Artistic Investment: Connis & Lord Felix Come Full Circle

By: Seamus Fay

Subconscious and gradual as it may be at times, becoming a fan of an artist is no different than investing in a stock. It starts with the initial discovery of an artist — a chance to spark the listener’s attention and encourage them to conduct further research. Assuming that the music passes this test, long term fans are often born out of some sort of value proposition in regards to two key factors — artistic development and longevity.

Realistically, becoming a fan of an artist is an investment — sometimes long term, sometimes short term — of time and energy into following this artist and their journey. If a fan suspects that the artist will only improve or that the music will grow as the fan grows, they will be willing to make this investment; if a fan suspects that the artist is a product of quick excitement or cheap virality and therefore, won’t peak much higher, they may hang onto the artist for a short moment, but no long term investment will be made.

With this in mind, it’s important to be picky as a listener. Viral moments are fun, of course, but rare are those that last and end up becoming something greater than this singular moment. Instead, picking and choosing to invest time, energy, and even money (buying merch, concert tickets, etc.) into an artist should be a thoughtful decision, and one that supports the logic behind one’s listening habits in the long run.


When I first created Graduation Music, the aforementioned concept was what provided me a sense of direction in my writing. I had to figure out who was worth paying attention to, what was worth paying attention to, and why it was worth the attention in the first place. Then, as these artists grew, my early investments of time and energy in the form of writing would begin to pay off, growing Graduation Music as the artists, themselves, grew.

This mentality was a notable portion of the reasoning behind the name of the site, itself — Graduation Music. From the very beginning, it was all about providing artists with the attention and support they needed as “underclassmen” — or smaller, still-developing artists — in order to work toward that moment of “graduation” that would some day come. Whether this moment manifested itself in a great project, a deal with a label, a cosign, or something else, didn’t really matter — it was all about giving artists a sense of encouragement so that they could work toward this moment, realizing their potential in the process.


This anecdote brings to the spotlight two artists who have perfectly navigated the arts of development and long-term investment — Lord Felix and Connis.

I’ve been writing about Lord Felix since the very beginnings of Graduation Music (yes, I’m still waiting on “Ferrari Felix” to release, for those who know). From the voice memo series to the random singles released throughout his journey, Felix has remained a prominent mainstay in the Massachusetts music scene mainly because he’s always kept his sights set on the long game. Personally, I found myself impatiently awaiting a full project from Felix for what seemed like a long time there, but now, reflecting on the final product that it yielded, I must say that Lord Felix’s devotion to development was, and is, a brave and thorough principle to hold onto. Nowadays, it feels as though many artists rush themselves into careers to match the pace of the internet, but Felix laid low and plotted on the moment he would rise up, developing a strong creative direction and remarkably loyal fan base in the process.

With Connis, it wasn’t quite the same story.

In the case of Cambridge native Connis — or Connor Donovan, as he was known when I first started writing — I wasn’t a huge fan of his music at first. Sure, he always had some promise, but for a long time, it just didn’t click with me. Nevertheless, Connis kept creating and kept improving, so much so that I truly had no choice but to pay attention.

This persistence taught me a lesson. No, I was not a fan of Connis in the beginning and I’m not even sure I felt as though he had a project like Conn(is) in him, at first. However, I stuck with him, kept listening to his music, and when he began to show the signs of life I was waiting for, I made sure to jump on the opportunity, making a long-term investment in his music and becoming a huge fan along the way, writing aside.


Now, not even half way through 2019, I can safely say that each of these artists have reached their long-awaited moments of graduation — for Connis, in the form of Conn(is) and it’s accompanying short film, and for Lord Felix, in the form of In Bloom, Forever. Each of the two certainly took different paths to reach this destination, but nevertheless, their respective senses of artistry have finally come full circle, achieving the refined potential that we always knew was there, but wasn’t fully realized until now.

