Last year, right before catching the biggest break of his career, Jonny "Rittz" Valiant was ready to quit. The Gwinnett County, Georgia native had been trying to make it as a rapper since his early teens, having fallen hard for hip-hop after a school friend turned him on to the Geto Boys, but when he couldn't maintain payments on the home he shared with his girlfriend, he ?decided to abandon his dream and take a full-time job as, he says, "a cook at a fuckin' barbecue restaurant." There was one "last hope," though: ascendant Alabama rapper Yelawolf, who'd met Rittz through a business connection and was so intrigued by his exceptional double-time flow that he promised to help him make some recordings after finishing a tour. "I was crossing my fingers he'd actually do it," says Rittz. True to his word, when Wolf returned, he put his new friend in the studio.
The 30-year-old Rittz, who's since signed with his benefactor's Slumerican imprint, was determined not to let the opportunity slip away -- but he was also cautious, and kept his day job. "I'd work till midnight," he says, "then go to the studio, stay there all night, and do it again the next day." The resulting mixtape, White Jesus, slyly extols the pleasures of joyriding stoned in a Cadillac, "taking a ho" to see Twilight, and benign Facebook stalking, with each verse delivered in impressively intricate style. "I'm a real perfectionist," the rapper says about his hypnotic delivery. "All the syllables in each line gotta match up exactly. It takes a lot of practice."
This fall he's got tentative plans to tour with Yelawolf, but Rittz, who rocks a signature look of long, frizzy red hair spilling out from under a black beanie, is wary of being lumped in with the current crop of great white rap hopes. It's a subject he feels is barely worth discussing. "Perceptions have changed drastically," he says. "People are more open."
Anyway, he's more concerned with paying the bills -- especially since he's now ditched the grill gig. "I've been trying to be a rapper for so long," he says, "the fact that people know I ?exist means a lot to me. It's pretty simple: I just want to do this shit for a living."
WATCH: Rittz, "White Jesus"