I’ve been living on my own since I was like 14 years old, so it ain’t shit. There was no saying if I could get it or not. I’ve been inked out — I got that on my face actually when I was 16. I’ve had all those tats on me already. I had a different lifestyle, man. I grew up fast. I’ve been living on my own, doing my thing, making my music, my money. Just hustling. I’ve got a kid. I’ve got a son. I’ve got a second kid about to be here.
His name is Stitches because he doesn’t like snitches. Why? Because of the ten times he’s been to jail, each time a result of someone snitching on him. Fittingly, he sports a Juggalo-inspired stitches tattoo stemming from his mouth – The Nightmare Before Christmas style. Of course, his most memorable facial marking is the AK-47 on his cheek. The Cuban-Greek American left high school at fourteen, sold cocaine to doctors and lawyers, and has had an ambiguously rough life — only to be brought from “negative to positive” with his internet fame, he said in an interview with ESPN. Nothing in his music is fake, he claims.
Or is it?
No one knows much about the “Brick in Yo Face” artist. At least, he doesn’t reveal much about himself save for the claims of a seriously hardcore, violently ridiculous life. Fortunately for us, Stitches trademarked his name. And with the help of the internet, his real name is revealed: Phillip Katsabanis. His family? Step-dad is a cop; biological father works for a recruiting firm. Mom is a health insurance broker. Criminal records? It may be sealed under juvenile files, after all, he’s only eighteen, but so far: none. He seems like a typical, eccentric product of Miami.
So who is Stitches the rapper?
In a genre of music that prides itself on the authentic — the real — this white boy rapper appropriating the black American cultural experience is far from that. In the hyper-politically correct generation, creating a foundation of legitimacy through an uncontrollable background is vital. Stitches is Cuban-Greek — he’s not just white. He had a rough life, that’s why he can say what he says. This pseudo (or who knows) self-marginalizing background gives him “authority” — crafting a character and an experience that reflects and exaggerates well-known tropes in hip-hop culture.
Truthfully, it’s painful. Painfully addicting. The music video for “Brick in Yo Face” reveals the setting as, “MIAMI BEACH BETWEEN SOME ALLEY…” It flaunts too-shiny gold chains and grills, angry faces, and guns. It can’t be serious. But, maybe it is. Regardless, the Youtube comments speak for its perception. Usually filled with remarks that miss the parody (see: Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse” music video), the Youtube comment’s section show people shamelessly listening to this “hard” track, acknowledging that Stitches seems like the lovechild of Bone Crusher and Rick Ross (with a sprinkle of Iggy Azalea). They realize it’s so bad, believable as an SNL parody, but that’s what makes it so good. Viewers watch and listen to him not out of a typical lyrical, poetic, empathetic pleasure with which one usually listens to quality rap, but with the nonsensical, car-accident addictive quality of ratchet rap. The ridiculousness is unreal. There couldn’t be a better specimen for internet fame. With its ironic, parody-loving audience, “Brick in Yo Face” was bound to be an internet success. But not because of its lyrical or video genius.
In an interview with Complex, Stitches admits that the rappers he looks up to are “Juicy J, Wiz Khalifa. People like that. I like the people in Young Money. Gucci Mane.” No doubt, the brilliant minds of Young Money are usually known by the mainstream for their indulgent, carefree tracks. And at the moment, his favorite rapper is Juicy J. No one can refute Juicy J’s Oscar-winning genius in the early 2000s with Three 6 Mafia’s musical manifestation of the struggles of black Americans in “It’s Hard Out Here For a Pimp.” And yet, today, beyond Three 6 Mafia, mainstream America knows him for ratchet tracks like “Bandz a Make Her Dance.” This song is not a result of some artistic failing, but, rather, a clear parody – a joyful, artificial, exaggerated anthem of the strip clubs. Here, the intent seems rather obvious (although not for everyone). At the “moment,” in Stitches’ moment, Juicy J is a ratchet icon.
According to comedian Issa Rae, “ratchet” is “like if ghetto and hot shitty mess had a baby and that baby had no father and became a stripper, then made a sex tape with an athlete and became a reality star.” It is cultural absurdity, the rejection of authoritarian seriousness. Ironically, the ostentation of hip-hop, understandably stemming from the struggles experienced by its makers – black or Hispanic Americans, doesn’t always take itself seriously. Rap is the first to parody, to caricature, itself.
Without knowledge of their genius flow in other songs, who’s to know that Big Sean’s and Juicy J’s ratchet tracks are just that — enjoyable expressions of parody that don’t criticize, but, rather, relish in the ridiculousness of life and their music genre? There’s a covert nature to these characters in music, a hidden identity. 2 Chainz’s line, in “Birthday Song,” “she got a big booty so I call her big booty” seems like some artless string of words, but in reality, the whole audiovisual experience of “Birthday Song” flourishes with depth, with self-aware ridiculousness. Kanye West’s music video for “Bound 2” was, truly, a parody of itself as comedians/actors Seth Rogen and James Franco created a shot by shot recreation of it, further revealing its parody nature. The list could go on.
But still, like Stitches, this parody is not always obvious (or even there). Tyler, The Creator, already an actor rapper who adopts personas from schizophrenic to rapist, has a meta-parody alter ego: Young Nigga. Young Nigga creates songs and music videos that are technically well done and could easily be on the radio but, as parody does, points out the ridiculousness of ratchet through even more exaggerated ridiculousness. Interestingly, the up and coming rapper Young Thug parallels Young Nigga’s existence. Like the rapper Future, Young Thug uses dissonant groans and croaks to create a new sound, a horrible pleasurable sound. In his latest track, Young Nigga features the internet phenomenon IceJJFish. Although we know Young Nigga is a parody, no one is sure about IceJJFish. He seems completely serious. But with his tone-deaf singing, the internet audience sees something so terrible that it’s addicting. But no one really knows.
And here, Stitches follows suit but in a white rapper, Riff Raff way. On top of the exaggerated content of his video and lyrics, Stitches’s sonic flow is equally as abrasive as the epilepsy-inducing, gun-loving, cocaine-boasting aesthetic of his music videos. Frankly, the guns he shows off aren’t even AK-47s. His cocaine is basically just packets of flour. And even the new “Dr. Seuss” spinoff books wouldn’t rhyme “mail” with “mayo.” But still, this contrived, hilarious persona indulges us. It doesn’t matter if he’s “bad” or “good.” We don’t have to believe Stitches. We don’t have to think he’s real. His mere existence in all its mystery and appropriation reflects a certain state of hip-hop, one dancing with post-modern ambiguity, irony, and the global internet.
This article is based on original research by Galen Pierce-Gardner, with editorial guidance by Ezra Winter. If you like this story you can find more stellar What Weekly music coverage here.