“I Got a Long Way to go Before I’m the Savior of Anything”: An Interview with Cousin Stizz

Mano Sundaresan talks to Cousin Stizz about weed, Jayson Tatum, and his forthcoming mixtape, 'One Night Only.'
By    July 12, 2017

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As a resident of suburban Boston, I know Bean Town hasn’t really ever produced an artist like Cousin Stizz. A successful rapper balancing infectious instrumentals with gripping trap narratives. Everyone turns to Guru of Gang Starr as the gold standard of Boston rap, but as far as I’m concerned, Guru and Premo were a New York rap group that made New York rap. After Guru, Boston hip-hop went full-on Def Jux for a decade, yielding some fantastic output from artists like Mr. Lif and Akrobatik, but Def Jux didn’t exactly make mainstream records.

As for “Good Vibrations,” it’s is a horrible song that’s been pampered excessively with memory bias (Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch never actually existed. There’s some Berenstein Rift shit going on there. Three Kings is a classic, though). And I don’t know who Sammy Adams is but if I had to rank all of the Sam Adams’, I’d probably rank him somewhere between the beer and the NFL defensive tackle.

Enter Cousin Stizz, a Fields Corner native who raps about the grind, wealth, loss, the plug, and his city in the most dizzying, earworm ways imaginable. Each week, a different Stizz hook is stuck in my head; this week it’s “Every Season.”

Stizz is inspired by trap legends like Gucci Mane and Jeezy, but he isn’t just an offshoot of their sound. Over airy, post-Clams-Casino instrumentals courtesy of Boston beat-makers like Lil Rich and Tee-WaTT, Stizz’s repetitive cadences are elevated from Southern homage to raw, transcendent ingenuity. His tapes feel like highs, encompassing every emotion spiraling out of the experience—triumph, exuberance, nostalgia, resignation, and acceptance.

It seems like Drake cosigns drive the rap economy, and Cousin Stizz got his in 2015, when a video surfaced of Drake dancing to Stizz’s single “Shoutout” at his birthday party. Since then, he’s dropped two stellar mixtapes, inked a record deal with RCA, toured the country with Kyle, and moved to L.A. He’s also put out several massive singles, including the hypnotic “Headlock,” which features the best member of Migos (hint: Quavo’s gotten stale and people who say Takeoff probably sympathize with him after #doitlooklikeiwasleftoffbadandboujee). After some sample clearance issues, Stizz is set to release his third project, One Night Only today.

“Cousin Stizz is the hardest rapper out of Boston” has been the storyline since his breakout, but it fails to capture Stizz’s complexity. It doesn’t show how Stizz inadvertently came up through backyard freestyle sessions in Fields Corner, a Dorchester, MA neighborhood where muffled gunshots and brown-bag transactions serve as constant reality checks. Nor does it bring light to his four important years at Reading Memorial High School, a suburban immersion that allowed him to escape the vicious cycles of the trap and explore other possibilities, if only for the day.

In my 45-minute conversation with Cousin Stizz, he seamlessly shifts from gushing about French Montana to dropping knowledge on the art of the come-up. He’s one of those stoners whose thoughts exude clarity rather than vapidity. It often seems like he’s offering me advice, phrasing his life lessons in ways that apply to anyone trying to move up in the world. Yet as he’s recounting his life story, I begin to realize a certain Stizz hook applies to me too: “If you ain’t know me then, you won’t understand.” —Mano Sundaresan


What’s up with you? How’s L.A.?


Cousin Stizz: L.A.’s cool man. Just working, working, working, working.


How long have you been there for?


Cousin Stizz: Since like the top of the year.


And you’ve been out there recording?


Cousin Stizz: Yeah, just making music, that’s it.


What was the main motivation for recording there? I know you’ve recorded previously at SpareMonkey Studio in Cambridge.


Cousin Stizz: Oh no, I just kinda wanted to move to L.A., it was time for a move. Time for me to make a move. I always wanted to spread my wings and fly.


How much do you typically record in a day?


Cousin Stizz: I usually record as much as I can. I mean yeah, I try to balance it too, obviously you gotta live your life. I just record as much as I can. At the end of this week, I’ve been recording every day.


What’s L.A. been like?


Cousin Stizz: It’s been tight, man. I like the weather, I like looking at the mountains and shit, the views, shit is dope. Up in the East Coast you get stuck in your house six months of the year, and it’s not like that here in L.A.


What’s a typical day out there for you?


Cousin Stizz: Shit, write music, go to the studio, chilling, hanging with the homies, going out at night, I don’t even know what a typical day is out here.


