“Hey, can we smoke here?”
As Kelly Clancy leans against a wall, typing into her iPhone, her husband Christian Clancy reclines splay-legged on a sofa backstage at the Music Hall of Williamsburg prior to a March performance by Odd Future’s Tyler, the Creator and Earl Sweatshirt. After arriving late to the venue thanks to bus troubles, the retinue of 20 or so people, including performers, crew, and others with less easily defined job descriptions, resembles nothing more than a quivering, over-caffeinated hive of kids. It also includes a literal kid, Chloe, the Clancys’ adorable 5-year-old daughter, who keeps herself firmly in the mix, sporting an Odd Future neo-cat-face sweatshirt. The Clancys are, in every respect, the resident grown-ups, fielding questions great and small.
So when one of the many peripheral rank-and-file members of Odd Future — the group includes a boundary-fluid cast of individuals, some contributing to visual art, some players on their frenetic Adult Swim sketch show Loiter Squad, others just around because they’re cool — wants to smoke weed backstage, he knows who to ask. “You have to be unbelievably careful,” Christian warns from the couch. “It’s an all-ages show, and the cops are afraid of Odd Future.” The question is not meant to be rebellious; it’s a genuine request for advice, answered not with condescension but sensibility.
Meanwhile, the Music Hall of Williamsburg backstage area is, presumably, not designed for skateboarding, but Tyler, the Creator is making do. Comma intentional, diabolically restless, so spindle-thin he’s like a geometry problem, the rapper birth-named Tyler Okonma is literally riding off the walls of the crowded hallway connecting the dressing rooms. Meanwhile, other members of the coterie, which includes Earl, comedians/hype men Jasper Dolphin and Taco, and suave rapper Mike G, swirl around, sopping with excess energy. The word GOLF — a partial spoonerism of “Wolf Gang,” as in “Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All,” the group’s proper name — is on everything, including Tyler’s green hat.
Amid all of this, the Clancys — Christian, 42, a salt-and-pepper-bearded white guy wearing a gray sweatshirt, black jeans, and a Supreme hat, and his wife Kelly, 33, an Asian-American woman with long straight hair in black skinny jeans and a sweater emblazoned with a tiger’s face on the front — exist both above the fray and in the middle of it. Raised in the trenches of the major-label ’90s hip-hop apex, the Clancys learned how the old heads thought, and how the old business worked and didn’t. And when they serendipitously encountered a squad of gifted kids, the rawest of raw material, they took their knowledge of the trade and subverted it and became architects of a new system. They’re building careers, not hits, and by already branching out into filmmaking and commercial production and a brand-consulting company before most of these kids are old enough to so much as buy a six-pack, and before some of them have so much as completed proper albums, they’re bending the industry to fit their artists, not the other way around.
“Odd Future goes through our distribution channels but they have so much more control of their music,” Columbia Records Vice President of A&R Imran Majid told BuzzFeed earlier this year. “We put out a deal that favored what they were doing as entrepreneurs, where it wasn’t focused on ‘You need to find a hit song,’ it was, ‘OK, you are the hit act, this is a hit movement.’”
A favorite metaphor of the couple’s: Like soil sprouting different plants, all with their own purposes and rewards, Odd Future (as well as hardcore band Trash Talk and, crucially, budding R&B superstar Frank Ocean) have bred projects spanning the spectrum of entertainment. All of this happens under the aegis of the Clancys’ management company, 4 Strikes. And much of the responsibility is extracurricular: It bleeds into family. The Clancys help the OF kids buy cars and manage their money, they help liaison with their moms.
As the chaos reaches something like a fever pitch, more and more people filling the few too-small rooms, Tyler runs by and says to Christian, “Since it’s my show, I told them no smoking weed back here,” laughing hysterically. (Tyler does not use drugs or alcohol.) After showing Christian some vinyl he’d been sent as a gift, including a D12 record that he’s particularly excited by, he notices me for the first time.
“He’s here to write about you, Tyler,” Christian says. “He’s a secret agent.”
“I’m a secret agent,” I say.
