Growing Up Outside: An Interview with Cousin Stizz

Evan Gabriel talks with Cousin Stizz about growing up in Boston, waking up his mom after Drake heard his song, and his version of paradise.
By    October 7, 2015

cousin stizz nyc

Evan Gabriel blacked out at Bleacher Bar

Last summer, Cousin Stizz slid into the psyche of many rap fans when he released his sparkling homage to the middleman, “Shoutout.” Following the video, he dropped his debut mixtape, Suffolk County, a melodramatic love story between a man and his money. He raps with finesse-you-out-your-cash precision. There’s familiarity here—a pinch of Pusha T’s esoteric drug-selling references, a dash of Luckie Eck’s blunt-warped perception of morality—as the tape’s subject matter unabashedly hovers around drug trafficking. As a kid growing up in Boston’s historic Dorchester neighborhood, Stizz stayed true to himself. He didn’t look for permission. He spent his formative years running the streets of his neighborhood, learning to make money with his crew while dodging death.

“In between smoke sessions, in between doing our little…whatever we was doing out there, I would freestyle with the homies. We would just diss each other. Everybody was fucking with the way I was dissing and I was like, maybe I should take this seriously. But I didn’t know what the fuck to talk about, I couldn’t just go on and be funny and shit. So I just had to talk about life.”

Then in 2012, Stizz decided at the last minute to attend the #12For12 Producer Showcase Cypher, where he met fellow-rapper and Roxbury resident, Michael Christmas. Almost by accident, Stizz had found himself a constructive outlet. Although Suffolk County gained traction partly due to high-profile nods from Corbin (Spooky Black) and Drake, he’s never tried to leverage big features. Within our 30-minute discussion, he uses the words “peachy,” “beautiful,” and “lovely.” He smokes weed hourly. And his description of paradise makes it easy to picture Stizz in the attic of a trap house, his legs crossed and his head wrapped in a cloud of consciousness as he contemplates his next big move.

The twenty-three-year-old is making music that he never planned to, penning stories of his past, and creating entrancing bangers. From moving dirty work around Dorchester, to dodging puddles at SXSW, or sitting in his mom’s living room at 3 am watching a video of Drake dancing to “Shoutout” on repeat, the last year has solidified one truth: Go harder.

What was your early life like?

Cousin Stizz: It was something yo. I grew up in the heart of the city, Dorchester, in a not-so-good area. I grew up around a lot of not-so-good things. Luckily, I had my parents. My father was there and my mother was there, so I didn’t have to go through the single-parent thing, I had sisters and shit, but shit still wasn’t even peachy inside my house. I was a kid who would just dip, I was never at home hardly ever. I was just a like an older kid who was out until two in the morning. That was always my M.O., growing up. So that’s where a lot of the music came from. I learned everything from being outside. Being outside with the homies hanging. A lot of wild shit, you know? I didn’t know I was going to rap, it just kind of happened. It really just kind of happened. I thought I was going to be an athlete, thought I was going to play football. But then I found out about money.

What age was that?

CS: 16. I found out you could make money selling things. And that was pretty much it after that, for real. I was done with that whole football dream. I played cornerback and was on punt return. I wasn’t that good. I used to be good when I was younger. But then I just stopped caring. It got too serious, too much.

Where does your name come from?

CS: Stizz? I’ve had that name since I was like 11. My bro gave me that name before he passed and it kind of stuck with me. But the cousin part, it was weird because I would kick with everybody. I’m cool with everybody even before rap, like I was cool with a lot of kids from my city and shit. And then my homies used to say, dog, you’re like everybody’s cousin. So I just put it as my Twitter name and that was it.

Do you have siblings?

CS: Yeah, sisters. All girls on my side. It’s stressful sometimes.

Was that a big reason for you leaving the house so much?

CS: I think so…. Maybe. I’ve always done my own thing. There’s never been a time where someone could say Stizzy followed someone else. I’ve never been that kid. And my parents respected that. My mom taught me when I was a really young kid, she was like, I know I can’t make you do anything you don’t want to do, so I’m just going to let you find it on your own. And that’s just how it’s been.

I’ve read that you feel that music gives you “a reason to believe that something’s real.” What was your earliest experience with music?

CS: Way back in the day, when I was a kid, my dad would play old-ass and shit. Some of them standout. “4 Moms” by Tribe Called Quest. As a kid I didn’t really know what an instrumental was, but that was an interlude to the album. That was my first, like, “Damn, music is beautiful”-type moment. I felt the energy of it. I remember that as a kid. Even then I wasn’t trying to rap over the shit. I didn’t have enough life experience. But the energy of it, I felt it. That’s when I was like, “Music is dope.”

So your dad was into hip-hop?

CS: Yeah my dad was crazy into hip hop. Anything with soul and rhythm was my dad. His record collection is stupid, so I grew up on everything.

You’ve said you wrote “No Explanation” after going to SXSW. What was the festival like?

CS: It was kind of life-changing. I’d never been to some shit like that. I had heard stories about the shit but to actually go there and be like, “All my favorite artists are on the same street.” I’ve never been to anything like that. There was so much that I learned in a week, that couldn’t be taught anywhere else.

What was the biggest lesson you took away from SXSW?

CS: That I got to work harder.

You released “A-World” with a note about life coming at you fast. Can you talk about your inspiration behind that song?

CS: That song only came out because my homie Alex passed. This was my dog, you feel me? That was a song of just emotion and self-expression. I only made that song because my homie passed. It just means a lot to me. It’s just life, dog.

You tell a lot of stories in your music.

