Russell Vitale, better known simply as Russ, is a 25-year-old rapper who grew up mostly in Atlanta, Georgia. As an artist, he does not have as large a fanbase as most mainstream artists. At the same time, however, his work and his approach to stardom set him apart from other rappers. His rise to fame reflects this difference perfectly.
Although he has had a substantial number of loyal followers since his SoundCloud days, Russ has made his way across all platforms since the release of his first major project, “There’s Really a Wolf.”
To some it may seem as if he was an overnight success, but what Russ wants everyone to realize and acknowledge is that his success was actually nowhere near close to something that happened overnight.
He jokingly describes himself as a “10-year, 11-album 87-song overnight success,” making it known to anyone who asks that his “recent” success has been in the making for a long time.
If you don’t know Russ, you might have heard of his singles “Losin Control” and “What They Want.” In 2015 and 2017, respectively, these songs each made their way onto the Billboard Hot 100 list. While these were the first to really take off and get onto major radio stations, they are far from being the first songs Russ produced.
The young rapper has been producing beats for over 10 years. Even more impressively, he has 11 self-produced albums on Soundcloud. But what makes him stand out from the rest of the artists who have a similar sound and image as he does? Why did he get to enjoy the success that dozens of other aspiring artists never reached?
The answer is simple: he never gave up on himself. In an interview with Billboard Magazine, Russ explains that there was never a time when he thought his music was not good. He said “I learned from a really early point that you can’t even allow doubt to creep in. I’m as confident in myself when my s*** sounded like s***, so when my s*** started to sound good I was like, ‘Yo, what?’”
Of course, believing in himself wasn’t enough for the then-teenage rapper; he needed to be proactive and find an audience, or “get in the rap game” as he called it. In the beginning of his career, Russ released songs and mix tapes every week on Soundcloud for three years straight. This was probably the biggest factor behind his success.
By constantly producing new music, he managed to stay relevant for the fans who had followed him since day one. In addition, as his fanbase expanded after the release of “There’s Really A Wolf,” his newer listeners soon realized that they had three years’s worth of music to discover.
Another huge factor behind his success was his ability to adapt. Russ learned the importance of adapting to new circumstances at a young age when his family moved from North Carolina to Atlanta. Since the way he usually dressed and acted in the Tar Heel State stuck out in Atlanta, he struggled to fit into his new home.
On one of his first days in his new school, his classmates baffled him by calling him a wigger. In order to blend in, he quickly changed the way he acted. He stuck to polo shirts and jeans, rather than his usual “sweat suits and earring in his ear.”
The future rapper realized sometimes you have to change yourself in order to fit in. However, he went on to explain that he never really changed who he was, only remained himself under a small shell. Russ reminds his audience and followers that it’s okay to change as the world around you changes. But, he says, you must always revert back to who you are at some point.
Russ has made a name for himself and strictly himself. He never features anyone on any of his songs. This is another testament to his motto of “putting himself on,” as features have not been a priority for him in his journey to stardom. When asked about it in an interview with RESPECT, his answer was he simply “doesn’t f*** with people.”
“Yeah, I just don’t f*** with people like that. I’m not dying to work with that many people. The ones I would like to work with are like the elite, and I’m down to wait for that to happen. And the main reason is I’m a new artist and I’m trying to get people acquainted with what I’m doing. I see all these people, and I’m like, ‘Why you doing all these features when we don’t even know who you are?’”
Some would say, judging from the previous statement, that Russ is arrogant and cocky. To be quite honest, I couldn’t agree more. But maybe that’s what it takes to be successful in the music industry: to know that your music should and could stand on its own, without the help of someone who has already made a name for himself, and to believe in yourself more than anyone else.