“Y’all weirdos,” Tyler says, spinning back into motion.
Earl, wearing a black sweater reading DEAD DERTBAG, moves slower and more languidly than Tyler, but he’s a full participant in the circus. In person, he’s far from the mysterious cause célèbre that was an elemental part of Odd Future’s origin story, and his and Tyler’s improvisational bullshitting has the cohesion of two best friends who understand each other perfectly. At one point, Earl starts performing a thrusting gyration and Tyler goes, “That’s fucking disgusting.” Later, soundcheck nearly over, Earl and Jasper and others all somehow end up with unlit cigarettes hanging from their mouths, and they freestyle a theme song on the spot, orbiting around the refrain “cig boys.” It’s stupid as hell but also catchy.
Chloe, who has her mother’s face on her father’s head, has a magnetic command; before the bus arrived, Mike G, decked out in all-black everything, carried her in his arms. Since then, she’d accused Earl, whom she calls by his birth name Thebe, of being mean to her. Earl protests his victimization to the Clancys: “She treats me like the new n***a, she likes to scapegoat me.” In the biggest room, the one with the Hennessy and Grey Goose on ice and the peanut butter Oreos, she’s begun dancing in the center as Mike G DJs; visiting unaffiliated rappers and models orbit around her like fans. “The guys are very respectful,” Kelly tells me. “If she’s here and we tour, they’ll have a bus and we’ll have a separate car so they can be them. They’re like her big brothers. They met her when she was 2, she remembers that: She says, ‘Remember when Taco and Tyler came over around Christmas time?’”
As more people arrive, Christian and Kelly shift further into professional mode, supervising the gradual evolution of the event into a professional concert. Kelly forbids Taco from pursuing his plan of going from Williamsburg to Canal Street in search of counterfeit stuff, and when Tyler’s given a painting of an old man smoking a cigarette as a present, he shows it to the Clancys with an enormous grin on his face.
An hour before the show’s set to begin, doors open, and a horde of kids spill around the merchandise table. Christian has taken up a position next to the table as Kelly continues to run the troops backstage, and as the showgoers see him, they yell, “Hey, Clancy!” and recreating a pose from Tyler’s video for “Domo 23.” I ask a few where they recognize him from; one says, “From the videos, it’s so sick.” As far as they’re concerned, Clancy’s not the manager or the grown-up or the visionary finding new and bolder ways of establishing artists into the cultural firmament: He’s another planet in the solar system of Odd Future.
Christian Clancy was raised in a white, Catholic neighborhood in Philadelphia until about age 14, when his mom moved the family to Arizona, with disastrous results. “I don’t know if you’re familiar with the difference between Philly and Arizona,” Christian says. “They’re really fucking distinct.”
Kelly, Christian, and I are sitting in the sun-flush living room of his home in Los Angeles, around a large wooden table that has the feel of a workspace. They both have their laptops open when I walk in, hip-hop playing; Kelly’s wearing camo pants and a black tank top, her nails purple, Christian in a T-shirt and shorts. Red-roofed and clay colored, the house fuses the thesis and antithesis of what you’d expect to see in the location that has entered into the Odd Future hagiography as a gathering place: Supreme logos and OF memorabilia adorn the walls and shelves, but so do Chloe’s toys and ephemera, and the design and decoration feels impeccable throughout.
“I had just felt my first tit about three days before I moved,” Christian says. “So here I am. My mom wants to move to Arizona. It’s 147 degrees. I come from row homes and the block and the 40 kids — in Philly everyone goes to one area and hangs out. Now, all of a sudden it was like, ‘What are you doing, do you want to hang out?’ So I got heavily into drugs. Heavily. Because it was 147 degrees. I was a fish out of water.”
Kelly chimes in. “There’s nothing to do there. So you do drugs.”
Christian finishes the thought: “You want to be in some altered state. It’s really fucking hot.”
