All signs pointed toward Friday, April 1, being another swell night for The Blind Pig and me.
Boston’s Cousin Stizz was headlining a crew of up-and-coming rappers. Stizz’s 2019 album, Trying To Find My Next Thrill, laden with sedative beats and gritty heartfelt bars, had been a staple of my pandemic playlists. He’s since released hit singles with Offset and Doja Cat, as well as a full-length album, Just For You, which picked up the tempo and energy with adventurous beats and vocal vigor, all of which I thought would make for a great concert.
I invited some friends to come with me to the show, but they all seemed to have plans already. But I didn’t mind going alone — it was a Friday in Ann Arbor at The Blind Pig. I’ll see someone I know, maybe meet someone new. It’ll be sweet.
Then I walked in the front door.
The place was, well, empty. Twenty or so stragglers sat scattered at the peripheral stools, looking around at each other, or toward the door, as if to ask, “Um, is it mean if we leave?” I don’t think they even noticed the opener, Tony Shhnow, rapping off-time to his own track and addressing the gaggle directly between songs, “I don’t bite, you can come closer.”
I perched myself in the corner by the sound booth so that maybe the wave of cringe wouldn’t slap me in the face as it swept up and down the empty dance floor.
I was worried for Stizz. I was worried for his ego. I was worried he would think Ann Arbor was just the bummiest town in America. I was worried that he wouldn’t even come out, that I would have walked a mile in the cold for nothing. And then I would have to walk back.
But I shouldn’t have worried. When Stizz took the stage, bouncing and belting to his thumping new release “After the Buzzer,” it seemed like the words “worry” and “cringe” hadn’t even touched his skull all week. His unrequited energy and charismatic smile-ridden spitting sprung the crowd from their stools and onto the main floor. During the next song, a few groups poured in from the cold too, coyly making their way to strategically-spaced spots, which actually gave the appearance of a semi-filled-out space. Things were looking up.
And Stizz just kept killing it. His seasoned performer chops shone through, never missing a beat or straying from his flow, as he varied the velocity of his rapping to fit each song’s vibe. He hyped up the gaggle with an occasional “Stomp!” or “Hands up!” and appeared by all standards to be having a blast up there.
A few days before the show, I was able to speak with Stizz over the phone. I think our conversation sheds some light on how he could stay so strong in such a strange setting.
At one point I asked what he thought about rappers playing characters as artists, and he almost laughed me off. “I don’t pay attention to nobody else shit, man,” Stizz said, “I really don’t. That ain’t none of my business what other people do or don’t do.” And maybe this extends to his audience too. He didn’t care how many people were there, or how many weren’t. He was just going to do his thing, put in his work, regardless.
But in the interview, he also expressed true humbleness in his appreciation for the audience members that do show, saying, “For people to pull up, especially in this time, and it still be filled up, and we still be having a good ass time in that bitch, it shocks the hell out of me, but I’m super grateful, thankful, and I attribute that to the music.”
Even though The Blind Pig wasn’t full for Cousin Stizz, he made sure to make it a good time, and for that, I have nothing but the utmost respect. He explicitly verbalized this goal between songs, saying “It’s just fun time for me” and “Ima just have fun up here, let’s go.”
LSA senior Jake Levine, from the greater Boston area, stood right in front of Stizz for the whole concert. “He could sense my energy,” he told me when we spoke at the bar after the show. “It was like a personal concert from one of my favorite artists.”
Friday had the potential to be one of the weirdest nights of my life. But with the sheer force of his energy and effort, Cousin Stizz turned it into quite the night. Levine said, “This was one of the most fun concerts I’ve ever been to.” And Levine seemed like a pretty cheery chap.
I’m happy for Levine, and I’m happy for Cousin Stizz: If he can make it out of an empty Blind Pig with a smiling face, I think he’ll be able to handle whatever the winding road of rap life has in store.
Daily Arts Contributor Joshua Medintz can be reached at email@example.com.