Photo by Goodwin, courtesy of Cousin Stizz
In the back of a white Jeep Wrangler Cousin Stizz stands, bare chested, wearing a gold chain and Red Sox camo snapback. “Shoutout to the money, love the drugs / Shoutout to the money from the drugs,” he raps. He’s riding around the streets of Boston with his friends, blunts in tow, the wind whipping through their hair, the sun beating down on their backs through the open roof: This was the first look most people got of the 23-year-old Boston rapper, in his video for “Shoutout.”
“We just wanted to do something cool. We just wanted to show y’all what Boston really was,” Stizz says, “I’m just showing y’all what’s going on out here. Like that’s just it. Same thing with bars—everything that’s going on is just what it is.” The track is his ethos in a nutshell: It’s something we can vibe to, move to, and identify with.
Although Stizz is an easygoing person and likes to keep a low profile—he mentions that he, “Barely even [goes] out. Like I’m just in the crib.”—he’s still profusely determined to make music that both shows thanks to his hometown and breaks out of it. Michael Christmas, a fellow Boston rapper who is also one of Stizz’s closest friends, attributes the same mindset to Stizz, “I remember years ago Stizz told me he wants to stop walking up stairs. He said no more inclines; everything is escalators and elevators… I think Stizz is eventually gonna have a house with just escalators and elevators in it. He said he wants that—if he wants it, he goes and he gets it.”
Stizz’s recent 13-track debut Suffolk County is an accumulation of experiences, from his adolescence to the present, all rooted in the city. Besides “Shoutout,” which got a subtle co-sign by Drake, standout tracks include “No Bells” and “Dum Dope,” two sparse and minimalist songs that are evocative of Suffolk County’s ability to hypnotize its listener. Though he pulls beats from a bevy of producers—Tee-WaTT, M. Ali, Obeatz, DumDrumz, Latrell James, Tedd Boyd, and Lil Rich—the whole tape still has the same spellbinding sound of relaxed trap beats.
Coming up in a rough part of Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood, Stizz was forced to mature quickly. “Where I grew up at, like literally right behind my house, I hopped a gate and I’m at the basketball court where everything’s going down. So I’m seeing a lot but all this shit is normal to me because that’s just what I’m growing up on. I’m with the homies, nigga have a shoot out, shoot out right in front of us. We run up the block real quick and then we come back out and go play ball again.”
Stizz’s world changed around age 14. He was doing well academically, but when a close friend—basically his brother—passed away from a gunshot wound, he responded in part by acting out. Things got so out of hand that Stizz’s mother gave him an ultimatum: He either would have to go to military school or go to high school in the suburbs. Stizz picked the suburbs, which was “a real transition at first… I’m from the hood, everybody I know looks like me. And then I go to this school and nobody looks like me.” Though it was a culture shock—he could “relate to nothing”—he soon learned to embrace the change of perspective.
“I learned a lot about myself… Like, it really taught me about how to be a people person and how to treat others, and it just taught me a lot about like people, about what people like and that helped shape the music that I make,” he reflects. “I’ve seen every spectrum almost. I’ve hung out with everybody. I hang with everybody there is to hang with in my city.”
Photo by Goodwin, courtesy of Cousin Stizz
Stizz didn’t have a plan past high school graduation. Music eventually became the answer, but he didn’t feel the push to pursue it until about two years ago. He vividly recalls his friends telling him to take music seriously because of his ability to freestyle, though. Stizz and his homies would freestyle during smoking sessions and diss each other so much that it got to the point where they became good at rapping. One night, Jefe Replay—the only featured artist on Suffolk County—mentioned that there a local cypher series called “12 for 12” going down that he should check out. Stizz rolled through and ended up meeting Michael Christmas and videographer and producer Goodwin (who eventually directed the “Shoutout” video) for the first time. Stizz also reconnected with the event’s organizer, Tim Larew, who became his manager and all-around point person. “I went to that shit by coincidence. Like I wasn’t even gonna go,” Stizz remembers.
Things got more serious when Christmas dropped “Daily.” “Maybe I should start taking [rap] seriously, start reading God’s signs, and stop sleeping,” Stizz remembers thinking to himself. After they’d met at the cypher, the group came together pretty quickly; according to Stizz, since then, Larew and Goodwin’s roles have become larger than just manager and videographer. “By the time ‘Daily’ dropped, those were my brothers,” Stizz says. “We kinda were a crew the whole time.”
“The first song Stizz put out, ‘Life,’ I remember he wrote that song way before he put it out,” Christmas remembers, “When he finally recorded it, everybody heard it and was like this song is fuckin’ crazy. And that’s how it all started. It didn’t start with me because I never, ever, ever had anything out. I love that now one of the main things in his music is don’t doubt him. ‘Cause people doubted him once, and it didn’t work… It’s [been a] real emotional time for me, seeing one of my best friends, seeing everything he said he was going to do—and he’s going to keep doing it.”
In the months leading up to Suffolk County, Stizz garnered more buzz as he released “Gone Til November” and “A-World,” two cuts that wouldn’t ultimately make his debut. Both songs showed the rapper’s exceptional ability to pen captivating hooks. It also showed outsiders how Stizz’s music is a direct reflection of his reserved but sharp personality. Like him, his songs are mellow and nonchalant—but rife with meaning and alive in their nuances. Suffolk County’s release only further solidified that impression, along with emphasizing his connection to the city of Boston.
That’s a relatively new thing for the city, which, despite a few notable artists, has never been much of a hip-hop hub. Stizz, in his own understated way as part of growing collective of associated acts, is helping to make it one—and show off a little of himself in the process. The Boston rapper’s depth comes through quietly in verses that at first glance mostly touch on drugs, women, and his city. In the first track off Suffolk County, “Ain’t Really Much,” he spits, “Flippin it, little shit, reminisce / Four spliffs and I just hit a lick / How the fuck did it come back to this / We have no choice man it just what it is,” waxing poetic on the cyclicality of life with the attitude of the guy who’s sitting on the couch next to you. This is the way he projects himself, unpretentious but authoritative. Ultimately, he’s offering a celebration of the city and his character. You just have to read between the lines to find it.
Tara Mahadevan makes it happen like magic, hocus and pocus. Follow her on Twitter.