Why would someone tattoo an AK-47 on their face? We decided to find out.
As far as breakout singles go, Stitches’ “Brick In Yo Face” is nonpareil. Its beat wheezes and lurches like a freight train as conducted by Godzilla as Stitches bellows, “I LOVE SELLIN’ BLOW!!!” over and over again, like a team of sirens trying to lure Odysseus to their lands with the promise of gigantic fucking brick of cocaine. Its video, meanwhile, is devastatingly straightforward, almost comically so. Linebacker-size, Stitches cuts an imposing figure, especially when screaming, gun in hand, in front of a trap house with a battalion of likeminded goons. His boasts about selling blow are complemented by shots of him exchanging bricks for trash bags of cash, as well as a dude with a Hellraiser mask throwing a brick of the Chelsea Clinton around an empty room, chimp-style. The overall effect of the song and its accompanying video leads you feeling like you’ve been shot in the face with an AK-47. This has more than a little to do with the fact that Stitches literally has an AK-47 tattooed on his face.
“I got it ‘cuz it’s my favorite gun,” Stitches says over the phone, nonchalant, as if tattooing the image of a heavily-regulated firearm above your right jawbone was the most normal thing in the world. “I got it when I was 16.” This pragmatic attitude of Thing-A-Yields-Thing-B permeates every facet of how Stitches communicates. When I ask how the video went viral, he tells me, “I was planning on that a couple weeks before it dropped. I knew it was going to be big.”
Stitches and I are talking on the phone because I, along with a substantial portion of the rap-consuming internet, want to know more about him. Though he’s given a few interviews in the past, he’s divulged little, perhaps out of a wish to avoid self-incrimination, perhaps because no one was asking the right questions. The lack of information, along with the feeling that the Stitches shtick is a little too perfect for capturing the Internet's attention, creates the distinct feeling that there's something off about the whole story. Where the fuck did the dude actually come from? How the fuck did he hit so big, so fast?
Though it seems like Stitches and “Brick In Yo Face” came out of nowhere, the dude’s been kicking around corners of the Miami rap world and the Internet for a while. The first Stitches songs to hit the 'net were “Dirty Game” and “Love for My Haters,” from The Wire, a compilation mixtape featuring independent rappers, notably K Camp and Young Dolph. The Wire was released on January 10th of this year. As far as I can tell, “Brick in Yo Face” first appeared on a compilation entitled Rise of the Indy, though it was referred to as “Brock on Yo Plate” in the tape’s tracklisting. Both of these tapes were hosted by DJ Cinemax.
Before Stitches was Stitches, however, he was Lil Phill, a teenage drug dealer and sometimes-rapper who lived in Miami. A trip to his old Twitter reveals his single “Ridin’” garnered roughly 88,000 plays on YouTube (it’s since been deleted from YouTube, but listen to a version of the song below, coupled with another single, “Rollin’”).
Stitches tells me he’s been on his own since 14. “I got in trouble at school because I knocked my principal out in the office. They arrested me for that, then I was on my own, fuckin’ around. I got my own crib within two weeks, and I started to sell and shit.”
“Ever since I known him he was pushin’ weight,” his associate M. Deniro, who I contacted via Twitter, says. “Not like little dime sacks, really pushing weight, literally getting it at 14.”
The terrifying face tattoos happened when he was 16, Stitches says, because he was tired of people ratting him out. “I was in and out of jail when I was younger and shit,” he explains. “I never went to jail for any evidence I left. I always went to jail because of another person. I had to make a statement to let people know what it is.”
M. Deniro puts it more succinctly. “We don’t deal with snitchin’. [Stitches] is really a humble dude, but if you get on his bad side you don’t wanna know him.”
As of March 25th, the name “Stitches” has been legally trademarked for the purposes of “entertainment rendered by a musical act”; meanwhile, a publishing company called TMI Publishing called TMI Publishing, LLC was registered on May 9th (Stitches’ crew is called TMI, which stands for “Too Much Ink,”). When I ask about the trademarking thing, he says matter-of-factly, “I own the word ‘Stitches,’ so if you put it on a shirt, I can sue you.”
On April 25th, Stitches’ mixtape No Snitching Is My Statement was released. It was hosted by DJ Ace. “He actually hit me up on Instagram, being like, ‘Ay, let’s rock together,’” Ace tells me over the phone. “I usually charge rappers $5,500, but I did that one for $2,500.” In addition to doing mixtapes with Waka Flocka and Alley Boy, Ace also serves as Flocka's DJ. This connection might explain how, in an interview with Complex, Stitches boasted of upcoming collaborations with 808 Mafia and Southside, two Flocka-affiliated producers.
On one hand, trademarking one’s name, filming a high-concept video with a high chance of virality, and linking with industry figures over Instagram seems to require a relatively high level of savvy for a dude with an AK-47 tattooed on his face. On the other, it feels like DIY personified. We live in a time where anyone can use social media to network, impress them enough to get them to work on a mixtape with him, and issue an insane video that puts him on the map, pretty much with zero help. If Stitches were some shitty punk band using the internet to raise enough awareness of their music to get a write-up on Pitchfork instead of a crazy-looking kid with tattoos of stitches and assault weapons on his face trying to get enough viral fame to land himself a record deal, we wouldn’t question any of this. But he does, and because of his inherent bizarreness people write him off as a music industry contrivance rather than a smart, young person with a rough background trying to use what he has to make the best of himself. “I did all this shit myself, nigga,” he tells me. “I ain’t have nobody’s help. Not my mom, not my dad, nobody.” Who is Stitches? He’s just a dude.
Drew Millard is the Features Editor at Noisey. He's on Twitter - @drewmillard