Viral Rapper Stitches: Some Truth, Many Questions

Categories: Longreads

stitches_feature_1.jpg
via YouTube
Stitches cuts a terrifying figure in "Brick in Yo Face," the video that catapulted him to viral fame.
A gleaming white Cadillac Escalade lurches to a stop in a grimy South Beach alley. A slender, olive-skinned dude in a T-shirt steps out holding a bulky duffel bag. He approaches a husky, Mohawked young man with gold teeth and a face full of startling tattoos that include a microphone, an AK-47 vomiting shell casings, and a rag doll's stitched smile around his lips.

The two exchange a fistful of money and the duffel bag, which Mohawk man plops into the trunk of an Audi A5 convertible. He slams it and heads for Ocean Drive.

Palm trees whiz by as he begins rapping and stares at the passenger seat rather than the road. Then he lets loose the year's hottest catch phrase: "I put that brick in yo face! Now what you gon' do with it? Now what you gon' do with it?"

Next he heads to a modest home in the 'hood. "Better have my money when I come to collect," he raps while holding an assault rifle in one hand and a shotgun in the other. "Pay up, pay up, pay up!... I love selling blow."

See also: White People in Rap Music: A Five-Part History

Finally, a man wearing a Hellraiser Pinhead mask rips apart a package of white powder in an almost campy display of excess.

Since dropping his "Brick in Yo Face" video this past April 30, 19-year-old hip-hop artist Phillip Katsabanis -- AKA Stitches -- has become Miami's rapper of the moment. His gangster anthem has garnered more than 2 million Facebook shares, close to 13 million views on WorldStarHipHop, and gushing write-ups on well-known music websites like Complex and Noisey. Even South Beach's twin late-night palaces, LIV and Mansion, have given him the VIP treatment.

"He is one of the top five most-watched artists in Miami," says Abebe Lewis, co-owner of the legendary North Miami recording studio Circle House. "There are a lot of labels looking at him."

The rise of Stitches provides a blueprint for modern-day hip-hop myth-making. Almost overnight, Katsabanis went from being a suburban Kendall kid known as "Lil Phill" to a bona fide gangsta rapper. Though there's scant evidence to prove his claims of being a cocaine kingpin since he hit puberty, he created a viral reality that fed on the Magic City's reputation for drugs and violence, which began with Scarface's Tony Montana and continued through Rick Ross.

Over the past four months, New Times has spent time with the budding star in an attempt to pull back the curtain. While some of his claims are true, others seem inflated. Moreover, he recently lost some street credibility when claims surfaced that he wears fake jewelry and stages faux events like pretending to give away $10,000 to a lucky fan.

"Stitches is a fraud," says Al Davidi, a New York nightclub owner and jewelry-store owner known for selling gaudy pendants and chains to rappers. "He's abusing his viral fame."

Katsabanis brushes off the critics. "I don't give a damn what haters say about me," he seethes. "I know and my real fans know I am real."


It's a rainy afternoon in late June, long after the debut of "Brick in Yo Face," and Katsabanis is strolling through the showroom of the Collection, a swanky exotic-car dealership in Coral Gables. He's accompanied by a bald, muscular bodyguard with a bushy beard who wears a bulletproof vest and carries a concealed pistol. After inviting a New Times reporter here, the rapper boasts that he's going to buy a blue 2014 Maserati Ghibli, an Italian sports car that retails for around $66,000.

Standing close to six feet tall and barrel-chested, Stitches cuts an intimidating figure. In addition to the face tats, he sports ink on his neck, arms, and hands that features a menagerie of roses, musical notes, pinup girls, and jokers. Underneath the body art, he's a handsome young man with blue eyes and sandy-blond hair. He speaks in a deep baritone as he brags about the artists lining up to work with him. When a salesman wearing a black polo shirt and black slacks escorts Katsabanis to a waiting lounge, the rapper explains why he has a security detail. "When you blow up and get money, people are going to have hatred for you. I can't go out in public without someone trying me."

Since going viral, Katsabanis says he has concentrated on booking nightclub shows, making more videos, and cutting new tracks. He's released clips for "Mail" and "I'm Just a Gangsta," two songs from his debut No Snitching Is My Statement mixtape. He's amassed more than 730,000 followers on Instagram, his preferred social media application. (He doesn't have a Facebook account.) This past July, he performed at a nightclub in Tallahassee and for a stripper's birthday party at PT's strip club in Hialeah. The two gigs paid him roughly $20,000, he says.

WorldStarHipHop, the website where "Brick in Yo Face" blew up, has been described by its founder, Lee "Q" O'Denat, as "CNN of the ghetto." Since 2005, it's curated the work of many up-and-coming artists. "The big-label executives go on that website to see what is going on," notes Lewis, CEO of recording studio Circle House. "It offers the biggest profile when you are an independent artist."

