Cousin Stizz was in the studio until four in the morning prior to dialing in for our interview. The Boston hometown hero broke in 2015 with his honest portrayals of swagger and street hustling on Suffolk County. He went from cult following to a label deal, signing with RCA.
In the years since, Stizz parted ways with RCA, took a break between his 2019 album and today’s Just For You return, and regained his independence as an artist. “It’s the same gang, same guys, same operations since the beginning. This is just what we do,” he says with pride.
His unabashed love of craft makes Cousin Stizz a standout act in an ever-crowded genre. Just For You is a varied offering from an artist who makes everyman rap feel at once glamorous and genuine. “An artist that speaks on their life, you gotta put your insecurities, pains, fears, sadness, and happiness all on the tracks,” Stizz explains. “Just For You is a project for you. It’s a project to show you can do whatever, and you don’t need anybody. It was a damn-near therapy session for me.”
Despite the break between Trying To Find My Next Thrill and Just For You, Stizz feels no fear in stepping back into dropping music. Recording himself in a closet, rapping for hours on end, the actual release sounds like the least of his worries. It also helps that Stizz has remained adored by fans and a critical darling. “People look at me and see somebody who’s like them, and that’s the draw,” he says. “I don’t try to do all the extra. I like being a person.”
That humanity is the crux of why Cousin Stizz’s music resonates and ages so well. He is a one-of-one artist who takes pride in being himself. “You can be perfectly fine out there being yourself,” he attests. “You could walk around confident, with your head held high. You’re you—there’s only one of those on this whole planet.”
How do you stay passionate?
If it’s something you care about, you never lose passion. If you got a kid, you gon’ be passionate about your kid for life, regardless of the good and bad. I look at music in that light. I was doing this when I was broke, when nobody cared, and I give it the same all I’m giving it now. I just like making music. It’s not like I’m sitting in big studios. I do it all in my closet. I record myself. It takes a lot for me to make a song. I gotta really wanna make a song.
You’ve worked with the majors, and now you’re back indie. What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned from your time with RCA?
I could’ve done it all myself anyway. No slight to anybody who gave me opportunities, because without that, who knows where I’d be and what I’d learned. Me being signed, it fast-tracked me onto all these lessons I needed to learn to successfully do my thing independently. We were indie from the jump, and we did a lot just us.
How good does it feel to be the boss of your career again?
It’s always been like that with us, though. I know there are mad horror stories with labels, but RCA never did that to me. I got a lot of love for them—no bad blood. They never tried to impede my creativity. They let me do me.
Have you always been comfortable being yourself?
I’ve always been comfortable being me. I had to regain my confidence because the light, glitz, glamour… You start to feel like you have to be someone else in order to fit in there.
It’s not like that. You can be perfectly fine out there being yourself, and you’ll be sane! I hold that so highly, knowing there’s only one of me. Lord knows there are so many people trying to be like one another, you know?
Would you describe yourself as a perfectionist? Has that ever bitten you?
I had to get rid of that. We all wanna be perfect and don’t want something out until it’s perfect. But, for real, what is perfect? They say we can’t be perfect, so how can we know when something else is? Put out [music] when it feels great to you. “This is it!” When it feels like that, it should go out.
Which song on Just For You is the closest to perfect?
I love “Guts & Glory.” Close to perfect? “LBS” is a close-to-perfect record. Anytime I feel like I’ve got a real message across, that’s perfect enough for me. When I wanna have fun and want people to have fun—it’s not always about being sad—there are different elements to life. I want my music to be like that, too. But whenever I’m trying to get my point across and I do, that’s good.
How do you know when a song is done?
You feel it, or the beat runs out. The moment when you’ve said what you needed to say. It’s in my heart.
You have to have a lot of reps in the profession you choose. I rap so much. I’m tired right now because I was rapping until 4 a.m. last night.
4 a.m. is late. I hope you still love it…
I love making music. It took a while to get there, but it’s a beautiful place to be in.
Did you use to hate it?
You’re talking about a job, right? Whenever you take a career, things change. Things changed when I started realizing you can do this, but you gotta do this. It was harder, but now… I put in all those hours of grinding and trying to figure things out for myself, and then when you get to the end of the road and can do it yourself…