Throughout high school, Christian was a music obsessive, starting with metal and the rock stars that made it hum. “Everything from Bon Jovi to Slayer: Chicks were at Bon Jovi, dudes were at Slayer,” he says. From there, his taste extended into the brash archetypes of combative hip-hop: LL Cool J’s “I’m Bad,” and N.W.A., in particular, Eazy-E’s Eazy-Does-It, which made him realize he needed more hip-hop in his life. “Anything that pissed people off, I was super into. It matched my state of mind at the time, and it was actually an unbelievable relief from being angry and stressed out and depressed and all that. I’d get out of shows feeling like I just got out of therapy.”
Following an undistinguished high school career and six community colleges before ever receiving a grade, Christian moved to Los Angeles to try his own hand at the whole rock star thing. One paying show and three weeks at the Guitar Institute of Technology later, he ended up in rehab for a coke habit, which he calls the best thing that ever happened to him. Rehab gave him awareness, of himself and what he could do with himself, and he was able to move into sound production in television, then video editing, then chasing a girl to Boulder in a Chevy Baretta — “You didn’t tell me you chased somebody to Boulder,” Kelly says; “Yeah, 100%,” Christian says — then an internship as the assistant to the head of country music at Universal Distribution. The only thing that he knew about country music was that he couldn’t stand it, but it was a way in to the only industry he’d truly wanted to be a part of.
Christian plied the old trade of merchandising and promotion in record stores, the type of work that barely exists anymore. But in that boots-on-the-ground selling, he realized that the company needed its own sort of street marketing scheme, and after pitching the execs at Universal Distribution to let him “write a fucking manual” on the techniques he’d been using for a hypothetical new department, he got the green light from Jim Urie, who is now the company’s CEO. Because of Universal’s umbrella structure, Christian ended up working with a variety of other music companies, and he hit it off with Interscope and Steve Berman, now the vice chairman there. Rather than move into a similar position with this different company, though, he “lied [his] ass off” and convinced Berman to make him a product manager, overseeing all significant details of an artist as pertains to his label.
“You’re like the hub of different departments,” Kelly says. “Of the media department. The sales department. The creative department. The radio shit. It’s kind of like an internal label manager for that artist.”
In that position at Interscope, working under the man who would become his mentor, manager Paul Rosenberg, one of Christian’s first projects was The Marshall Mathers LP, Eminem’s now-legendary third album. At the time, there was an enormous pressure to make the album a success — Eminem has said he was being told he could be the first rapper to sell a million in his first week, a mark he beat by 70% — and here was Christian, essentially learning on the fly how to do the job.
“My first impression of him was of somebody super-passionate about what he was working on and who only worked on what he was passionate about,” Rosenberg tells me over the phone. “What Chris was really good at was figuring out ways to tie in the marketing to what the record was about. Not everyone is able to do that, not everyone cares about that.”
Meanwhile, Kelly had been set on a similar trajectory, fired out of a much different cannon. Growing up in the South Bay of Southern California — nobody had heard of it in L.A.; “I might as well have been from Arizona,” she says — Kelly graduated from high school with a 4-point-something GPA, close friends, a beloved twin brother, no drugs, and a ticket to the University of Southern California. But at USC, Kelly realized she had no idea what she wanted to do with her life.
“Chris’ roommate, Andrew, is head of sales,” she says. “I start interning with Andrew in the sales department. I was young, I’m like, ‘Who gives a fuck?’ I used to sit with Andrew at this long table outside the offices and this guy” — Christian — “would come by and literally lay his whole body across the table and talk with us.”
“I was just trying to hook up with Kelly,” Christian says.
Kelly started full-time in the marketing department in the early 2000s. Christian was also product-managing these guys, and they insisted that all their projects went through him, as did Paul Rosenberg, so both Christian and Kelly were at the crux of some of the most intense, culturally resonant — and divisive — artists of that era: 50 Cent, G-Unit, the Game, Eminem and Shady Records. Kelly says Christian had been incredibly sensitive to the demands of being a woman in the record industry; they started dating, got engaged, and got married. Kelly left Interscope to go do music supervision for Vivendi Games just after Chloe was born.
At this point, around 2008, Christian was running marketing at Interscope, and things began to change. He had all the trappings of major-label largesse — sneakers and perfectly creased T-shirts he’d give away after wearing once — as well as all the fatigue.