And wow, have the years it took to get here paid off. Nowadays, Connis has delved into a realm of remarkable introspection and sharp storytelling, using songs like the heart-pulling “New Orleans” and the ever-so-hypnotic “Kiss The Moon” to prove the extent of his skills. Furthermore, the cohesive sonics of Conn(is) make note of the fact that Cambridge’s own has found balance in his art, realizing how to allure fans into his stories and keep them there throughout the duration of a full project.

Resulting from this artistic improvement is a profound sense of comfortability and vulnerability that fuels many of Connis’ standout moments throughout the project. Whether or not you watched Connis take shape all the way back to his days as Connor Donovan or not, Conn(is) brings each and every listener eye-to-eye with his soul-searching journey — a personal tint to the project that I’m sure we can all connect with on some level.

On the other hand, Lord Felix’s forward-thinking, even cutting-edge creative vision recently yielded one of the best projects to come out of Massachusetts, nevermind Brockton, in quite some time.

I’ve always felt as though Felix’s art mirrored his use of music as a therapeutic outlet, but with In Bloom, Forever, he brought this honesty to a level that I never could have predicted. One song after another, this project establishes an unpredictable, electrifying burst of colorful emotion and sound, weaving in and out of versatile styles of production while maintaining its striking, true-to-self lyricism. Felix’s naturally charismatic presence keeps listeners just as locked into the somber, smooth stylings of “Love Is Fleeting, I Promise” as it does the Elton John-sampling dramatics of “The Worst Summer Ever,” with each song taking on a life of its own along the way.

In this sense, In Bloom, Forever is a direct reflection of its title, refusing to stay stagnant and constantly chasing peace of mind throughout a series of diverse emotions. To say I’ve found myself revisiting this one on occasion is an understatement.


Providing some context here, while Lord Felix and Connis may be the subjects of this article, that’s not to forget that Massachusetts, as a whole, has experienced immense growth within the past few years during which Connis and Felix’s development has taken place. Take, for example, Brockton — a city that has fostered one of the closest-knit, most supportive and overall inspiring artistic communities in the entire state.

From Jiles and Luke Bar$’ new project 2 Sides all the way to Luke Bar$ and Ricky Felix attending the infamous Dreamville sessions, Packy Marciano dropping one of my favorite Massachusetts projects in Side Effects, and even the incredible recent work of Garrett Merk, Leo The Kind, and countless others, you can’t help but root for Brockton right now. The entire slew of artists in Brockton not only cares about their own art, but also about the growth and development of their peers, exemplifying the infectious mindset that “rising tides lift all boats.”

Okay, sorry, I got a little off track there.


Shifting back into focus, above all things, Connis and Lord Felix’s newest projects are worthy of mention because they bring us back to the idea of long-term investment as a fan. Seeing two artists try so many different directions, fail and succeed several times (including the countless trials that I’m sure occurred behind the scenes), and continuously refine their respective crafts, it’s easy to see why these two are amongst Massachusetts’ most promising artists right now. They were both willing to stick it out and give the fans a journey to grow with, the reward being a sustainable career and an insurmountably bright future now that they’ve found their footing.

Taking this into account, I suppose this article is almost meant to act as a sort of “state of the union” address. I’ve been writing about Massachusetts artists ever since 2016 when I first started Graduation Music, and now, looking back at all the artists I invested my time and energy into at the beginning, I realize that many of these names have finally found their creative strides, forming themselves into the artists that they’ve always had the potential to be.

With that, I want to say thank you. Thank you to all the artists out there who invest in themselves and refuse to step away from their art until they finally reach the full circle moments that Lord Felix and Connis recently achieved. And for the fans, thank you for sticking around, both for the artists, and for myself and Graduation Music.

Don’t be afraid to be picky with the artists you root for in the long run. Supporting great art fosters great art, just trust your ear.

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Cousin Stizz Becomes First Ever Hip-Hop Artist To Win BMA’s Artist of the Year

By: Seamus Fay

For many years, Boston rap was seen merely as a lower-quality little brother of larger nearby cities such as New York. Without the innovative talents or industry infrastructure to make a legitimate push out of this shadow, Boston soon fell behind, failing to become recognized as a hot spot for hip-hop talents. That is, until just recently. 