CS: Everything you guys hear is life experience. I’m not one of those guys that can go in and just rap and say shit. I wish I could just go in and say cool shit to stay hot. But that’s not really my thing. I have to really feel music and feel what the fuck I’m talking about. We all kind of record at the same spot, me, Chris, OG [Swaggerdick]. My homie Roy at Spare Monkey Studios, that’s where all this shit happens. Shit, if it wasn’t for him there would be no Suffolk County to keep it real. Everything I recorded on Suffolk County, we recorded at his crib.

What do you look for in instrumentals?

CS: I’m looking for that groove. I don’t even know what the fuck I’m looking for half the time, I just have to feel it. It has to feel like the beat fits me.

How did your mom react when she saw the video of Drake dancing to “Shoutout” at Dave & Buster’s?

CS: I was still living with my mom at that time. Fucking Q (of Mac Miller’s Most Dope) hit me at three in the morning and it was just a link. I opened it and it was Drake playing my shit. I woke my mom up, and we just watched that shit for like an hour on repeat. It was crazy.

Was she stoked?

CS: Yeah. I had to explain to her mad times like, ‘Ma this is Drake listening to “Shoutout!” And she was just on some shit like, “Well, now you gotta go harder.”

You mentioned you know Q [Quentin Cuff]. How did you link up?

CS: Yeah Q is the homie, dog. Shout out the whole Most Dope Family, they’re great people. They really fucked with Christmas hard, and then that love just kind of trickled over to me. Q really fucks with my music, and Clockwork…there’s just love over there.

What is the dynamic like between you and Michael Christmas? You guys met at a local cypher, right? Had you heard his music before then?

CS: That’s just little-bro-big-bro type thing. It’s kind of weird because our whole squad, everybody think it’s something formulated. But nah, those are just really my bros and we just look out for each other. That’s what it is. I never met any of them before the cypher except Tim. Tim was in my hood one time with Jeff Replay, the kid with the feature in the tape.

But you almost skipped going.

CS: Yeah, it wasn’t in my plans. I was really close to not going at all. I was in my hood, I was drinking, I was smoking, I was with some bitches, I was boolin. I wasn’t really thinking about that at all.

What’s the Boston hip-hop scene like right now?

CS: It’s going bro. It’s beautiful right now. The Boston music scene is lovely. There’s a whole lot of bubbling talent right now, I can’t even front. It’s not just us. And that’s good, you want that in a city.

When you aren’t rapping what might you be doing?

CS: Writing, smoking, eating, trying to make money. Those are pretty much my shits. I’m a boring guy. I got my little things that keep me happy, keep me sane, and that’s all I need.

Backwoods or Dutches?

CS: Backwoods. I used to be a Dutch kid but that was when I was in high school. I feel that’s high school shit man, because smoking Dutches is unhealthy bro. I mean, both of them are pretty unhealthy, but smoking a Dutch is more paper on your lungs, and trying to rap and shit, you need your lungs and your voice and shit. Keep it Backwoods, dog. Keep it the one strip of paper.

Who has been the most unlikely person to compliment you on your music?

CS: My mom, but not really. I guess because of the content of the music, [but] she’s still proud of me. I was kind of shocked because I figured she would be on some shit like, “Yo…the fuck?” But nah, she’s really fucking with it. So I guess that’s surprising because Mom’s supposed to be on your back about that kind of shit.

What’s the worst pain you’ve ever experienced?

CS: Shit man. That’s a tough question. Every time one of my bros die, man. Every time I take one of those L’s man, because it’s like, damn man I was just with you type shit. I just seen one of my bros, you know. And gone, like. My last bro passed and I was in L.A. when it happened. And it’s like, damn man I was just about to get home with everybody, you feel me? That’s the worst, when one of my homies got to go.

You’ve mentioned Suffolk is full of true stories. Where do you stand on ghostwriting in music?

CS: I don’t really stand on it. If people want to ghost let them ghostwrite. They’re trying to eat just like I’m trying to. I’m never going to knock anybody trying to feed their family. Everybody needs to stop worrying about that, ya’ll taking food out of these people’s mouths trying to do that.

Your music makes a lot of reference to your friends and I get this strong sense of brotherhood. Can you talk about the team you have working around you right now?

CS: The immediate music team is pretty tightknit. It’s me, Roy, Tim Goodwin, Christmas, Me, and OG. As far as my music side it’s Tee-WaTT & M. Ali, OBeats, DumDrumz, Lil Rich, Latrell James, Tedd Boyd. I keep it really tightknit. I don’t like trying to go crazy with trying to get bigger names. It looks a lot better when you just putting people on and giving people shots, because those people deserve those. They took a chance on me like I took a chance to them. I talk to those fools everyday.

Three things you never leave the house without?

CS: Money, jewelry and music. Even if I don’t have music on my fucking phone, I’m singing too all day, I’m singing to myself. I never leave anywhere without music.

Describe your paradise.

Cousin Stizz: We on an island, we don’t know where the fuck this island is and that’s the point. There’s a mic there, and there’s hella weed. There’s a weed tree that doesn’t stop dropping weed. Every time you pick a nug there like, POW! Magic. And then I got this bad bitch that she can transform into any bad bitch, any one of them at any time. And I got this mic, and it’s a golden mic. It’s a super mansion hut-villa thing. I’m being fanned by this bad bitch that can transform into any bad bitch. And I’m looking out my window into the horizon. And it’s just my mic and the sunlight and beautiful weather. That’s my paradise. That shit is fire right there. Wow. You got to have mad juice on deck too. Hella Kiwi Berry Nantucket Nectars. You need that.

Lede photo by Goodwin

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