“For me, I made it,” Christian says. “Everything else is icing. I don’t want to be the anti-record-business guy, but the business changed. It became more about fear and ego. And it slowly starts to take away your passion, right? You’re not getting inspired from the top anymore. You have to get inspired yourself. I burn out. Took a check for a couple years. It happened kind of fast: I did my job, and I never let it bleed down to the artist, but my passion was checked.”
But passion can be reignited; sometimes all it takes is a little vomit.
On Jan. 16, 2010, the music video for a song called “French,” by an artist named Tyler, the Creator, was uploaded to the YouTube account OFWGKTA.
Seven seconds in, Tyler pukes. In stark, apocalyptic black and white, a young girl fights off the male rappers; a handgun is thrust into Tyler’s neck; kids spray-paint walls and signs. Someone jumps out of a car. It’s striking, to say the least, and the charisma of Tyler overwhelms every other aspect of the song and the video. He’s impossible not to look at; when the short video ends, you want to look at him more.
Everything about the video screams rampant DIY-ism, down to the erratic handheld camera work and the skateboarding kids. It’s clear that, whoever this Tyler guy is, he recognizes and understands, at an intuitive level, the power of imagery. He weaves iconography into the minute-and-a-half clusterfuck with a thoroughness so casual it must be innate.
By then, Christian had left Interscope and was consulting for Eminem and Game — doing the same type of thing that he’d been doing at the label, just now on his own. “A friend sent me ‘French,’ and I was in the middle of Em’s record, stressed out, and I watched it and was like, ‘This is fucking interesting,’” Christian says. “Then you go back to work and you look at it again and you start digging around more, because they had all this stuff online, and you figure, ‘I want to meet these guys.’”
They started hanging out with Tyler and his friends, everyone getting a sense of each other, and both Christian and Kelly, by their own admission, started to fall in love with them. At the same time, a few others were angling to try to crystallize what Odd Future was at that point — a bunch of talented, diverse, eccentric kids under the loose but significant leadership of Tyler — into something efficient and real.
“It was fascinating to see a group of kids that truly thought for themselves,” Christian says. “They were everything I missed in the record business. It was ‘fuck you,’ but it was confidence and it was self-contained and it was theirs and it was authentic and it was pain and a lot of fatherless kids. It was also a portrait of what happens when you have kids who grow up on the internet and ADD drugs: It seemed to represent the culture even more. It just felt cool. Maybe that sounds stupid, but it just felt cool.”
With the feel of casual bullshit sessions, those first meetings went a ways toward illustrating the difference between managing Odd Future and, say, G-Unit, too. Where guys like 50 Cent might have been looking for the power and magnitude of a company like Interscope to help buoy them up, the Odd Future kids not only weren’t searching for that kind of structure — they actively wanted to avoid it.
Here was the exact thing Christian and Kelly had left the music industry to find: a group with the explosiveness of the acts that made them love music in the first place, combined with enough talent, creativity, versatility, and drive to sustain a long, multidimensional career — in itself an almost obsolete goal. And what they in turn needed was a strong hand to, if not rein in, then at least steer their ADD tendencies. The Clancys had spent years thinking about how to make albums feel like events; Odd Future were already an event, of which albums would merely be a part.
“Chris linking up with those guys was really a match made in heaven in a lot of ways,” Rosenberg says. “He had said to me on so many occasions, ‘I just want to work with something that makes me feel like Guns N’ Roses did and N.W.A. did when they came out, that edge of danger and that level of cultural excitement, because I haven’t really felt it since Em and 50.’ Just any manager coming across Odd Future and not having the experience that Chris had, not having the mindset that he had, it wouldn’t have worked as well.”
Backstage before that Music Hall of Williamsburg show, we discuss the distinct priorities of all the groups’ members, and how it becomes a major part of their job to provide for each according to his or her needs: Hodgy Beats has a son; Tyler travels separately from the rest of OF much of the time, with very different preferences while on tour; Syd has a recording studio, on the verge of becoming its own budding business. The show itself is a microcosm of the complexity: It’s a Tyler and, to a lesser extent, Earl show, so there are a number of OF guys in support, but because it’s not an Odd Future show, the whole crew isn’t there, and they only play Tyler and some Earl songs. Juggling all this requires as much personal discretion as business savviness.
