Since the days Stephen Lyons roamed the hallways of Pembroke Pines Charter High School, he’s never been one to seek out the approval of his peers.
“The only person you’re competing against is yourself,” the 23-year-old rapper told me as we sat together outside of a local Vietnamese restaurant.
More commonly known by his stage name, Stevie Ca$hout, Lyons was born on the east side of Miramar on February 7, 1998, and grew up there with his parents and younger sister. Having spent most of his life in Broward County, he’s in search of a way out through his music.
Stevie was raised in a stable, middle-class household, but he looked poverty in the face at a young age during visits to his grandmother’s home in Miami. He recalls poor living conditions and a single bathroom shared by up to nine people.
An avid learner in grade school, Stevie had a fondness for reading and writing that transitioned into an appreciation for songwriting during his adolescence. Some of his earliest memories of music are with his father, who played Barry White, Beethoven and The Temptations around the house.
His teenage years in the 2010s were marked by a much different type of music, a modern genre and culture often stereotyped for themes of hypermasculinity, gang violence and braggadocio. The scope of rap music has always reached much further than that, though. The creative depth of Kanye West and the meteoric rise of Chief Keef couldn’t coexist within the boundaries of any other genre.
It was the influence of these two artists that helped kickstart Stevie’s rap career. He cited the 2012 release of Chief Keef’s emphatic debut, Finally Rich, as the beacon that guided him towards self-expression and independence. “That album changed the trajectory of my life,” he said. “There’s more to life than following the rules.”
It was at this point in his life that he realized it was possible for him to pursue a career in music. At 15 years old, Ca$hout began recording with the help of producer DnNick. During his senior year of high school in January 2016, he recorded his breakout track “$ONIC” on an iPhone 4S and released it on SoundCloud.
It didn’t take long for his debut single to take off. He recalls being awestruck in the school cafeteria when he first noticed the plays on his song going up by tens of thousands. The lanky kid who was once content with being a fly on the wall was now budding into a local rap sensation.
“Am I blowing up right now?” he said.
Stevie doubled down on his success with his next single, “$HAWTY.” Released within two months of each other, both tracks capture the essence of the minimal, laid-back trap sound of days past. Cloudy production and cocky one-liners encapsulate the juvenile essence of early plugg music in the space of just a few minutes each.
As “$HAWTY” breaks the threshold of a million plays on SoundCloud, and with “$ONIC” not far behind, Ca$hout has yet to recapture an audience of that magnitude. He’s released six EP’s, four albums and multiple non-album singles across several major platforms since his emergence over five years ago. Despite such a high output, his streaming numbers in recent times have fallen short of the previous heights he’s reached.
Stevie’s biggest concern has always been about improving the quality of work, regardless of the numbers: “I was hitting like 10,000 plays a week, and I’ve seen it drop down to 200 plays a week. But I still treat it like when I first started.”
Throughout the years, he’s bounced from one location to the next to write and record music. Most of his time spent recording nowadays is in a makeshift studio in the comfort of his bedroom. In the months prior to the pandemic, he invested in a Macbook, a new microphone, a pop filter and an audio interface as a testament to his full-scale commitment to working on music.
By recording and mixing his own records, Stevie has total autonomy over the sound of his music. Beat selection holds major priority, and he has always been particular about the production credits in his catalog. Most recently, Ca$hout has cooked up some of his most refined work yet with Detroit producer Shogun on his Double S EP, released on streaming platforms in late October.
In his own words, the release of Double S means “do-or-die.” Throughout the entirety of our interview, there was a distinct sense of urgency in his tone and attitude, a burning desire to prove his worth both to those who’ve turned their backs and to those who’ve never lost faith. Stevie wears the face of a man who has no choice but to put his head down and bet on himself.
With a concise run-time of 11 minutes across five songs, his latest project serves as a brief glimpse of the high-quality hip-hop he can deliver. On every track, Shogun provides a compelling backdrop to compliment one of the smoothest rap voices you’ve ever heard. The chilling piano intro on the second track, “Dead Weight,” transitions into a dynamic soundscape with bouncing bass made perfect for a high-speed chase in a getaway car.
Another true highlight on the EP is the song “Stevie Wonder,” a dual reference to the famed musical pioneer of the same name, and Kanye West’s classic “I Wonder” track off his Grammy-winning LP Graduation. Shogun chopped a sample of this track at Stevie’s request, and Stevie responded by floating on the production like a seasoned veteran:
“Watch how I hop in the booth / Blessin’ the mic, it’s just something to do / Lord, can you show me the light? / Bowing my head, I pray for every move.”
What sets Stevie Ca$hout apart from other emerging rappers is the complete sense of comfort he has behind the mic. The nuances in his flow and the suave cadences in his voice are products of a methodical, creative process that has been brewing for the past half-decade. He’s not new to this.
It’s not unusual for Stevie to spend months tweaking individual tracks. It’s an approach that takes time, time he fears he may be running out of. He expressed concern about the time he has left with his father, who’s dealt with an array of health scares in recent years.
Ca$hout has yet to truly capitalize off his rap career and wants to prove to his dad that it’s not too late for him. “I don’t want anything to happen to him and this is the last thing he sees,” he stated. “It’s a lot deeper than the money.”
Moreover, Stevie celebrated the birth of his first child just a week before our conversation. Her healthy entrance into the world has provided him with a new perspective on his future. He wants to use his music as a platform that’ll allow him to leave behind a legacy for his daughter. Through his imprint COG, short for Ca$hout Gang, Stevie plans on eventually delving into more outlets of creative direction through fashion, media and art.
When it comes to art direction, anime has been a pivotal influence; it’s been prevalent in his cover art since the infant stages of his SoundCloud page. In the artwork for his 2021 project Rainman, he placed himself at the forefront of a reimagined version of the theatrical artwork for the 1988 film Akira.
The main goal for Ca$hout has always been to have the means to not only provide for himself but for friends and family as well. In the coming years, he hopes to build a creative empire that celebrates acceptance, universality and being in pursuit of a passion.
For now, though, the focus lies on building the foundation for it all. Stevie Ca$hout does not have a plan B. It’s only a matter of time before he gets what he’s looking for.