Dorchester’s Cousin Stizz takes the spotlight, quietly
Since the beginning of last summer, Cousin Stizz has been steadily amassing what is arguably a rising artist’s most precious resource: strong Internet buzz.
Yet even having accumulated a small personal fortune’s worth in roughly a year since releasing his first track as a solo artist, the 23-year-old Dorchester rapper is spending his capital judiciously. Despite his solo premiere, “Suffolk County,” released for free in June, earning critical acclaim on the Web, Stizz has remained out of the spotlight, barely promoting the album outside of a few videos. His show at the Middle East on Tuesday is his first time headlining in Boston, or anywhere else. Hype can be volatile, and Stizz, in a sign of his true ambitions, is treating it as such.
“Everything’s got to be organic,” he says of his career approach, sitting on his front porch in Dorchester on a hot Monday afternoon. “We don’t over-promote. We put it out and see what happens, and if it gets love, then it gets love. It has to stay that way.”
“Suffolk County” did indeed get love, but few would have predicted such a powerful effort before last summer. Aside from a handful of songs as a member of the group Pilot Nation, which teased his potential, Stizz hadn’t built a resume that would indicate his first singles as a solo artist would be the undeniable bangers they turned out to be. Released within the span of a few weeks last July, “Life,” “Fireman,” and particularly “Shout Out” — an instantly catchy track showcasing his laid-back melodic flow, taste for hypnotic beats, and natural flair for crafting a hook — introduced Stizz as a lyricist who could insert depth and evocative imagery from his experiences into a broadly appealing package.
Boosted by an accompanying video featuring Stizz cruising through Dorchester on top of a white Jeep, “Shout Out” appeared to be the breakout summer single that every young artist hopes for. When a video of Drake celebrating his birthday with friends while blasting Stizz’s song turned up on the Internet, things officially became serious.
“I came home at 3 a.m. and I got a text from Mac Miller’s manager with the link [to the video],” remembers Stizz of the Vine clip. “I woke my mom up and we watched that for like an hour and some change. It was dope. It kind of lets you know that things have started to become real. I can actually do something, it’s not a fluke. But then I had to prove it.”
The rest of the album completes the picture: On “Suffolk County,” Stizz is alternately brash and grave, often on the same song. The looming specter of violent confrontation bristles under the minimalist thump of “No Bells,” while on “Real Life” Stizz weaves the gritty details of neighborhood hustling around a stark, bass-driven track.
Positive notices from magazines like Complex and The Source confirmed the album’s appeal, which in turn lead to some select dates opening for Miller on his tour. Yet by his own admission, Stizz hopes for the time being to keep his small circle of friends and collaborators — Roxbury’s Michael Christmas and former Pilot Nation cohort Jeff Replay among them — tight as his creative development continues.
“I’m just trying to get better,” he says of future projects, including the follow-up to “Suffolk County” he’s just started work on. “I’m the same kid, it’s the same formula and I’m working with the same people. Now it’s about trying to step it up, whatever that means. I’m more critical about everything now; every track, every beat, every meeting, every picture is way more focused now, because it has to be.”
His careful timing aside, Stizz is also quick to point out his crew’s relative inexperience in the music industry. Time will tell if the hands-off approach that allowed fans and critics to fuel the conversation around “Suffolk County” will work as well for future projects, but Stizz is committed to letting his music promote itself. “We’re really [expletive] young, we’re still figuring this [stuff] out,” he explains. “We don’t have anybody that we can look up to here, so we are really paving the way for ourselves and everyone else type thing. You have to represent the right way.”
Asked if it’s strange to have a lack of role models within the scene, he replies: “It’s cool, because I never really looked up to anyone, anyway. I’ve never been the type to do what everybody else is doing. . . . Maybe it’s a pride thing, I don’t know. I like being able to set trends with my homies. That’s my thing. I like being able to say, ‘We did this first and we did it right.’ That’s what I’m in this for.”
With Big Leano and Franko Cinelli
At: Middle East Upstairs,
Tuesday at 7 p.m. Tickets: $10. www.mideastclub.com