We discuss the perfectionism of Frank Ocean, arguably the group’s most famous and most culturally significant member after his “coming-out letter” and subsequent album Channel Orange became one of the most talked about stories of last year. There was never a sense that this candidness was being mediated by a team of professionals intent on raising the profile of an important new artist, and the Clancys insist that the letter was 100% Ocean. But considering that the letter was initially slated to be in Channel Orange’s liner notes, and it seems obvious, at least to me, that the Clancys would have been consulted by Ocean, explicitly or implicitly.
Kelly in particular seems to be protective of and close to Ocean. Her interpretations of his then-recent, peculiar Grammys performance — an incredibly ambitious music video that accompanied Frank’s performance of “Forrest Gump” — are particularly telling.
“He walked downstage and just the look on his face,” Kelly says. “He was just the most disappointed. It was heartbreaking. He just won two Grammys and it was exciting and then he just looked like — it was a bummer.”
The Clancys’ emphasis on Ocean’s high standards minimizes their own role in making them realistic. Originally Christopher “Lonny” Breaux, Ocean was rotting on the roster of Def Jam and had a collection of songs that had yet to be released. After joining the Odd Future fold, Ocean eventually released the songs as a free mixtape called nostalgia, ULTRA that essentially launched his career and, ironically, repaired his relationship with Def Jam, which would eventually release Channel Orange.
Then there’s Earl, who has already reached levels of skill and songcraft at age 19 that all but a handful of rappers can even consider within their flight range. Thanks to his mysterious MIA status during Odd Future’s initial rise — it was eventually revealed that his mother sent him to school in Samoa for drug and depression issues, a story covered at length in this lengthy New Yorker profile — the chant “Free Earl” became a rallying cry at shows. Earl has his own individual contract with Columbia Records, which includes his own subsidiary label, Tan Cressida, so the Clancys do not directly manage Earl like they do Tyler; Syd the Kid, the lesbian DJ behind funk duo The Internet; hazy rapper Domo Genesis; Mellowhype producer Left Brain and rapper Hodgy Beats; rapper Mike G — as well as Ocean, the kids who are in the TV show, and hardcore band Trash Talk. But it’s clear from their interactions with Earl at the concert that, emotionally and colloquially, he remains on the same wavelength.
“When he returned [from Samoa], he was 18 and there were people threatening his mom for the perception of what role she played in his life,” Christian says. “And then he just came back.”
“You leave, you guys are at the same level,” Kelly says. “You come home, and Tyler’s been in the studio with Pharrell. He’s had tacos with Jay Z. You’re a little bit of a fish out of water. I’d be scared to death, too.”
Christian finishes the thought: “The main thing for us was to allow them to get back to that point. That’s what Tyler in particular wanted. He just wanted his friend back. That was the goal for us. Fuck everything else.”
And professionally, this variety that Odd Future contains provides, again, that soil for creation, particularly in regard to Tyler. We discuss his new creative company, Camp Flog Gnaw, and what it means in the scope of artists doing promotion for brands: the idea, all enthusiastically laid out by Christian, is that, rather than create pre-roll that no one will ever pay attention to, Tyler will lend his style and talent to products he digs, and so each side will receive something from the other. How this will work remains to be seen after the first visible effort, with Mountain Dew, ran into what you would think would have been fairly predictable obstacles. Mountain Dew pulled the spots after accusations of racism and misogyny. But in an era in which execs would climb Everest if the 18–34 demo was at the top, it’s hard to imagine anything but success considering the stranglehold Tyler, and his compatriots, seem to have on the minds, and wallets, of teenagers.
