“More than a decade of hits that’ll live forever.”
Now approaching 20 years since those fateful bars were dropped into the lap of hip-hop history, it would seem that Gang Starr front man Guru’s effortless, bloodthirsty delivery lives on not just as a window into the 90’s but as an inspiration and an influence to all of hip-hop since. LA had Tupac, Atlanta had Outkast, Chicago had Common, New York had Biggie, and Boston had Gang Starr – or at least half of the incomparable duo, DJ Premier instead calling home to Houston. All lived as legends and points of pride for the cities they represented and nearly all were followed by an ever-widening stream of hip-hop artists in the wake of their opened doors.
Southern California has bubbled over with talented hip-hop acts before and since the Tupac Shakur era, never ceasing to grasp a chance to claim the throne. Dre, Eazy, Snoop, Busdriver, The Game, Dom, YG, Nipsey, Veggies, Tyler, Earl, Boogie, and Kendrick – just to name a few.
Atlanta has blossomed as the perennial Southside capital since the international explosion of ATLiens and the induction of Southern hip-hop into the international scene, breeding the likes of Killer Mike, Luda, Lil’ Jon, TI, Jeezy, Gucci, SouljaBoy, Gorilla Zoe, Waka, Future, Young Thug, Migos, Yachty, and EARTHGANG.
Chicago – Twista, Kanye, Lupe, Mick Jenkins, Vic Mensa, Chance, Noname, and Saba.
New York – Nas, DMX, Method Man, 50 Cent, Immortal Technique, Rocky, Ferg, and Flatbush.
Houston – Devin the Dude, Pimp C, Mike Jones, Chamillionaire, Paul Wall, Keke, and Travis Scott.
But Boston is something of a different story. After the release of Gang Starr’s 1998 album, Moment of Truth, and 1999 conglomerate project, Full Clip - A Decade of Gang Starr, Guru and DJ Premier slid into decline, parting ways in 2002, eventually calling it quits in 2006, and suffering Guru’s death in 2010. But unlike the scenarios of decline and untimely death seen in the stories of Gansta Rap stars from other cities, no one stepped into the role as the hip-hop representative from Boston. The city went dark, only producing smalltime hip-hop artists that failed to make any sort of splash on the global scene.
How is it possible that every major city boasting Gangsta Rap legends ended up with such a long and impressive list of hip-hop artists, while Boston simply didn’t? Was it the split of Gang Starr? The death of Guru? Socioeconomic factors subprime for the rollout of hip-hop talent? Simple coincidence? Whatever it was, Boston slid into an unprecedented Dark Age – a vacuum of hip-hop music that failed to pull any worthy talent into its path.
Then came the Summer of 2014.
Then came Shoutout.
A then-22-year-old, young man by the name Stephen Goss exploded onto the scene with the debut of his hit single, his hypnotic style, and his new name – Cousin Stizz. His low voice, slow, meditative cadence, creative lyricism, and intriguing production slowly gained popularity as the single made its way around the globe and into the right hands. A year later, when Cousin Stizz released his debut mixtape, Suffolk County, Drake was already a fan – helping Stizz to gain serious reach and attention by posting a video of himself playing Shoutout at a birthday event. And all the hype was worth it. Suffolk County caught fire, receiving over 12 million listens on Soundcloud, and the hip-hop community caught notice.
Stizz didn’t bother basking in his own glory. He went right back to work, releasing his sophomore tape, MONDA, in 2016. Again, the album reached a massive audience and only aided in the growth of Stizz’s already impressive fan base. It also made an impression on critics, being named one of DigBoston’s Best Local Albums of 2016 – not bad for a humble mixtape – and not bad for a publication that’s far more focused on local politics and sports than rap music. But, Dig seemed to know what Stizz meant to Boston.
And Boston should know what they mean to him. One can make the case that no rapper alive today more honestly, respectfully, and thoroughly represents their city than Cousin Stizz. Through the title of is debut, the nearly all Boston-made music videos, and the continuous stream of – no pun intended – shoutouts to his city, friends, family, and past, it’s clear to see that Cousin Stizz will not accept Boston being left out of the hip-hop game any longer.
His effort has worked. With his success, a spotlight has been shone on Boston that has allowed other up-and-coming artists to reach a wider audience. Stizz’s longtime friends and collaborators, Michael Christmas and Big Leano have found big time success in recent years, while other Massachusetts talents, Vintage Lee, Deon Chase, Black EL, and Avenue have also gotten the push they needed to reach a bigger audience with their music.
Many parallels can be drawn between Cousin Stizz and Isaiah Rashad or even an early Drake, who both started the fires underneath their cities – Chattanooga and Toronto – that eventually left their music scenes bubbling over with talented artists reaching worldwide audiences. Stizz is the man who has gotten it all started, or rather, restarted for the city of Boston, and just like Rashad and Drizzy, there’s something admirable in the proud way he carries his city on his back and wears it on his sleeve.
There’s also something interesting about the parallels that can be drawn between the sound of Cousin Stizz and the sound of Guru – Gang Starr’s late MC. The slow cadence, the rhythmic delivery, and the impossibly catchy hooks have developed the early foundation of, with the continued success of the current class of talent, the Boston sound.
Whatever comes of that Boston sound, we’ll just have to wait and see. But in the meantime, Stizz graced us with his debut album, One Night Only – a critically acclaimed 2017 project that brought him and Boston further attention and sent Stizz on a headlining tour so he could continue spreading the word of the Beantown Revival.