Stitches before all the fame

There are not many louder or more, erm, in-your-face ways of announcing your arrival on the music scene than Stitches' 2015 music video for his smash viral single "Brick in Yo Face." You know the one: cocaine, machine guns, more than a few messed up face tattoos—"now what you gonna do with it?" Look, "Brick in Yo Face" is a simple song, but Stitches is anything but a simple rapper. He's the founder of the #F—AJobGang. He's a walking meme. He punched a fan in the front row at a concert directly in the face. The Florida rapper blew up on the internet through streaming sites, with more than 27 million combined WorldstarHipHop and YouTube views to date on just one video—a solid performance for someone who, at the time of the video's release, was an 18-year-old unsigned artist.

But it didn't take long for folks to start questioning Stitches' story. A backlash ensued. Critics have called the rapper a fake, phony, and fraud. As much as Stitches claims to love selling blow, how can we know how true that is, really? Who was Stitches before Stitches? Here are the facts you need to know.

The artist formerly known as Lil Phill

As far back as 2011, Stitches was haunting the fringes of the internet under a variation of his birth name, Phillip Katsabanis. His old Twitter handle flashed Miami ties, highlighting the 305 area code. He even had some elements of his signature look underway. Here you can listen to a version of "Ridin'," one of his first tracks to gain traction. When it was originally uploaded around August 2012, according to that old Twitter account, it managed to earn a respectable 87,000 views. Still, that's nothing compared to what was to come. It's safe to say that Diplo wasn't calling Lil Phill.

About those tattoos

It's not unfair to argue that the success of "Brick in Yo Face" had less to do with the song and more to do with the outlandish tattoos covering the face of the guy singing it: "F— A JOB," "RAT KILLA," and "COCAINE," not to mention the one of a giant spider, a flaming star, an AK-47 spewing spent shell casings, and some sort of Hellraiser teddy bear. Oh, and of course, the stitches around his mouth. As for that peculiar centerpiece, the rapper told Complex, "I got that on my face actually when I was 16...I had a different lifestyle, man. I grew up fast." Stitches claims he's been living on his own since age 14, "doing my thing, making my music, my money. Just hustling." It's hard to gauge how old he is in rare pictures from before the ink, back when he sort of looked like a young and really thin Channing Tatum.

He's a family man

Despite the carefully cultivated mystique, Stitches is far from a lone wolf. For a while, at least, he had a wife named Erica who was more than 10 years his senior and who allegedly married him when she was 28 and he was 17. His first child, a son, was born in 2013. Another baby boy was born about a year later, just a couple of months after the "Brick in Yo Face" video dropped. A baby girl followed, and at the time of this writing, he reportedly has a fourth child on the way—which just goes to show, don't judge a book by its cover and don't judge a face by all of its insanely violent and terrifying tattoos. Also, it's worth mentioning that Stitches' wife may have been the real alpha dog in the family. In September 2014, she reportedly shut down one of his shows when he tried his trademark free-"cocaine"-on-stage stunt.

School trouble?

If you strictly go by what Stitches says, he's been living an extremely hardcore life since about, say, middle school. In one notable incident, he supposedly punched his principal in the face at the age of 14. "He was talking too much crap," Stitches told the Miami New Times. "He said, 'You think you're gonna be the next Lil Wayne, but you ain't gonna be s—,' so I stuck him in the face."

But there's just one thing: the principal denies it. Administrator Manuel Garcia claims he was never punched and seems resentful that people might believe otherwise. "I've been the principal here for 11 and a half years," he told the Miami New Times in 2014, "and that claim is completely false." No alternative evidence of the punch exists, but hey, you decide who you want to believe. If there's one thing Stitches is consistent about, it's how hard he thinks he is. He's the roughest, toughest, meanest dudes of all time, according to him.

He's very evasive

When asked how many mixtapes he has, Stitches told Complex, "I've got a whole catalog." Yes, but how many? "You can go hear them. They're good." That's hardly a straight answer, and that's just one example of the many ways Stitches keeps his real history close to the vest. Rumors swirl that his early life wasn't as horrific as the rapper suggests. At one point, his mom reportedly dated a police officer. Neither Stitches, nor his family members, talk openly about their family dynamics. He says he's been to jail 10 times, but the paper trail doesn't support that claim—maybe his records have been sealed. He was arrested after a brawl with the Game's manager outside a club in Miami in 2015, but Stitches was not charged.

Is the rapper exaggerating his personal hardships for publicity? Is he cultivating an air of mystery to avoid the letdown of the mundane truth? You be the judge. Maybe it's the right move to stick to the brand for now. Until he starts telling us otherwise, we have only Stitches' word to go by. "Just listen to my music, I can tell you right now ain't nothing in my music fake. I guarantee you that."