Explaining Camp Flog Gnaw, Christian emphasizes that Tyler will only work with brands he uses and loves: The project is borne of his own enthusiasm for the projects themselves, like Mountain Dew. Second, Tyler controls all aspects of production, including conception, writing, directing, and casting, a level of control that companies are reluctant to lend to massive ad agencies, much less one 22-year-old kid. Camp Flog Gnaw, maybe more than anything else Odd Future has done yet, demonstrates the Clancys’ influence and creativity: Rather than try and slide Tyler into the conventional pitchman role that most music managers would be ecstatic to obtain for their charges, the Clancys helped create an unprecedented new way for their artist to have a hand in marketing, and then they persuaded companies to roll with it. Tyler becomes every part of the advertising process at once, and it doesn’t limit him to straight advertisements.
“They don’t give a shit about the model,” Christian says. “Kelly and I have Ph.D.s in the bullshit part of the model because we came up in the record business, so it’s a good match. It’s our job to navigate and have real conversations with them. We go on tour a lot, because we’re not on the radio. And we go with them because that’s where it lives, that’s where I get an intuition. You have to really see it, and that helps me navigate. These are kids, they put their trust in us to do what we think is best, we for damn sure need to be in the mix a little bit.”
In practical terms, this means that the Clancys become the facilitators for Odd Future’s ideas: When the group wants to make a TV show, they help get it made; when they want to release a book of photos, they help get it published; when brands reach out to Tyler, they help him create a full-fledged commercial production company. “We surround them with the best people,” Christian says. “If we don’t know how to do it, we find someone who does.” And it’s hard to argue with the results. While quantifying the cultural significance of a musician in 2013 is pretty tough, you can point to Loiter Squad’s renewal on the one side as a symbol of the group’s viability, and on the other, the sales of Wolf, a huge improvement on its predecessor despite the lack of a killer single. (Most remarkable about this is that Goblin did have that single, “Yonkers.”) Tyler’s fame has become such that, even without a radio or viral hit, he can still move almost 100,000 units in a week.
Rather than having to coerce their charges into the needs of a larger label or corporation, the Clancys’ lean operation can operate with far fewer constraints. One way of doing this was starting Odd Future Records, which gives the artists 100% creative control while still taking advantage of Sony’s distribution capabilities. The Clancys see themselves in direct opposition to the major labels’ conventional wisdom, relying on creating hits at the expense of organically developing an artist, because the two songs out of 100 that stick can pay for the 98 that don’t.
Which isn’t to say that tried-and-true methods of promotion and exposure haven’t been effective from minute one “They were touring, no different than bands in the ’70s and ’80s, these specific circuits and markets, around and around,” says Columbia’s Majid. “Then they put an album out after two years and do 100,000 [copies] the first week. And you’re like, ‘How did that happen?’”
“This is about sinking the fucking ship and rebuilding it from the ground up to be a company that facilitates the modern artist,” Christian says. “We tried to gut it just by doing it ourselves. And Sony believed in us, so I respect that. We couldn’t work within the system. We’d get kicked off the label in a week. Maybe that system works for the Pussycat Dolls, but it does not work for Odd Future.”
Throughout the Odd Future operation, there’s a remarkable amount of autonomy, and that’s the hallmark of the Clancys: managing to turn free mixtapes into a veritable business while still having the feel of free mixtapes. And that oft-cursed killer of the music industry, the internet, made it all possible.
“These guys are brilliant at withholding information and the way they seamlessly market themselves without even knowing they’re marketing themselves,” Christian says. “And they’re doing it in a way that’s revolutionizing the possibility of how social media works. They’re experts.”
No better example of this exists than Tyler’s Twitter profile, @fucktyler, which has almost two million followers. His timeline is a frenzied mix of personal details, cultural commentary, caps-lock shouting, poop jokes, inside jokes, and no shortage of variations on the word “fag.”
Christian assumes the mode of advocate and defender with me multiple times, most interesting because I never directly ask or prod him; in both meetings, he brings up the frequent, and well-founded, accusations of homophobia against Tyler for the express purpose of shooting them down.
