Since turning heads with an appearance on Yelawolf’s landmark Trunk Muzik mixtape, Rittz has been patiently waiting in the wings, making the most of feature-spots and eventually his own well-received mixtape, 2011’s White Jesus. But with a heightened fan base and Strange Music’s backing, The Life & Times of Jonny Valiant is by far the biggest moment of this long-hair-don’t-care, frenetically paced MC’s career. And he doesn’t seem to whiff.

If it’s your first time listening to Rittz, the obvious reference point for his flow is that of Twista’s. Much like the reverential Chicago MC, Rittz has one speed, and that’s very fast. His high-octane, quick-fire approach matched with that endearing sort of scrappy, hardworking man’s charisma, which begs for compassion on tracks like the autobiographical “My Interview,” makes listening to Rittz rap over the tape’s 16 strong a genuine pleasure.

Strange Music was the ideal home for Rittz, and there are no glaring compromises to be found here, unless you want to count the two Mike Posner features, which are both damn good songs. There don’t seem to be those apparent concessions (Remember Yelawolf’s Radioactive?) to sneak in one or two radio-ready singles, and there aren’t any beats being rapped over or subjects being touched upon that appear forced upon him. At times, the production veers towards almost too sonically cohesive, but it’s hard to singlehandedly knock any of the beat choices. Ultimately, Rittz’s authentic, stick to the script approach goes a long way towards the album’s successes.

Along those lines, Rittz keeps a close circle when it comes to the album’s features — Posner, Yelawolf, K.R.I.T., Suga Free and Strange Music cohorts Tech N9ne and Krizz Kaliko. This contributes to the sense of ownership Rittz maintains throughout the project and gives it that feel of a true solo album — something major label debuts often miss the mark on. Whether it’s his struggles with addiction or his struggles to find success in music, Rittz unapologetically sticks to rapping about what he knows best.

While these struggles might seem like a bit of a downer on paper, Rittz should win over listeners with the unmistakable honesty he raps with. He’s a highly affable “underdog,” one who can rap about his misfortunes with confidence, hope and determination. Like Drake once said of himself early on in his career, Rittz seems to just want to be successful. But his “started from the bottom” tale is one that’s detailed thoroughly throughout The Life & Times of Jonny Valiant, not an empty rallying cry. It’s unlikely Rittz’s rap career will ever reach the heights of a Drizzy, but for now, this honest, attention-grabbing album feels like the victory Rittz has long been waiting for.—@wavydavewilliam

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