Throughout the past 6 years or so, new artists, new styles, and new sounds have brought Boston back into the conversation that the city once dreamed of entering. With numerous local artists now making waves far beyond their hometown, the city is experiencing a hip-hop resurgence, full of refreshing talent and up-trending stocks on the heels of collaboration and local support. Boston is working tirelessly to push itself out of this “crabs in a bucket” mentality, all the while refusing to let the city’s history define the ceilings of future success.

With this in mind, today marks a noteworthy occasion in the history of Boston hip-hop, as Cousin Stizz just became the Boston Music Awards’ first ever hip-hop act to win the committee’s highest honor, “Artist of the Year.”

That said, it’s important to note just how prolific the continuous hope for local support outside of those directly involved with the hip-hop community has been throughout this recent hip-hop resurgence. To see Dorchester’s own bring home cement proof of recognition from a city notorious for its relatively poor history in the hip-hop genre is nothing less than monumental, and deservedly so. If not anything else, this moment should act as a reminder that the only limitations for the success of Boston hip-hop are those that the community imposes on itself.

From narrating Celtics commercials to soundtracking Tom Brady’s Instagram videos and winning the most esteemed BMA, Stizz sees far beyond what’s in the way of his success and chooses to focus on the wins that lie past his obstacles. Let this be a lesson for us all.

Thanks, Stizz. And congratulations on a hard-earned win.

Tom Brady and the Celtics Are All In On Cousin Stizz

By: Seamus Fay

I originally planned on reposting the newest Cousin Stizz cosigns on the Graduation music Twitter, but looking at the full gravity of the occasion, this calls for a bit more than a tweet.

For those who still don’t know what I’m talking about, over the past week, Tom Brady posted the newest edition of his ever-inspiring hype-up videos, this time ending in a highlight reel with “Headlock” playing the background. Possibly even better than a nod from the GOAT himself, Stizz took home yet another win as the new voice of the Boston Celtics 2018-19 season campaign, #CUSRISE — not to mention that Brockton natives Luke Bars and Ricky Felix were the two masterminds behind the background production for the video.

In past years, Boston hasn’t been a city known for its open and welcome embracement of hip-hop culture. In fact, it’s been known for the opposite. However, seeing two major sports teams (and as we all know, major is no exaggeration) take pride in their city’s talent and put one of the main heads in Boston to work is a beautiful sight. It represents a win for Stizz and his team, sure, but even more so, a win for everyone out there looking to see more representation of Boston’s growing music scene.

The opportunities are rolling in and there are more eyes on our city’s hip-hop community than ever before, so let’s embrace it. Show some love to Stizz for being the soundtrack to the Pats’ workouts and the voice of the beloved Cs by clicking play on both videos. And make sure to hit up Ricky Felix and Luke Bars about their production placements, because looking back, they snapped.

2018 has been wildly successful for Boston music and this instance is an inspirational reminder. Here’s to an even brighter 2019.

Christmas In June: A Graduation Music Feature

Story + Photos by Malakhai Pearson
Edited by Etenish Abebe

It’s the Thursday evening before the release of Michael Christmas’s third album, Role Model. In celebration of the completion of his newest project, Christmas hosted a listening session at a recording studio in Cambridge, MA for his friends and family.

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When I pulled up, Christmas was outside the venue with a cup in his hand. Next to him was his father. Christmas introduced me to his dad and pointed at him, explicitly instructing me to take as many pictures of him as possible. And I did.

Inside the venue, there were bottles of bubbly on ice and a few familiar faces from Boston’s up and coming music scene. Mostly, though, it was a family function.

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Christmas got on the soundstage and told us he wasn’t going to perform any of his new songs that evening. He brought us together because wanted us to listen to the album hours ahead of the project’s official release at midnight.

On the project, he sounds comfortable, most likely because the album includes guest spots from his actual family members. Notably, the intro features a recording between Christmas and his younger sisters, where he shares brotherly advice:

“And if a boy tries to bother you, what are you supposed to do?!”

