The Atlanta metropolitan area stretches on for at least 30 miles beyond the Georgia Dome and the World of Coke. Peachtree Street (conspicuously void of actual peach trees) stretches up through several counties, changing its name a number of times, confusing the tourists and the transplants. Furthest to the north of the metro area, sits Gwinnett County; sprawling and well-populated by a mix of out-of-towners hoping to indulge in a slice of that oft-mentioned American Pie: a house in a subdivision with a yard for the kids. After closer observation though, it's apparent that the suburbs of Gwinnett are the digs to many who don't fit the cookie cutter, Stepford lifestyle. The county, more frequently being referred to as the Northside, boasts both million dollar homes on golf courses as well as drug hubs in neighborhoods riddled with gang activity. The Northside, essentially, is in stark contradiction to itself. Rapper Rittz is the Northside. Raised in Gwinnett County, Rittz embodies the same level of irony and self-conflict as his hometown. Born into a musical family, he, his twin sister and their brother had always been exposed to the inner workings of music. The fact that their parents were heavily into rock and roll ensured that the kids were always around instruments or in studios. The family moved from small-town Pennsylvania (Waynesburg) to the Atlanta outskirts when he was eight years old, and once Rittz got to junior high, his musical tastes evolved. Atlanta's booming bass and rap movement had traveled north on I-85 to get the entire metro area jumping. "When I moved here, I was introduced to rap music. When I started rapping, I was listening to any early Rap-A-Lot records, like Willie D, Geto Boys Kilo [Ali] was like the first. So when I started at 12 years old, my early raps, I tried to rap like them," he explains, "But the early Outkast, and Goodie Mob was really the beginning of me wanting to rap and imitate them in finding my own style. Me and another guy were actually in a group called Ralo and Rittz [1995-2003], we were like the white Outkast, or we tried to be like that. I had a studio in my basement, and we put out a bunch of tapes in Gwinnett. I felt like we were one of the first, if not the first... There were only maybe one or two other people rapping in Gwinnett at the time, from '95 to 2000." During the earlier part of the millennium though, around 2003, Rittz had hit a wall. After eight years, he and Ralo had matured in different directions. His promising buzz had led to countless disappointments. "I won Battlegrounds on Hot 107.9, got retired and shit and felt like I was 'bout to make it. But, so many industry up and downs, with managers, contracts" He was dead broke, feeling dejected, and living with friends- ready to resign from the rap game before even taking his rightful place in it. It wasn't until 2009 when he'd randomly received a call from another flamespitter who was repping an area as under-the-radar as Gwinnett was. "I had some money behind me." Rittz says, "Everything was going good and then everything fell out, at the same time, I'm getting older, thinking it's time to hang it up. This isn't gonna happen and that's when Yelawolf put me on 'Box Chevy.' [on Yelawolf's Trunk Muzik]." Nowadays, the rap career of Gwinnett-raised Rittz is rapidly on the rise. From his affliation with one of the hottest new rappers coming out of the South to his first mixtape, Rittz White Jesus (hilariously inspired by a friend's term of endearment), everything is coming together now, two years after he nearly lost everything. These days he's booking late night studio sessions, and still clocking in to work early the next day. "I see both sides: the regular, working class type shit and then I've also seen a lot of the street shit that goes on here, some people that are blind to that here, may never have seen it." Rittz says he's "just a normal guy who raps"- a contradiction if there ever was one- but he makes you believe, with the humility of the everyman and the talent of a superstar.
For an artist with serious mainstream aspirations, Decatur, Georgia's Jarren Benton has spent his career going against the grain. One of Funk Volume's premiere acts, Jarren admits, "I love the music I do now. I do it in the safe-mode." That's rather shocking for an artist whose last album, Freebasing With Kevin Bacon lived up to its name, at least in attitude and style, evident on single "Skitzo." He continues, "I want to take it a lil' further. I just haven't had the balls to go all the way there yet, 'cause I presently want to keep a foot in the mainstream too."