Smoking?


Cousin Stizz: Yeah I mean I smoke all the time, that goes without saying.


What weed strains do you mess with out there?


Cousin Stizz: I’m an OG kush guy, that’s it. It’s cool with me. None of that extra shit. I just stick to what I like, man. You gotta stick with what you like with the bud. Weed is really good out here. I mean my weed is really good in Boston as well, so it’s not even like that. But the weed out here is really nice. It’s really really really really really good.


Do you go to dispensaries?


Cousin Stizz: Nah I got a weed man. I don’t got an L.A. ID, and I don’t have a card either.


Definitely getting tougher with weed’s new legal status to shout out the plug.


Cousin Stizz: Yeah I know. It doesn’t even matter no more. Shout out to the plug man.


When you’re not touring or recording, do you go back to Field’s Corner?


Cousin Stizz: No not really. I live out here now, I pay rent. I’m always checkin’ in with my homies with FaceTime, checkin’ in with my mom, checkin’ in with my people and shit like that. I go back when I can, but I live out here, I gotta pay rent. I’m paying bills.


Have you been visiting at all?


Cousin Stizz: Yeah, I was home like two weeks ago, maybe two or three weeks ago. It’s a long flight, bro. Seven hours is a lot.


Has it changed a lot in Field’s Corner since you were younger?


Cousin Stizz: I think the difference is that I get older. That’s the only thing that changes is that the people get older. And I think the main difference is that you look at everything from a different perspective when you’re older. The world gets a lot bigger for sure. It’s not what you thought it was. The same 17 or 18 blocks, you think that’s the whole world when you’re a kid, but then you get older. You realize there’s a really big world out there. So that’s the only thing that really changed for me. You just start looking at things differently.

But not much has really changed scenic-wise. I mean new apartments came up, and new burger spots and shit, but it still looks the same.


What’s your biggest takeaway from your childhood in Dorchester?


Cousin Stizz: My biggest takeaway from growing up in Dorchester is never stop going. I’ve seen a lot of people get really really close to what they want, you don’t even know how to swing one more time, maybe something will work out. That’s why everything has taught me: keep going, bruh. You never know, you should always try, ‘cuz you never know what’s gonna happen.

Maybe Drake ends up listening to your song, and had you not tried, that would not have happened. Maybe other people too, crazy other different examples I could think of. Had you not tried, that wouldn’t have happened. I know a lot of people that get real close, and they just stopped for whatever reasons, maybe just life reasons, and that’s nobody’s fault. But one thing I definitely picked up on was just keep trying, bro, keep swinging.


You went to high school in Reading, in the suburbs. Are you still friends with people from there?


Cousin Stizz: Do I still have friends from Reading? I don’t know, it’s like a typical high school thing where when you leave high school you stop talking to the people you went to high school with. I got a few friends though, I got a couple homies that check up on me all the time. Yeah I got a couple homies from the school days.


Were there a lot of white kids at Reading?


Cousin Stizz: Absolutely, that was a predominantly white school. In my high school there were maybe 20 of us. Not too many. 30, 40. Something like that. Black kids, Latino kids, kids from the inner city.


Did you experience any racism?


Cousin Stizz: I mean it was there. Nothing specifically happened to me but obviously you see incidents of shit like that happening, that shit is crazy. I can’t really name a time where some shit really happened to me, but I definitely saw a few times where shit was happening, absolutely. Nothing really happened, though. I don’t know, people were really cool with me for some reason. People really gravitated towards me.


Was it because you messed with the same shit that they liked, like music and shit?


Cousin Stizz: I mean I wasn’t rapping then at all. But this is when Wiz was on the cusp of popping so I had my few friends. This was before everybody was getting high and shit. I was smoking hella weed, so I had my few stoner friends. They had all the crazy bongs and shit ‘cuz they got more money. They had all the fly bongs and all that type of shit going and I would get high and turn up to Wiz at the end of the day.


Were you getting introduced to new music by those kids?


Cousin Stizz: I mean they would always put me on to some other shit, all the time. Reading was fly, man, it was a smorgasbord of learning a lot about just life and how much you can have and how different people’s lives are. I never had this experience of like, wow this is a clear-cut separation, like I live in the hood and I’d go up there and everybody has a nice car, everybody lives with nice parents. The school is getting redone now, everything’s dope. It was a good place to be, one of the best experiences going to school out there. It was hella tight. They lowkey put me on to mad game out there. It definitely helped me out to understand music when I started making music, and understand life.


What do you think your life would be like without that experience?