“Headlock like Stizz”

“EXACTLY.”

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That being said, the album is tight. Although it was released during a month where so much music has come out, Christmas’ project stands out because he’s just being himself. Some standouts on the album are tracks like the opener “These Days”, “Girlfriend”, “Upset”, “Ball” & “Not the Only One” (ft. Tobi Lou), but really, the album is solid from top to bottom. Take a listen for yourself if you haven’t already at the link below:

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By the end of the first run-through of the album, we had popped most of the bottles. To end the night Christmas gave speech accompanied by his Father, thanking his fans and everyone who came out that night. Following up, the MC’s pop assured the audience that if we were ever in the hood, he would hold us down, providing a fitting end to a family affair in which all were welcomed and all were family…

Thank you to Michael Christmas, his father, and everyone else involved for an incredible night.

A Reflection On Cousin Stizz’s ‘Suffolk County’ 3-Year Anniversary Show

By: Seamus Fay

Within the geographically-minded landscape of rap music, the weight behind a homecoming show consists of one central theme: loyalty. This encapsulates loyalty from the crowd, loyalty from the artist, and loyalty to a vision of success and “making it out” of one’s hometown which, amidst other manifestations of hard work, also translates into the ever-important power of pride. On June 6th, just last Sunday, Cousin Stizz crafted his own definition of both loyalty and pride by offering a live performance at the Paradise Rock Club in celebration of the anniversary of his critically-acclaimed debut mixtape, Suffolk County. The show sold out in 6 minutes.

At face value, the function of this performance was to make sure that those who missed Boston Calling would still receive the opportunity to see Stizz live while he was in the city. But looking back on the energy brought into the venue that night, the true function of the show was a reflection on the success that Stizz has seen since 2015 when he first released Suffolk County. The whole city came out, and just like that, the Dorchester native used this family affair to look back on the roots that brought him where he is today.

Personally, the reason that this project has remained a timeless collection of music in my ears is mostly due to the way that it brings Stizz’s lifestyle down to a listener-friendly level, complete with a certain degree of familiarity that only helps Boston fans to embrace its magic even more directly. Whether it be the triumphant, anthemic nature of “Dum Dope”, the unapologetically confident hooks of “Fresh Prince”, or the unfaltering honesty that comes through on “No Explanation”, Stizz tells it how it is on this project, and in doing so, listeners are doused in the emotional roller coaster of life in Fields Corner.

With this, Suffolk County is, in a nutshell, a uniquely comprehensive look of the triumphs and struggles that predated Stizz’s rap success. Life was certainly more simple, but times weren’t easy by any means, and the way that such intense pain and passion are communicated through ringing hooks that still resonate with people today, defines what it means to be a classic piece of music. And now, my Suffolk County importance rant is done, and we can delve into the show.


The first point of importance that surrounds such a legendary night was seen in Big Leano’s spot opening for Stizz. Any fan of Boston music might tell you that Stizz and Leano are close friends, but this brotherhood runs far deeper below the surface than that. In fact, Big Leano’s debut performance within the city’s rap community, after releasing just one song prior to the show (the ever-important “Muddy Sip”), was at Cousin Stizz’s first-ever headlining show in Boston at the Middle East. These two have been working towards the top since before rap was the plan, and to see them together even today, more strengthened in their bond than ever, is an immaculate sight.

From the mud all the way to fame, loyalty doesn’t budge.

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That being said, Leano’s undying energy and galvanizing set, which, of course, included the insanity of a “Lean For Sale” mosh pit, made way for a perfect transition into an unforgettable performance from Stizz. But before the headlining act graced the stage, he retreated into the dressing room of the Paradise Rock Club, where a number of close friends and acquaintances hung around in pure excitement for what was to come. Luckily enough, I was brought into the room by a friend of Stizz’s (shouts out to Juxi one time), and what I noticed most specifically was the way that the Fields Corner native gets into the zone before shows.

