We spoke with Boston rapper Cousin Stizz about his new album Just For You, going back the independent route, working with Curren$y, and more.
Boston stalwart Cousin Stizz has spent over half a decade with his head down, putting the pieces together one by one. First, dropping his breakout mixtape Suffolk County in 2015. The success of that album led to a record deal with RCA shortly after. In the years since, he has refined his pen to an ultra fine point, becoming proficient in the balancing act of writing deep, introspective raps alongside fun, room shaking turn up jams. But his greatest quality still remains his down to earth, everyman personality — a people’s champion that fans will support at every turn.
His latest album, Just For You (out today), acts as many things: a snapshot of his thoughts and feelings during various parts of the pandemic, a therapy session with himself, and a thank you to the friends and fans that have helped him make it this far. “Blessings” makes way for more of Stizz’s tricky but no less air tight rhymes on gratitude and success. “Guts and Glory” and “Star Power” touch on an ever present sense of paranoia while persevering in spite of it. While “After the Buzzer” is destined to soundtrack someone getting posterized during the NBA Playoffs. And all of it is laced with his one of one charismatic energy that makes you want to buy into everything that he’s selling. Just For You will also be his first independent release in over six years after recently making the decision to not re-up on his contract with RCA.
We recently got the chance to speak with Stizz about making Just For You, going back the independent route, working with Curren$y, and more.
It’s known that you tend to take time off before you get back to rapping again. How have the past two years and change been treating you?
Cousin Stizz: This the most civilian I’ve ever been in my life these last two years. The pandemic just scaled everything back. We all regular people but the pandemic made sure we knew we are very regular out here. We all the same and we need to understand that. People are people at the end of the day, dog, with our own issues and things going on regardless of who you are. That shit got exposed in the pandemic with us just having to sit with ourselves and our problems instead of being able to move around so much and avoid ‘em.
You’ve been signed to a major label for several years. What lessons are you taking with you from that time as you return to independence?
I learned too much in that building. I think that was by design, though. I kinda went in there with the thought process of, “Let me learn as much as I can while I’m here because I don’t know how long I’m gonna be here anyways.” I’m a kid from Boston, and at the time I didn’t think my tenure with them would be that long. So I was just tryna soak up as much game as I could. I ended up getting a lot of love. So it was all good but I definitely learned what to do for myself and where I saw myself as an artist while I was in that building.
What did you discover about yourself as an artist as you were putting that time in?
That I’m self sufficient. I’ve always known I was self-sufficient by doing Suffolk County, that was done in a living room. So I’ve always known I could do this shit with the minimum. Once I got with the label and I seen how much we were really spending on stuff it was like, “Bro I don’t need to spend any of that on anything really. I could just do all this myself.”
You’ve stated that making this album has been the most fun you’ve had since Suffolk County. What are a few of the key differences in process between this and previous releases?
I’m not gonna hold you, I had fun making my last project [Trying to Find My Next Thrill] but it was still work. This one I knew I was working but it didn’t necessarily feel like it. I was kicking it with my boys every day. [Producer] Snapz was spending the night at my crib damn near months at a time, and he got his own crib up the block around the way. I was with my boys every day just making this joint, pulling up to sessions together, mobbing, having fun.
You have never exceeded 14 tracks on an album. Is length something you were always intentional about or did you just fall into it over time?
Always been intentional about it. To me, I feel like I should be able to get my point across in a certain amount of songs. After that it just feels like I’m putting stuff on there because I can. And that’s not a knock to anybody cause I see people make hella long projects and some of them be great. So I’m not saying my way is the right way, it’s just what I do.
Unlike your last few releases, there is only one feature this time around and it comes at the hands of Curren$y on “Star Power.” How did you guys link up and what was it like working together?
Coincidentally, I didn’t even know that shit was happening, really. I got a text from my homie Aaron and he told me, “Yo I’m in New Orleans right now, Curren$y is rocking with these joints” and then I saw the tweet “Cousin Stizz can rap.” Next thing I know Aaron calls again and says, “I think he’s bout to get on one of ’em” and I’m like man tell him do his thing. And I ain’t think nothing of it after that cause you know how rap be, if it happens it happens. I didn’t ask for it, there wasn’t no bread involved or nothing like that so if bro does it he just does it.