Cousin Stizz: I don’t know, bruh. I don’t even know if I would even be in rapping if I didn’t go to high school there. I made my first rap missing the bus on the way to school. I had a long ass train ride and I started writing over a Lil Wayne rap on No Ceilings. It was like my very first rap. So who knows where I would be? I would have gone to school in a not-good neighborhood. So who the fuck knows where I would be if I had not gone there? Definitely not here.


So you listened to a lot of Wayne back then. What else were you listening to?


Cousin Stizz: I was listening to Wayne, I was listening to Wiz, I was listening to Gucci, I was listening to Jeezy, I was listening to Jay back then, Cudi. Reading put me on to Cudi—that was monumental.


I think I hear a lot of those guys’ influence in the way you rap, especially Gucci and Cudi.


Cousin Stizz: When you’re that age, you’re going through so much shit. You really are like a sponge, so if that’s what I’m listening to, of course that’s gonna influence what’s going on in my music.


When did you know you wanted to be a rapper?


Cousin Stizz: It kinda just happened. I mean I guess there was a defining moment, like me and Tim had a long talk one day. Tim, was this before or after Christmas’s mixtape?

Tim: : It was before the tape, it was right around “Daily” [by Michael Christmas] dropping, so it was when his shit was starting to get a little more serious but it wasn’t quite at his tape.

Cousin Stizz: So it was the process of like, at that point, I just focused on the tape and was getting more serious, and actually made the sacrifice and cut out bad habits that wouldn’t help me do my thing.


The Drake cosign and reaction to Suffolk County were huge. Any other moments that you think were big steps forward?


Cousin Stizz: I think every time something good happened for us it was just more of like, we really did this shit on our own, like we really really did this shit on our own. Every time there was a gratifying moment of something going our way, I felt like I had to pick it up a little more. So that Drake thing definitely helped, that just let me know that people were listening. So I should say something if people are listening. Then the shows started doing really well, and anytime I got a call about an interview, it just let us know we should just keep going, we gotta keep going. Any moments like that, it gives me more motivation to make this shit happen.


Despite those moments, I think what gives your rise so much strength and credibility is how organic it’s been. You’ve got the city of Boston behind you, you’ve got this dedicated fan base through the Internet, you’re riding a wave of success but you have a solid foundation to fall back on.


Cousin Stizz: That was our mindset from the beginning: the only way this shit is gonna work is if it’s organic. It’s harder when a rush of things happen at once, it’s kinda like this “what’s next?” if you make everything happen really really fast for yourself. But if you let this shit happen organically you’ll be ready for when it’s time for you to be ready.


A lot of your fans, especially the ones from Boston, love your music videos, which are mostly directed by Ian Goodwin. They capture familiar scenery in the city in a really vivid and realistic way. How did you and Ian link up?


Cousin Stizz: I met Goodwin at a freestyle session in his backyard. That was the first time that we linked up. We were homies after that. It was kinda weird how like [Michael] Christmas and Goodwin, we all just kinda became friends after that day. We was always homies before all this shit, and the video thing just kinda happened because he wanted to help out. That was all it really was, it wasn’t anything more than I wanna help you guys make this shit happen. I’m just grateful that I have a lot of good people around me. And he’s super fucking dope with the videos. He’s one of the best out here.


How’d the record deal with RCA happen?


Cousin Stizz: I mean I met with everybody before I signed with RCA. I guess I did my rounds with everyone, like everyone called me in for a meeting. But RCA just felt right, just felt like home, it just felt good, I just felt the love. It felt great man, so I’m happy to be a part, and I’m gonna try and do my part.


So far you’ve picked some really thoughtful mixtape titles in Suffolk County and MONDA. What’s the meaning behind the title One Night Only?


Cousin Stizz: One Night Only for me is just a reminder that this shit is not given. This shit is a privilege and opportunity, so I have only one night to prove myself, and when this shit drop, that’s just it, I can’t take that back. I gotta be happy that I’m in this situation and not take this for granted, so I gotta go really hard.


You’ve done some huge collabs recently with Offset and G-Eazy, as well as hit-makers like Vinylz and Wondagirl. Should we expect more big names on the project, or are you gonna bring back the Boston artists from the past two tapes?


Cousin Stizz: You gotta wait man, I’m not gonna say too much. You gotta wait and just listen.


When I think of the Boston hip-hop vanguard before you, I think of Mr. Lif, 7L & Esoteric, Akrobatik, and Benzino, and before them, Guru. Did you listen to any of those guys growing up, or do you feel a little disconnected from them?


