Do It Everyday, Music or Nothing: ATL’s Russ on His Self-Made Success
From dropping out of school to hanging with Kehlani and Bryson Tiller
When you make art on a large scale, people tend to judge you before they meet you. Russell Vitale, one of four Italian-American siblings, is not any different in this regard. In fact, his entire demeanor as it stands – the long hair turned man-bun, the different colored eye, the whole “Oh, I thought you would be taller” or the “Oh, I thought you were black” vibes that circulate around him – fits the mold of someone easily judicable. The scale was small in 2010.
That is when all this – devoted fans, international and national tours, millions of plays on SoundCloud – started. Born in New Jersey and now nestled in the Atlanta suburbs, he contributed to close friend and one of a select few collaborators, Bugus’ demo tape. Here are two kids who just love music so much they formed their own company, called DIEMON (Do It Everyday Music Or Nothing). Aptly titled “Bugus Demo,” Russ’ production found a home, as did DIEMON. Then, he went Kanye on us; he went from writing hooks to singing choruses to rapping on his own beats. He recalls the time in his life where he went to college for a semester and “dropped out to make beats.”
Looking back, he realizes how ill-informed it sounds to those who were not in the know — the majority would toll through their classes and come back to their dorm or apartment to produce music. His family was supportive, if slightly crestfallen. With little meaningful direction except an intense calling for music, Russ was bent on perfecting his craft, spending countless days and nights in the studio Bugus crafted at his home in Alpharetta, Georgia. People would come and go but Russ, Bugus and MacIvan, a skateboarder part of DIEMON, would be the constants in the DIEMON strong-hold home studio.
The real progression came from within their unit, wholly self-contained. Established creatives had a hand in DIEMON’s creative infancy, guys like Derek Ali and Andrew Donoho. But once Russ graduated to writing, singing, rapping, producing, mixing and mastering his own music, it became evident the truth was in the process. Maybe it came when he started doing the single-by-single approach on SoundCloud, after releasing 11 albums for free. Maybe it came when the theme of his music, self-belief into self-actualization, began to play a central role. His mother is a life coach; she practices what she preaches and it becomes evident those seeds have blossomed in Russ’ hands and life. You can catch his music on Kylie Jenner’s Snapchat.
Russ is not your usual ATL artist. You will be hard pressed to find trap cadences, talk of selling dope, finessing, and any of the qualities that give Atlanta artists their momentary buzz and blog darling status. In an interview he has stated he “never was into Atlanta rap” and that he is “here for the marathon, not the sprint.” The lack of regionalism in modern rap music has never been more apparent than 2016 and Russ seems to be the perfect example of this. His sing-song-y flow, peppered with falsetto and staccato-tinged bars, has propelled him into one of the most buzzed about independent artists of the time.
Critics such as Jeff Weiss have deemed Russ as the “missing link between Kid Cudi and G-Unit.” Drake remains the only artist Russ deems as competition; Russ listens to Lil Wayne to kill his writer’s block.
His lyrics are largely self-reflective. In “Yung God,” he states he is on probation but he will be off in October. In a recent single “T’d Up,” he admits he “knows what it’s like to do a show with less people in the crowd than the ones on stage.” We took the time to interview the young artist, having just toured Europe as a head-liner for The Manifest Tour, before returning to the USA to run the What They Want tour, spanning the Pacific Northwest and the West coast.
It’s an acronym standing for Do It Everyday Music Or Nothing that is also a company me and my boy Bugus own. Bugus came up with the name when we were 17. I think it started as a website, because we were tired of putting our songs on Limelinx and Mediafire. So, we were like: “Let’s make a website where we can upload our songs to.” Actually, very prophetic for 17 — now that I think about it (laughs).
What’s the biggest misconception about Russ?
I am Saudi.
What is your earliest memory of music?
Dancing to country music in a BBQ restaurant in North Carolina when I was, like, 3.
Do you have a musical family?
Yeah. My dad’s father — rest in peace, Pop Pop — taught me guitar. He had been playing for 80 years or something crazy like that. Music has always been a big part of my family, though, growing up.
Can you recall a specific moment that spoke to you concerning music as a career?
I had been making beats because I love to make music. But, then one time in the studio, I turned to Bugus and was like “Yo, should I start rapping?” And he immediately said, “hell yeah, do that shit!”
You started producing before you ever laid vocals on a track. In hindsight, what did that approach teach you about rapping and singing?
Oh, man. So much. I learned music. I learned rhythm. I learned that my voice was just another instrument; just like a hi hat, or a synth, or whatever. I learned how to really utilize my voice in that regard.
Coming into a black man’s game, in a time where race has become more fluid than ever, how do you feel about your heritage in music?
I feel that I am super aware of all that. I have also experienced and continue to experience that when you make music with a message and soul and substance, it transcends race.
You release a lot of music and have earned the title ‘prolific.’ Your critics say this hurts your quality and longevity. What do you think?
I think that they think they have seen me before. They have not. I am a one of a kind and I am winning out here and will continue to win. They are stupid and skeptical. Doubt is the opposite of productivity; so, fuck them.
How has the game changed since you started, knowing what you know now?
The internet has boomed and mixtapes have kind of died. It is all singles now, but, albums are still the ultimate necessity. The internet blurred the lines completely. Everyone is from everywhere now.
You are touring Europe and America, as a headlining artist. What can fans expect from your shows?
Amazing music and vulnerability. This is really my music. I am really making all the beats, doing all the mixing, etc. I am really responsible for literally everything you hear. These are my stories. The names are real. Everything is 100% real. I think when you just listen to it on Soundcloud, or wherever… that aspect of it does not hit you as much as it does when you see me on stage, in front of you, really singing and rapping these stories.
Have you worked with artists you have been spotted with, i.e. Kehlani, Bryson Tiller, etc?
I am going to keep that under wraps.
What is the longest you have gone without recording?
This tour! (laughs) Like two weeks.
How did you deal with rejection?
Rejection is just confirmation that I went after something so I was and am not phased by it.
Well, how long does it take you to get over rejection? How do you combat that?
I never internalize it; so, not long. I brush it off. I do not internalize stuff like that. It comes into my life and goes away instantly. It is hard. You have got to just turn your brain off sometimes, and just be. Like, literally, just be. Live life. Get your priorities straight. Keep your ego in check and just stay focused on what matters.
What are you most proud of so far in your career?
That I did it my way. Made the music I like to listen to. Trusted my gut. Followed my intuition, and it worked. I was right all along.
What’s your go-to ‘Neo in the Matrix’ hack?
Teleport. I do not like the “traveling” aspect of traveling, if that makes sense. I just want to get to where I am going instantly.
What do you hate about the music industry right now?
The cornball artists, who have industry connections, so, they get put on even though they have less than 12 songs to their name… and have no real fan base. You all are wack.
Million dollar question time. When are you releasing an album?
When the time is right.
Fair enough. What’s one thing you can share with us about the album?
It’s everything you like about me and my music, on steroids.
Will you ever do an album where you strictly rap, or vice-versa, strictly sing?
Hard to say. Maybe when I am 40. I will just do an all singing album (laughs).