Great Strange Music ambassador and commanding, torrential rapper Rittz (Jonathan McCollum) took a year off from releasing anything last year, but it was definitely for a good reason. He needed the time to perfect his double-disc-sized third studio album, Top of the Line (May 6, Strange Music Inc). The Gwinnett County, Georgia native’s last album, Next to Nothing, saw some repetition with his first, The Life and Times of Jonny Valiant, but this time he’s trying a few new things and they’re really working for him. Besides having a longer time-length, the emotionally streaked Top of the Line is adorned with real personal experiences from Rittz’s own life, lessons in tow of course, plus fresh new rhymes in Rittz’s staple rapid fire delivery. There are a few down moments between the most remarkable songs, i.e. more generic guest cuts or loose parts without majorly dedicated subject matter, but the album absolutely never skitters or drags, but rather rides smoothly along through the highs and lows of Rittz’s memory.
At every stop along the way, Rittz is generous with his relentlessly incredible rap-lyricism as usual, but the way he works these vocal/poetic capabilities of his around situations, stories and topics is truly something to marvel at. He is dissatisfied with parts of the game in “Ghost Story,” lends a hand of support to Black Lives Matter and the anti-bullying movement in “Until We Meet Again,” fights to stay away from depression and drugs in the uplifting “My Window” and “Just Say No,” and humbles up cocky outsiders by informing them of the pure misery of the ghetto with Cheeto Gambine in “Diamonds & Gold.” Starting in on the theme of family connections and afflictions, “KISA” cherishes reciprocated love, “Back To Yesterday” drops off separation woes, and then we seem to almost experience with Rittz firsthand one of the most devastating losses he’s ever had to endure in “Nostalgia,” the official closer.
Rittz can’t help but be stunning here with his flows. He’s got skills good enough to run a million good mills, and they’re all the more useful in tracks like “Day of the Dead” and “Is That That B*tch” where he’s forced to keep outrageously hateful violators and trolls at bay, or better yet drowned beneath the waters of said bay. Authentic and real to be correct, Rittz is open, honest, forthcoming and intimate about his experiences and affairs, with the hope that we the listeners can take something valuable from them to help our own lots in life, and it’s all a joy ride to take in. The music can come with some calm pulsing sounds and cool rhythmic soul or harder bumping, knocking beats of household hip-hop blends. In a like manner, the name brand value is given variety from the input of E-40, Mike Posner, Tech N9ne, Krizz Kaliko, Devin The Dude and MJG (of 8ball & MJG). Although Top of the Line has the same basic structure and arguably makeup (a little) as the first two Rittz albums (just lengthier obviously), it definitely feels closer to the man’s heart, and it definitely shows growth in him. Top of the Line: an all around excellent project with different shades, dimensions and flavors from Rittz.