“All of this shit is something I thought I would never do,” Cousin Stizz looks up from under the brim of his cap. It’s pulled low to shade him from the overpowering afternoon sun, which bounces off his gleaming grills. He’s laid back on a sofa that’s been dragged into a makeshift backstage area on one of Harvard’s sports fields, as he prepares to hit the stage for the Boston Calling festival. “Boston Calling is the only thing I thought about ever doing,” he says, looking up with a grin. “I went to the first one [that Wiz Khalifa headlined]. It was my first concert and that’s the first time I ever wanted to become a rapper.”
A few minutes later and the 25-year-old is making this ambition a reality, posed like a warlord on the edge of the stage, gazing over his legion of followers who chant back lyrics from his ‘MONDA’ mixtape. An uninitiated attendee wandering over from another stage would likely get the impression that Stizz was performing back-to-back chart toppers.
“There’s good music coming from everywhere, but when it comes from your city it’s a little more fun to listen to,” Michael Christmas offers a few days later. Born and raised in Roxbury, the 23-year-old was something of an instigator to the city’s burgeoning scene. With his larger-than-life personality, Christmas’ blend of humour, self-deprecation and pop culture references he was the first of the current crop of Bostonian rappers to gain notoriety outside of the city when videos for his songs ‘Daily’ and ‘Michael Cera’ dropped mid-2013.
Released in the space of a few months, their success would mark a turning point not just for Christmas’ own career but a new generation of budding creatives. “That was the first time anyone in Boston could look up [to someone] that they see walking around,” explains Tim Larew, manager of Christmas and Stizz. “This is a young brand new artist getting major press love.” Stizz confirms this notion: “One of the most important things in my career was having Michael Christmas’ first mixtape ‘Is This Art?’” he admits. “It showed me this shit can happen.”