Historically he’s really good about that. If he fucks with you, you’ll get some verses from Curren$y for nothing.
Literally. So I think I might have been playing Call of Duty and I started getting some random calls from a New Orleans number I don’t know. By like the third or fourth time I pick up and it’s Curren$y. The rest is a wrap from there.
“Star Power” sounds so victorious but lyrically paranoia is the most prominent theme. How have you handled the anxiety of uncertainty when it comes to your surroundings?
Aw man, ain’t that the daily struggle? You deal with it head on. You can’t tuck your tail from anything, brotha. Regardless of what it is, you gotta live your life to the fullest and enjoy it man. Regardless of what it brings to you, just enjoy your life. You can’t let anything stop you. So that’s where I keep my head at, I can’t let anything that’s going on stop me from doing what I gotta do and providing for who I gotta provide for.
Your hooks tend to be simple but incredibly potent. Are you still majorly freestyling them or are you writing them out?
It depends on what we even call writing out anymore, bro. I’ll write some shit out in my head, memorize that, then bring it to the booth with me. I don’t know if that’s writing out anymore but with a lot of those hooks that’s exactly what I did. I just remembered those before I hit the stu and let the rest do what it did. I just remember the main theme.
I can’t speak for everybody else’s pen [but] I know my pen is really, really good. But [when I’m writing] I feel like I can box myself in and make really simple flows because I try to focus so much on the writing side. So what I try to do is free myself of that constraint and let whatever go, go.
How excited are you to be back on tour?
Super. I actually just got off the phone with Tony [Shnnow] to get on the phone with you.
How did you find out about him?
I forgot how I found out about him specifically but definitely the internet. Pretty sure I hit him up first. Knowing how I get down I was like, “bro your shit fire” and the rest was a wrap. That’s my boy, I fuck with Tony. First time he came out to LA I told him come to the crib, kicked it, and it’s been history ever since.
Considering you have a hectic next few months ahead of you, do you have an established self care regimen to help with staying healthy?
I do my little calisthenics in the morning, keep my head right. Sometimes I try to do my, “No rap before noon” jawn. Just keep my head space clear. Go take a nice walk, go get a good juice. Long as I’m eating right, bro. I’m straight, I’m really low maintenance.
Boston is naturally the last top on tour. Now there are even more artists from the city gaining notoriety. Have you had a chance to tap in with anyone in particular?
I’ve tapped in with everybody [laughs]. I’ve been around for a minute. Everybody’s done spun around with me at least once. I make sure I try to put everybody on that stage with me at least once. Boston is a small place. I’ve known all of them [Van Buren, Bia, etc] for a very long time. [There’s no hate] in my body. And I know how hard it is to do your thing in that city, so I tip my hat to anybody that’s making some noise.
You posted this photoshopped pic on Twitter a few days ago that says “ Cousin Stizz fought back tears after learning everyone online is rooting for him to succeed.” How’s it feel to receive such a continuous outpour of love and appreciation from all these people who know you through music?
It’s a blessing, ’cause it can go the other way. When you really think about it I ain’t dropped a project since 2019 and ain’t been on my own tour in four years. To be getting the love I been getting recently, especially as an independent, you just never know with the music, bro. I definitely don’t have that safety net of feeling secure, so you just never know. It’s scary sometimes. So it feels good to be getting that love. I just can’t wait for people to get the music, I think there’s some things in there that people will really like.
What’s the nicest thing a fan has said to you over the years that’s stuck with you?
This kid at [the Juneteenth Festival], I don’t think he remembers me, he might. He changed my life by telling me I changed his. This kid walked up to me in Leimert Park [in Los Angeles]. It’s hella Black people there — Black women, Black clothes, Black music, Black food, it was an amazing time. I’m chilling, and… a few kids walk up to me and they look like me. But they were younger and they said, “Bro your music, that music from that era, Monda, that shit changed my life.” And I’m like man… if I’m touching kids that are younger than me, that look like me, I’m doing something alright.
Larry Little is a music writer and graphic designer based in Baltimore, Maryland.