However, courage is not something Benton's music or live show is lacking. Studied in the anything-goes showmanship of Prince, Marilyn Manson and Method Man, Jarren shares, "The essence of giving of a good show is not givin' a fuck," he says, while pointing to stage-diving, beer-chugging and more depending on the night's particular vibe. This type of authenticity, balanced with intricate, golden ear-informed lyricism has attracted attention from Erick Sermon (EPMD, Redman) to No I.D. (Common, Kanye West) in courting Jarren to potential major label deals. However for the father and family provider, only indie juggernaut Funk Volume really voiced his biggest concerns. "All I was asking for was progress. I just wanted to know that what I was doing was the right move especially chasing a dream with a family." Funk Volume offered what Def Jam and the others weren't and in recent years, Jarren has been able to support his family and his dreams simultaneously.
In addition to Funk Volume, which Jarren refers to as "family," the rapper maintains strong ties in the Atlanta community, such as Rittz, Playboy Tre, Spitzwell and his SMKA affiliates. "It's the best of both worlds," says Jarren, of playing a significant role in a respected collective of talent, as well as being an artist in one of the most powerful new labels in Hip Hop. "We all still came from that era about lyricism, even if you were making Southern music."
After two successful digital releases and a video fast-approaching one million YouTube plays, Jarren is hard at work on what will inevitably be his biggest album to date. Following the star-filled supporting cast of Freebasing With Kevin Bacon and Huffin' Glue With Hasselhoff, the comedic emcee promises to break from the series with a purpose in mind. "This one has a different vibe. It's a lot more personal stuff so people can learn who Jarren is," he says, also suggesting more refined production that translates more to his ambitions of being a household name. In the same vein, that courage Jarren felt was missing is brewing on his upcoming work. The vet points to "Heart Attack" and "Smells Like Murder" with R.A. The Rugged Man as some of the most conceptual, dazzling work he's recorded to date. "From my ranges of influence, I think a lot fans appreciate my personalities, but they don't really get into the music yet," admits Benton of his available catalog. The stakes are high and the time is right for the man who has pursued a dream for a decade. "I love this. I'm not driven by money, but I'm conscious of making music that can be universally appreciated." It is coming to life for an artist closely connected with the tenants of Hip Hop: style, skill and absolutely not givin' a fuck.
Snow Tha Product:
Snow tha Product, a native of California, but resident of Texas, is an underground phenomenon and sensation taking the scene by storm in a way that has put male MCs on alert. She's a beauty and a beast looks and lyrical skills on the microphone, respectively. Physical stature aside, she stands as tall as any female MC in the game and can wreck a track in fluent Spanish or English with a handful of male MCs trying to match her lyrical level, as she did on Capea El Dough P City Remix.
Let us be forthcoming about 22-year-old, Claudia A. Feliciano. We'd put her up against any female MC in the game, and we're confident she'd give anyone of them a run for their money... or take their money. She's a versatile, bilingual lyricist who can fluently chop you up in English or Spanish, so take your pick. She has the swag, attitude, fine-ass looks and in-your-face rhyming abilities to be a hip-hop sensation in the U.S. or Latin America, if only the industry could, as Snow would say it, wake they're game up.
For now, Feliciano, better known to the streets as Snow Tha Product, is going to have to settle for being an international underground buzz-maker. We're not exaggerating. You can find her on anything from videos with major-label Spanish-pop sensations like Jaime Kohen, to hit rap videos in Latin America to underground Mic Passes in Texas.
Everything we want in a Latino - excuse us - Latina, hip-hop artist.
"I am versatile and even though I've been taught the industry wants you to pick a lane and stay there, I'm too hyperactive for that. I'm going to just swang this Cadillac I call a career."
Follow Snow Tha Product on MySpace and catch her web shows there every Wednesday at 9 p.m. CST. You can also catch her on Twitter, and download her free mixtape, Run Up or Shut Up here.
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