The underground hip hop world is extremely expansive. Now, the hip hop genre as a whole, just like metal, has been split into so many sub-genres I fret to even mention it for fear of getting blasted by fans across the world. That being said, within the world of underground hip hop we have specific circles. One particular circle has been growing since the early nineties and it revolves around horrorcore and the Juggalo subculture. This subculture, as I’ve previously discussed, came from the minds behind the Insane Clown Posse. However, this world has grown much larger than the Detroit rappers.
From this subculture has grown a plethora of artists both great and not so great. In the early years, most self-proclaimed “Juggalo rappers” were one tricky ponies: raspy voices with little to no flow over simple bass heavy beats. There were of course exceptions, but most of these artists were more interested in trying to fit as many horror movie references into one verse as they could; less concerned about writing a decent song. That was then though. Once artists began to view ICP, Twiztid, Esham, etc. as influences rather than artists they should simply mimic, this subsection of hip hop began to grow and give birth to some of the most talented people in the underground today. Groups and artists like Alla Xul Elu, Redd, Ouija Macc, Super Famous Fun Time Guys and many others may credit the aforementioned groups as influences, but are creating their very own lane in underground hip hop. One of the frontrunners of this evolution is New Jersey’s Gibby Stites.
My first experience with Gibby was his verse on Redd’s track, “Gameboy Advance.” Listen, we all know I’m a complete nerd and hearing these two go back and forth about their love of Nintendo and Pokémon absolutely floored me. Flash forward to today and the young MC has released his first proper solo record, “Welcome to iLLViLLE” on Majik Ninja Entertainment. Don’t get me wrong, “13th Wonder” was dope, but it was definitely a way for new listeners to be introduced to the artist. The album had 9 tracks on it, 6 of which featured Jamie Madrox from Twiztid. No hate, the album is a bop, but I feel like this new record allowed Stites to truly show off his skills. Not only that but it hit me at exactly the time that I needed it.
“Welcome to iLLViLLE” in its namesake may be a reference to the rapper’s hometown of Millville but the record itself is an introspective look into his mind. The opening title track sets this mood as DJ Emaculate’s production swoops in. The epic build along with the beginning guitar creates a perfect path for Gibby’s lyricism. He kicks off the record walking us through his early years growing up. Stating to the world that he may not be perfect, but he will absolutely destroy anyone in his path. No argument here. We’re only in track one and I’m hooked.
“I don’t want to live, I don’t want to die. If I told you I was happy, homie that would be a lie” cries Stites on the second to closing track. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of absolute bangers on here. Tracks like “Time of Day”, “One Two”, and “Word of Mouth” definitely bump in the whip. They provide an opportunity for the MC to be on his braggadocios drip. Punch lines for days! That being said, this record shines on the tracks where Gibby Stites opens up about his bouts with anxiety, depression, and much more. As someone dealing with my own mental health issues I relate to songs like “Pressure”, “Changes”, and “Long Day”. The album as a whole is laid out perfectly as you can hear the Jersey native battle with both his insecurities and confidence. It’s a cohesive record that takes you on a full complete journey.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring up that first and foremost, Gibby Stites is a hip hop fan. That can be highlighted by not only his change up of flow throughout the record but his choices in features. While there are only two on the album, they definitely pack a punch. In the song “Gone with the Wind” we’re gifted with face splitting verse from Ces Cru’s Ubi! Seriously, Ubi comes for the jugular. He’s no slouch on features and definitely makes his presence known. Just two songs later, Gibby Stites shows that he truly has his finger on the pulse of today’s hip hop world. The feature from New Zealand’s SXMPRA comes completely out of nowhere. It’s a complete change up from the rest of the record, and that’s not a bad thing. This new artist is definitely making his name known in the dark trap scene. I’ve seen people compare him to Ghostemane, $uicideBoy$, and so many others but, in my opinion, he’s making a name for himself. Definitely got a new fan out of me.
Gibby Stites’ “Welcome to iLLViLLE” is exactly what I needed at this exact moment of my life. A few tracks hit me a little personally but in the exact right way. Stites is the fresh young blood that a label like Majik Ninja Entertainment needs. I can’t wait to see what he does next. — Dylan Lyles
You can listen to “Welcome to iLLViLLE” on any of your favorite streaming services. You can also purchase a physical copy over at MNEstore.com.
Obsessed with all things horror, video games, comics and vinyl, Dylan has been surrounded by all things geek culture since birth. Along with writing for Icon Versus Icon he’s also the co-host for the year long Christmas podcast, “Christmas 365”.
“No wimps. No False Metal.”