Cousin Stizz: I think I was a little disconnected from all that growing up. I was listening pretty much to what my parents had me listening to, I didn’t have a choice. Let me think, what was the first real album that I got…maybe Juelz Santana’s What the Game’s Been Missing!. I think that might’ve been it. Like that, well obviously 50 Cent, but my mom got me that shit. But I guess when I started listening to my own music was around the LimeWire era.

Papoose, Cassidy, Juelz, Jadakiss, D-Block, and old 50 Cent mixtapes and shit like that. I liked all of that shit growing up. That was what was poppin’ back then, New York had a super wave. New York always has a super wave. So that’s what I was listening to back then. And I started getting into Southern rap in like ’07, ’08 when Jeezy came up and then Gucci dropped a bunch of shit.


I can definitely hear a little Gucci in your cadence on songs like “Fresh Prince” and “Gain Green.” How else do you think the South influenced you and Boston hip-hop?


Cousin Stizz: I don’t know about the entire Boston rap scene, but it’s definitely influenced me. Like I was only listening to Max B and French Montana for a straight two years of my life, and when I say only, I mean like only them. With exceptions of Wiz and Flocka and Gucci, but like only them. For a solid two years that was in heavy rotation. I can’t say what it’s done for the whole Boston community, but for me, those were my guys, that’s who I was listening to my whole teenage years. Max B, French, Flocka, Gucci, Wiz, Curren$y.


What do you think of Gucci’s past year since coming out of prison?


Cousin Stizz: Aw man I think it’s fucking great. I don’t want Gucci or anybody in jail, I don’t wanna see anybody incarcerated, that shit’s the worst. I’m happy he’s out and getting right back to like he hasn’t left, and I’m happy for his people and family. That shit is hella tight. New tape with Metro is fire, I like the very first song on there the most.


What else have you been listening to this year?


Cousin Stizz: I’ve been listening to 2 Chainz. I was listening to 2 Chainz back then too. Yeah, 2 Chainz is killing it. Who else I been listening to? Let me check SoundCloud…I’ve been listening to a lot of Rich The Kid, SahBabii. Thugga’s new album is incredible. Yeah that’s pretty much it. Lucki, Carti. Yeah that’s pretty much in my range right now.


You recently finished your tour with Kyle who’s blowing up right now with that XXL cover. How did you link up with him?


Cousin Stizz: That’s my brother man, shout out to Kyle. He’s killing it, really really happy for him. Back when I was younger, my young wild boy days, I would listen to Kyle at parties that we would throw. This one Kyle joint, “Fruit Snacks,” I would always play at the parties. Among his other songs I would play that song. It was a lowkey joint, not many in Boston had heard about it. I don’t think anyone had heard about it at that point. We were the first people playing that shit.

And then fast forward in life, the first time I come out here I meet Kyle’s stylist Zini and he was like, “Yeah I talk to Kyle, we mess with y’all.” Like that’s kinda crazy ‘cuz back home, I used to play this shit way back in the day, so I definitely wanted to link up. So Kyle was on it like a red herring. I think this was right after Suffolk County dropped. I met Kyle, and it was always love after that day. Great kid, man, really good dude.


Any crazy moments on the tour?


Cousin Stizz: I think Dallas when we went to the club with Steph Curry. We were in Dallas and Steph Curry came to the show. That was pretty fire because I love basketball.


How do you think the Celtics did in the draft?


Cousin Stizz: I like Jayson Tatum. That boy can ball. He’s a scorer, man, I like him. And I think he’s gonna fill out and he’s gonna be a great defender. He’s long enough to be a lockdown defender.


I’ve been hearing Paul Pierce comparisons.


Cousin Stizz: Really? Well maybe because of how smooth his game is, you know Paul Pierce has that midrange jumper and so does Jayson Tatum.


I feel like you’re already being given this label of “Boston hip-hop’s savior” or “Boston’s hometown hero.” How do you feel about that?


Cousin Stizz: That’s what they call me? That’s tight. I try not to buy into stuff like that because there’s so many guys that came out of the city that did great things too. So I try to not keep my head in things like that, but it’s fine I guess. I’m not gonna not be grateful for people saying that, that’s super dope. I’m happy that people believe in me like that, that shit is super tight. But in my head I got a long way to go before I’m the savior of anything.


Going forward, maybe five, ten years down the line, what else do you want to add to that legacy?


Cousin Stizz: I want people to know me for making the music that makes them dance and taking care of the people I care about. That’s pretty much it, that’s all that really matters to me. As long as the people I care about are straight, as long as I’m straight, as long as the music’s great and the people can dance to it, man, that’s all I can ever ask for.