new single, "White Rapper".
If you couldn't tell by, you know, his name, being a "White Rapper" runs across Rittz' mind enough for him to dedicate the third single off his forthcoming album to the subject. Per usual, Rittz comes with the venom of a thousand angry cobras on the track, but I got the sense he had even more to say on the subject that he could fit into the song's three and a half minutes. So I had a quick chat with him on the subject.
On the song, you discuss growing up with hip-hop - performing in a high school talent show with a Naughty By Nature vest on, listening to KRS-One - and your influences. How did you form your identity as a rapper who is white? What was that process like?
"Being a white kid from the suburbs and moving from the middle of Pennsylvania, I looked at the rap game from an outsider's perspective. The music was rebellious so it attracted my ear. But when I moved to Atlanta, got into middle school, started hanging out with different crowds, some of the stuff that I was hearing about on those songs started becoming real life. I went from a little white kid trying to imitate what I saw, and a few years go by and you're seeing and doing the crazy shit people rap about: people bringing guns to school, smoke weed and drugs. The things you heard about in those songs are actually becoming real life, when you started getting into the culture, those things become real.
Even at that point in time, the world and middle America hadn't seen hip-hop and culture like that, because it hadn't crossed over yet - Dre hadn't come out yet, none of that - so I was definitely shocked being a little white kid from Pennsylvania. I've always been into music, so just growing up where I grew up, getting into music, I got exposed to a lot a of people from a lot of different places. Being exposed to all that made the music become more realistic. I went from being a fan to somebody that was in the streets, who lived both kind of lifestyles...So I think I got to see both sides of it and that's what makes the music able to expand to where everybody can feel it. I've had a good family and nice middle class neighborhood, but I've also seen a lot of shit."
You mention Lord Jamar's comments about white rappers being "guests." Describe the balance you try to strike between breaking down barriers to entry, while paying respect to the creators of the culture.
"That's the overall topic of 'White Rapper'. The whole song I pay respect and show how I got to this point. What bothers me is that, I didn't rap just to rap. I really take pride in being a good rapper. The people who founded the music, the legends in the game - the Lord Jamars - what they made I've practiced for years and years to be good at, and I take pride at being good at.
Still at the end of they day, no matter how much I practice or the respect I pay, I'm still just a white rapper. I think that's what the song is about. I pay respect, but at the same time, I deserve a little respect myself."
Is your place in hip-hop as a white rapper something you're conscious of when you're rapping?
"Definitely. I don't know if it's as necessary as it used to be, but I know when there weren't that many white rappers and Eminem came out and took off he was great; he was better than any other artist. At that point in time, if you were gonna be a white rapper, you had to be good, really, really good. That set me back some years! I had to take a step back and say, 'Oh shit, I gotta get better.'
It definitely plays a part in my head. Maybe not so much, 'Damn, I'm white I gotta be good,' but I just try to be good at rapping. My goal is for people to go, "Damn, that dude can rap.'"
In 2014, are we closer or further away from color lines in music no longer mattering?
"I said this in the song. 'Now the rap game is flooded with rappers / from every nationality a ton of 'em crackers,' so the color boundary has definitely blurred a lot, but I think it's important for us not to get away from it too much. We always have to remember it's black music, it is from the black culture, and respect how we got into it. I don't think that will ever change. It's black music at the end of the day and that's the way it should be.
Some people get so upset with how diverse it is, but at they same time, they need to think about how far it's come. It's come a long fuckin' way. I mean, you got the the president working out to Jay Z, that's crazy. Who would have ever thought that? We've come a long ass way."
On a lighter note, full disclosure, my favorite line of the whole song was "Google me, bitch." I can't wait to use that on a first date, or even better, a job interview. But I have to know one thing...have you actually ever said "Google me, bitch"?
"I think I have. I don't think I've said bitch, but "Google me motherfucker," I've definitely said that. I say it a lot to be honest. If people say 'Oh, you don't look like a rapper,' I'm just like 'Google me. It's Rittz. R-I-T-T-Z.' It's a good way to tell white people who you are."
The conversations about race and music may be uneasy and complicated, but that's exactly why we need to have them, and hopefully "White Rapper" will be an opportunity to further the dialogue.
To hear the full scope of Rittz' life narrated in dope detail, be sure to pre-order his upcoming album, "Next to Nothing", which drops September 9 via Strange Music, and keep tabs on his DJBooth page for all his latest releases.
[Lucas Garrison is a writer for DJBooth.net. His favorite album is “College Dropout,” but you can also tweet him your favorite Migos songs at @LucasDJBooth.]