Can you believe Suffolk County was Cousin Stizz's first project? The 13-track mixtape is a vivid experience, bringing listeners to a part of Boston that quite frankly most of them would never know exists—a whole community of hustlers who didn't escape their block.

Outside of the Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics and the countless mafia-inspired, crime lord movies, Boston isn't the first place rap fans think of when it comes to hip-hop outside of names like Guru, one-half of Gang Starr with DJ Premier. But lately more and more young gunners are beginning to make a name for themselves in the city. If Michael Christmas—who's best friends with Stizz—showcased the whimsical side of Beantown, Stizz is the tour guide of the streets with Suffolk County.

Coming up in a rough part of Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood, Stizz was forced to grow up quick. On Suffolk County, he shares the story of his younger years to his come up. The third song he ever created was “Shoutout," got a co-sign from Drake, but cuts like “Dum Dope," "No Bells" and "Fresh Prince" are equally fantastic.

As time progressed, so did Stizz. His sophomore effort, MONDA, was dedicated to and named after his good friend who passed away from an aggressive form of bone cancer. The 14-track effort dives deeper into the rapper's story and his mind state at the time, knowing his friend is dying. The project boasts strong singles such as “Coulda Been” and "500 Horses."

Stizz's latest project, One Night Only, serves as his major label debut on RCA Records. The effort is a refreshingly upbeat listen, which finds him connecting with Offset and G-Eazy and features production from Wondagurl, Vinylz and Dun Deal. All of the rapper's projects reflect what's currently happening in his life and his surroundings. That's what makes Stizz's music so attractive; it's relatable. He's not rapping about owning a billion-dollar jet and having sex with everyone's girlfriend; he's rapping about tangible issues that a 20-something-year-old kid is experiencing when trying to better themselves as a person.

And that approach has worked. Two years, three projects, a major label deal and over a million Spotify listeners later, it's safe to say Cousin Stizz is going down the right path of success. While in New York City, Stizz sits down with XXL to discuss his three projects, being genuine in his music and why it's corny to make music trying to duplicate someone else's sound.

XXL: Each project is very much different in terms of subject matter and sonically it expanded your pallet. What do you think of yourself now and your progression?

Cousin Stizz: I just think I grew as a man and trying to be a better person because that’s what I really try to focus on these days. Just trying to grow as a man and look at situations differently than when I would’ve like, two or three years ago, or even yesterday. That’s the main thing, you hear the growth in the music is because you hear me maturing as an individual.

Granted, like you said, all my projects are different because all my music is going parallel with what’s going on in my life. I make music for what’s happening right now and what’s going on with me. I don’t try to do the trend. I listen to rap but I listen to so much music that’s not even rap. I just go with what’s cool with me. I always go with making music about what’s going on in your life.

People always gravitate to something that they can relate to and if they can’t relate to some shit that I’m rapping about being in fucking space or being in a Rolls-Royce in space and rolling with 13,000 hoes and a billion dollars, my average boy won’t relate to that. But he’s going to relate to some real shit. He’s going to relate to the shit I was going through yesterday because he probably went through that last week.

When you listen to some music now, it’s so out of touch. That’s the opposite for your music. Do you think that's why you’ve been successful?

Yeah, I think that’s definitely why my city rallies behind me because I’m speaking on shit they can definitely directly relate to. This is shit that they directly know about. That’s why for sure I got my initial push and I know that’s why when I got MONDA, it escalated me even more because it was just more real shit.

I made sure that project was some of the realest shit I ever said. One Night Only, I do the same thing but I’m in a different stage of my life. I’m in a very happy place and positive place in my life so the music sound like that. But I still say things that I go through but I put it on a different type of beat.

One Night Only is way more upbeat, lots of bounce. How is life now being happy?

I was never sad but I was going through stuff. I was in a space when I made MONDA that I had to put myself in that all the time and I had to think about my brother all the time. It hurt to think about it. So I wouldn’t say I wasn’t sad I at all ’cause it was life. He took it like a G, you feel me. He looked at us like we were suckas if we were crying over what he was going through.

So like, I was hurt, I was losing someone I cared about and I knew I was losing him and that’s like the worst because you know there’s a time limit on someone you love. So that’s all that was, I was just dealing with it. But I was never sad or anything; we accepted it and we moved forward. I love my brother, I visit him every time I’m back in the city, that’s the first thing I do.

With One Night Only, I’m in a place where I’m just having a good time. I’m in L.A. now and everything is bigger and brighter. I’m looking at these crazy ass cribs all the time. It’s infinite inspirations and motivations, I just feel good. I feel a good energy coming off me all the time and it exudes through the music.

More features than other projects. Was that because of proximity or popularity?

I think it’s a combination of both. Like the G-Eazy was because I was in L.A., that’s my boy. I’ve been to his crib; he throws some of the best parties on the planet. I’m not joking, he really does. [The best parties] I ever been to in my life. He’s really my boy. So that would never happen if I weren’t out there. Another one is Offset wouldn’t probably just hop on my record if I was just another kid from Boston with one mixtape out, especially with the space that he’s in. It’s just a combination of both.

You dropped your first project two years ago and now have over a million streams on Spotify. Like that’s surprising but kind of not because the music is spectacular.

It’s a really funny dynamic because these days the artists’ socials are so popping. Their socials are so poppin’ but usually the music isn’t aligned with that. For me, it’s like the opposite. I don’t be in the way, I don’t do the antics, I really stay out the way. I don’t like pictures, I don’t like Twitter. It’s weird. It’s definitely a weird thing and it’s definitely not supposed to happen but it’s a blessing.

It tells me people care more about the music and that’s all I care about. I make music, I’m not trying to be a character and people are listening and that’s all that’s important to me.

Substance over quantity.

Fa'sho.

I love your philosophy about making music you think is personally cool.

Yeah, I think it’s really fucking corny to make music like someone else. It’s cool to have influences. We all do. I’m not saying don’t have an influence. That’s what life is, you’re supposed to pick up off of things that happen, you’re suppose to learn from others. You learn from a teacher, you learn from others.

But I don’t believe in making something sound like someone else’s [music]. I don’t believe that shit. I have my influences for sure and you can hear that in my music. But I’m not trying to make music that sound like them. I make music that’s cool for me. I think I make music that just mine. It’s just not cool trying to eat off someone else plate. That’s how I’ve grown up.

So what’s next for you?

Music-wise, I just want to expand. I want to be able to play instruments. I don’t want to always have to rely on an engineer and a producer. I want to do it on my own. I don’t have a lot of time these days and my time is getting even more and more scarce, but as time go on I’m going to figure it out. I will make sure if I have a goal for myself, I’ll hit it. I’ll work to make sure I’ll hit it.

Kim Puliti

See New Music Releases for September 2017