When Katsabanis' song went viral on WorldStarHipHop, the only identifying phrase was "18 year old Unsigned Artist in Miami." People clicked and clicked. Within six days, "Brick in Yo Face" had racked up more than 6 million page views.

The week after "Brick in Yo Face" appeared, music journalists went wild but didn't question his incredible backstory. He said he sold his first cocaine brick at age 14 and then lived a lavish rapper lifestyle on South Beach. Drew Millard, editor of Vice-owned music site Noisey, wrote, "Before Stitches was Stitches... he was Lil Phill, a teenage drug dealer," adding that "Brick in Yo Face" 's "beat wheezes and lurches like a freight train as conducted by Godzilla." David Drake, a writer at the site Complex, added: "The song sounds like eight rails of cocaine mainlined while standing on top of a fighter jet."

Katsabanis fueled his own legend with cryptic interviews and songs about his alleged drug-dealing past. He rapped that he "met cocaine at the age of 11," and in May, Miami-based ESPN radio host Dan Le Batard invited him on the air. ("His video was so impossibly ridiculous and Miami and cartoonish," Le Batard tells New Times.) During the 11-minute session, Katsabanis wouldn't even tell Le Batard his real name.

When he met with New Times, Katsabanis stuck to his script. "Ain't nothing in my story fake," he asserted. "I promise you that."


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182 comments
Murked
Murked

I can tell you this Stitches isn't frontin on nobody. Ya'lls is just haten cause the fools doin big things. Bitch made keyboard gangtsas 

Raoul_Duke
Raoul_Duke

Lil Phill and his 10/22 "assault rifle" (it's a fucking .22 with a bipod and a collapsing stock slapped on it, that's about the least dangerous rifles get) need to quit throwing baby powder around and get a job. Also, that's an Audi R8, and if "almost 6ft" is intimidating, I've been accidentally intimidating people since age 15. 

Some fake ass shit for fake ass kids.

amnontalmor
amnontalmor

Audi A5? That's where I stop reading. Jerk.

voxveritas
voxveritas

New Times, why did you put this pathetic retard on the front cover of your most recent issue!? Seriously, with everything going on in Miami / the world right now, you thought it best to give this pussy ass white boy wanna be rapper reject - the front cover treatment. Makes your entire publication look like as much of a joke as he is. 


Bonita Christina
Bonita Christina

Snitches get stitches. Fake ass Kendal kid who don't sell drugs

Marco Gigante
Marco Gigante

Stitches come fight FRANKY FAZE & get more stitches

Wanna Fork
Wanna Fork

LOL I'm just here for the commentary! :D

MikeDukes12
MikeDukes12

I'm pretty sure it's an A8 in the video guys.. 

Mike Amici
Mike Amici

Seriously dissapointed in you Miami New Times for giving this bs any press. He's laughing all the way to the bank.

Adolfo A Martinez
Adolfo A Martinez

Not sure about his music.. but I love that he called out weezy. lol

Steve Atlas
Steve Atlas

So many words spent, and a cover story, on someone so inconsequential. He's an embarrassment to Miami's illiterate masses.

Oscar Villegas
Oscar Villegas

This is what we called down a pussahassnigguh man this fck boy grew up in west kendall went to fucking braddock a preppy school gtfoh u fakepumping bitch youre a shame to miami pussy boy

Keith Woiszwillo
Keith Woiszwillo

Illiterate rappers are in vogue, intelligent socially conscious rappers are taboo... but luckily we have a free press to provide us with the truth. Wanksters..

Rodrigo A de Monfort
Rodrigo A de Monfort

At least he knows he's fake. How many posers do we know that think they're real

Francisco Soler
Francisco Soler

It's all Kim Kardashian's fault. "...so impossibly ridiculous and Miami and cartoonish," Le Batard tells New Times."

Pako Palomino
Pako Palomino

Just garbage !!! The city of Miami is more than that !!

Miraida Cedeño
Miraida Cedeño

Stop writing stories about this kid all your doing is adding fuel to the fire. Don't give this kid more fame than he has. Please there are already enough stupid famous people in this world.

Christopher A. Haik
Christopher A. Haik

As if any rapper is 'real' all of the rappers that are real are in prison. See also gucci man and boosie

flacko
flacko

@Murked lol stfu little kid youre just another wannabe gangster like this poser dumb fuck

Murked
Murked

@faggo Kick rocks ya lil bitch you ain't hard talkin shit over the internet lmfao

Murked
Murked

@faggo Just be the lil bitch you is and delete your comments lmfao Smart kid.

flacko
flacko

@Murked lol keep talkin shit keyboard warrior youre probably a 12 year old suburban kid

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