Just a few minutes prior to when the opening notes of “Ain’t Really Much” would play and Stizz would jump on stage, he wasn’t talking to anyone, messing around, or even communicating with the world in front of him. Instead, he slipped his headphones on, stared at the ground, and simply slipped into an isolated zone, marking the calm before the storm that was a sold-out, nearly 1,000-person performance in his hometown.

And then magic happened.

Stizz went through Suffolk County‘s dense tracklist of hits, one by one, garnering the attention and love of the crowd with every successive note of music. The show didn’t need anything extra to make it an incredible performance, but sure enough, when Jefe Replay gets involved, there’s no limit on what insanity might occur. He’s an undeniable rockstar, and rockstars do rockstar things. Like crowd-walking. Not crowd-diving, for those who may be confused. Crowd-walking.

The chilling melodies of “Talk” creeped into the venue’s sound systems, and after Stizz had unleashed his unforgettable verses, Replay took center stage for his monumental role in the song. But just when it looked as if he might dive into the crowd to deliver each line, he positioned his feet on the raised hands and starting to walk out into a sea of feverish fans. Showmanship aside, the fact that the crowd walk even happened was insane in and of itself, and I suppose it only adds to the long list of reasons why Jefe Replay is a star and why this show superseded the concept of what a rap show usually is.

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My final point of importance, before this article takes the form of a novel, was seen in the simple barrage of “thank you’s” that Stizz proclaimed throughout the night. He paused his set at least 4 or 5 times after a variety of different songs, and looking out at the physical evidence of how far he has come as an artist, Stizz couldn’t help but show his appreciation for his supporters. And sure, obviously most performers would be saying thank you if they, too, sold out a show in six minutes, but coming from Stizz, with his home city leaning on every new syllable that came out of his mouth, this “thank you” went far below the surface.

The Suffolk County anniversary show was a step back in time to one of Boston’s most iconic mixtapes and the lifestyle that came with it. Time moves quite rapidly with no foreseeable slowing, but by revisiting this classic set of anthems with the same fans who have watched Stizz undergo both musical and personal growth since it’s 2015 release, life slowed down for a moment and all felt right. Stizz is one of Boston’s bonafide stars, and we couldn’t ask for any better artist to help play the role.

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Before I wrap this article up, however, it’s also important to note that the real magic of this night is only achieved when we take a step back and marvel at the inspirational sight of comradery as a city that it brought together. For the few, impactful hours that the show spanned, Suffolk County was suspended in its status as an eminent assemblage of reflective sound and thought, surrounded by an ethereal glow that reminds us, above all things, of one mixtape that united people from all different backgrounds and helped to offer us a common thread of pride in our city’s music scene that before then, had not been achieved in such an authentic, modern light.

Just one night of unwavering authenticity and prideful proclamations towards Boston granted me with an abundance of memories that I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life, and for that, only two words capture the moment: thank you.

Thank you to Cousin Stizz, thank you to Tim Larew, thank you to Boston, and thank you to every person that made such a magnificent night possible. Suffolk County remains one of the best bodies of music that I have heard to date, and it set the stage for a bright future that even Stizz didn’t think was possible.

I guess there’s a reason he’s our favorite cousin.


Thank you to @gregisonfire for the photos used in this article.

A Reflection On Cousin Stizz’s House of Blues Homecoming Show

By: Seamus Fay

From a kid in Fields Corner to a star in the making. From basement shows to a sold-out House of Blues. From 301 out of 305 in his high school class to a national tour and a deal with RCA. From Dorchester to the world.

Since his beginnings as an artist, Cousin Stizz has proven time and time again to be destined for success, and now, years removed from these very beginnings, it has become clear that Boston has a hometown hero on our hands.

Here enters November 24, 2017. After moving to Los Angeles to work on what would become his critically acclaimed third mixtape, One Night Only, Stizz returned to the light with a vengeance this past summer (word to Big Leano) and turned a hell of a mixtape into a national tour. To end this tour, he played a sold-out homecoming show at the House of Blues – an incredible story in itself when you think about how far the Boston representative has come.

Today, I’m here reflect on the importance of the show and shed some light on a few moments that I found to be most impactful when you think about the rich history behind them.

