Rapper Russ Vitale gained popularity quickly, but will it last? (Image via The Odyssey)

Is Hip-Hop Provocateur Russ a Rap God or Just a SoundCloud Pot-Stirrer?

If Step No. 1 is calling attention to yourself, Russ has done that in spades. It's his music that might not be up to snuff.
August 6, 2018
8 mins read

Russell Vitale, also known as “Russ,” has been making a splash in hip-hop for quite some time now — and not necessarily for good reasons. The self-made SoundCloud rapper has been called out numerous times by die-hard lovers of the genre for being a cocky newbie to the music business.

With big names like J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar in rap, hip-hop proves that pure, raw talent is what drives an individual to well-deserved success. This style of music has become one of the most competitive in the industry and only those few who leave a mark on the world will be remembered as rap gods.

With Russ becoming a household name in just a few years, people are still forming their opinions on whether the artist is their cup of tea or not. In the influential world of Twitter, one thing is clear: he’s not the most upstanding guy in the business right now.

Criticizing other artists for glorifying the use of drugs like Xanax and Codeine (also referred to as “lean”), Russ posted a picture back in September sporting a shirt that said “How much xans and lean do you have to do before you realize you’re a f*cking loser.” Statement piece? Absolutely. Positive statement piece? Not so much.

The rapper might’ve been justified in his message had he not tweeted multiple times about his own drug use, making the shirt a little confusing and more so hypocritical. The controversy, along with his arrogant demeanor, have made Russ a questionable character despite the popularity his music is now gaining.

Whether or not Russ’s message about drugs stems from legitimate concern for his audience and the youth in general or if it’s simply a ploy to pull listeners in, no one can say. Although he may not have the most genuine personality, there’s no doubt that his tracks do.

One factor that sets the rapper apart from other hip-hop artists is that each step he takes in creating and performing his music is completely authentic. Like Eminem, Russ is in charge of each major stage his mixes go through before being released to the public. He might portray some personal flaws, but the 25-year-old is no stranger to developing a dope sound.

The New Jersey native immersed himself in music at age 14 when he began to dabble in making his own beats. In a podcast with interviewer Casey Adams, Russ shares the story of how he and classmate Bugus went from making tracks in a basement with cheap equipment to creating the rap crew DIEMON.

Both just 17, Bugus heard Russ’s own beats for the first time and knew they could create something great together. Still in high school, the duo would meet after class and collaborate on tracks that laid out a sound both teenagers were proud of. DIEMON (Do It Everyday Music Or Nothing) was the stepping stone to making the dream of producing music a reality.

Russ and Bugus would print their content onto CD’s and hand them out to whoever showed interest, establishing themselves first with a small crowd until bigger opportunities became more feasible. “We had no listeners. We had to literally create our own audience” Bugus said of DIEMON. With Facebook being the main social media outlet, Russ and Bugus began to gain a larger audience through mutual friends and Facebook listeners.

In 2014, DIEMON expanded their platform by creating a SoundCloud account, which ignited their musical career. Russ was able to build both the group’s music and his own personal sound. Contrary to the stigma surrounding the notorious website, Russ wasn’t the typical SoundCloud artist, trying to make it big on the internet with his mediocre mixes. In just two years, the artist achieved a fan-base of over 200,000 followers. Even though Russ and Bugus were attending two different colleges at this time, they continued to send mixes back and forth and put out content that was no doubt a blend of their heart and soul.

By uploading a new track to the website each week, Russ established himself in one small area of the internet and was ready to sharpen his sword in the music industry. “Losin Control” which is often labeled as Russ’s first huge single, was uploaded to SoundCloud in 2015. By 2017, the track appeared on his debut studio album “There’s Really a Wolf,” after signing with “Columbia Records.”

Russ has no problem flaunting the fact that the album skyrocketed on the charts and reached platinum status by April 2018. Other tracks on the debut include “What They Want” and the memorable “Do It Myself,” where listeners are reminded again and again that the rapper built success through his never-ending dedication to his craft.

Although many of his songs are intended only to flex his money (not like that’s unheard of in the music industry), a few of his tracks are absolute gems that hit the listener right in their feels.

His single, “Basement,” released on April 20, features Canadian singer Jessie Reyez, also known for her gritty tune “Body Count.” “Basement” is a pure display of both artists’ strengths, backed by a simple yet hypnotic beat. Reyez’s scratchy voice blends seamlessly with Russ’s velvet as he sings “Love me like I’m still in the basement,” referring to his humble beginnings with Bugus in their makeshift basement studio back in high school.

Despite the haters’ opinions regarding Russ’s intentions with his music, he wants his fans to know the truth. In an interview with KFDANewsChannel10, which can be found on YouTube, Russ said of his career, “I started music just cause music was in me. That’s what I always say. I don’t feel like I got into music. I feel like music got into me. So I just naturally listened to my gut and just followed my passion.”

Tori Ihnen, Fort Hays State University

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Tori Ihnen

Fort Hays State University

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