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Within Friday’s historic concert, two moments in particular spoke out to me as a testaments to the growth that fans have seen since the Suffolk County days: one being the presence of Guillermo Antonini and Tim Larew at the show and watching them interact at the end of the night, and the other being Stizz’s performance of “Talk” with Jefe Replay.

When reflecting on the journey of how Cousin Stizz’s success came to be, one specific freestyle event called “12 For 12” cannot be missed. Initially helping to introduce the ambitious Dorchester rapper’s lyrical prowess, BU students (at the time), Tim Larew and Guillermo Antonini were two of the head figures responsible for organizing the “12 For 12” Freestyle events – a series of cypher sessions focused on uniting Boston artists and building working and personal relationships as the city came together and showcased its underappreciated and often times relatively unknown skills.

In a full-circle moment that not everyone may have caught eyes on or understood, right near the end of Stizz’s show this past Friday, I watched Guillermo dap up Tim near the back right corner of the stage. A simple handshake and a nod of approval and gratitude couldn’t have meant more. When seemingly no one was paying attention, these two saw the potential and talent in their city and went above and beyond themselves to make sure it was recognized. Pair that with some truly honorable work ethics and sharp ears for talent, and you’ve got the basis for a story that will never again be imitated in such an incredible manner.

That one handshake meant the world for me to see, and I can only imagine what Stizz, Tim, and Guillermo alike would have said back then if you had told them that their story would eventually lead to a sold out, 2700-person show at the House of Blues. What a sight to see.

Okay, so I sort of went on a rant with that one. Sorry. But now we can revisit the second impactful moment I mentioned: Cousin Stizz’s performance of the Suffolk County cut, “Talk” featuring Jefe Replay.

This song has always been one of my favorites from the tape even before I understood Stizz’s history with Replay. By utilizing an ominous atmosphere to paint the unforgiving images of life in the city, both artists are at their finest on this track in their lyricism as well as their stone-cold deliveries. Slow-paced but chilling in its nature, this is one of those songs that comes around every once in a while and sets the tone for an undeniable classic.

Taking a step back, before Cousin Stizz was “Cousin Stizz”, he was in a group by the name of Pilot Nation alongside fellow Boston artists Nick Gray (who also performed on Friday) and Jefe Replay. Almost reflecting on these humble beginnings when the three talents first began to establish their names as acts to watch out for locally, Stizz’s performance of “Talk” at the HOBs was another full-circle moment for Boston.

His well-documented chemistry with Replay has been impressive from the jump, and to see two artists who have remained among the most promising talents in Boston still performing together today is nothing less than historic. Hearing the lines of “I hear whispers of death come from many men/ But I still walk through my city, man” and the ever-important outro from Stizz, saying, “Still on that same shit, that never change shit, you know/ Stick with it, you gon’ get it, I promise”, acted as nostalgic reminders of the progress that has been made as well as reminders of the the sky-high potential that still exists – both of which rang out in the importance behind the handshake that Replay and Stizz shared at the end of the song with the instrumental playing in the background.

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Boston’s music scene has seen quite a few changes since the 2012 days, yet the one staple that has remained consistent throughout and has personally been my favorite element to watch has been the unrivaled loyalty. Whether it’s observed best in Stizz bringing Replay out for “Talk”, Stizz’s come up with Big Leano, or something else, there’s no denying that the love still remains among some of the pioneers of Boston’s resurgence in rap.

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I could go on and on about the importance of this past Friday, but it’s probably best to leave it there. Let some things live in legend, you know? To end this article off, I first want to say thank you to Cousin Stizz, Tim Larew, Guillermo Antonini, and everyone involved in such an inspirational journey. Seeing those 2012 dreams come to fruition has been motivation for all of Boston, me included, and I can’t wait for the success that the future holds.

Here’s to a night that that will go down in history as the day a Boston rapper, or better yet, a hometown hero sold out the House of Blues. The story continues.

Thank you to @photokohli  and @Perspec7ive  for the photos used in this article.