“The irony of people thinking they’re homophobic: They’re actually gay-rights activists and they don’t even know it,” Christian says. “It’s for their culture, but people who don’t know their culture will miss that completely. Because it becomes about words. They’re adults, but they’re also learning as they go, and they are evolving. Don’t judge the book in the second chapter. Tyler doesn’t say rape lines anymore; that may seem like nothing, but what that is is an acknowledgement on his own terms. Allow a kid to go through a process.”
Yet Tyler has continued to push the seams of palatability well into his career: There was the Mountain Dew controversy, and he called protesters “cunts” at a recent show in Australia. When you create an environment in which volatile young artists have more or less free reign in terms of what they say, this is the inevitable result; it’s the other side of the coin that’s made Odd Future such a viable industry to begin with.
It’s a stance that has been and will continue to be prodded and debated, and that’s productive: In hip-hop, this conversation can’t happen too often. And like so many other discussions that tend to dominate the production of art, it is a complicated one. Compared to groups of yore like N.W.A. and D12, Odd Future has the bile and danger of a Pixie Stick; compared to contemporaries like Chief Keef, they might as well be civil servants. But when you exist almost entirely on the internet, the internet will give back in spades. And the fact that Tyler keeps saying faggot will never not stick in the craw, as the Clancys’ complicated feelings on the subject belie.
“Not everything they do is a full representation of me,” Christian says. “I mean, it’s all perspective. These kids that are growing up in 2013 on the fucking internet with access to all the information in the world — they talk to themselves in a way that we don’t quite understand, and we’re not supposed to. I’m an evolution guy, so all this is part of some sort of intellectual evolution. No one knows. I don’t know.”
It seems to me that, as much as the Clancys would love for Tyler to stop saying the word and as much influence as they have professionally and personally, they can’t make him do anything. Tyler does what he wants.
I call Tyler one day while he’s eating lunch, and he starts things off by yelling “K-Money!” and a bunch of other variations on my name. After he gets that out of the way, he’s thoughtful and intelligent, and discussing the Clancys clearly makes him excited.
“I remember Clancy was so excited about us and Odd Future and he just wanted to be a part of it. He said it wasn’t about money or anything, he said, ‘I could fly you to anywhere you want in the world but it’s not about that, it’s just I want to be a part of something that makes me feel 16 again. I hate the industry and you guys make me feel young again.’”
He mocks a “weird-ass tattoo” Christian has of a dragon, and I ask him whether it’s accurate to say that the Clancys are like parental figures.
“I met Kelly and I was intimidated by her because she was so on point,” he says. “She was like that one teacher who you were actually afraid of, in a cool way. She gets shit done. With Clancy it’s more like, I can fuck around with him, he gets me, he’s one of the few people who understands me. Him being mad at you is one of the worst things in the fucking world, but he’s gonna protect you no matter what.”
He explains how there’s one girl who Kelly hates, and every time he brings her up she’ll yell at him. I ask if there’s anything else about them that stands out.
“I got arrested at one show and he helped to get the charges dropped. They stayed there all night while I was in a fucking jail cell. I don’t know how they do it. It’s actually weird how they make shit happen.”
It’s that same mixture of friend, advisor, manager, and parent that comes up again. It also goes a long way toward explaining the controversy surrounding Tyler. While the Clancys got him out of that jail cell, he got himself in it. And the Clancys may disapprove of his use of the f-word, but as all parental figures learn and know, they can’t control him using it; that’s his own decision. It recalls the situation surrounding another Clancy cohort, Eminem, in that a next level of maturity is clearly there, waiting to be reached — only time will show whether it one day is.
Tyler does not perform with an opener, and before the show, Taco warms up the crowd by DJ’ing, interspersed with crowd-dives. Christian and I are still backstage, with Kelly already positioned in the wings, and to reach that area, we’ll need to either go around or go straight through. “Fuck it, we’re running across the stage,” Christian says, and we do, and, as bangers like Gunplay’s “Rollin” and Chief Keef’s “Love Sosa” get the crowd frothing, little Chloe takes over the DJ duties, massive headphones over her head, pogo-ing up and down behind the controls as Taco guides her.
The show itself is like a fireworks display. There is also a treehouse onstage. Frenetic and elegant, Tyler knows exactly what the crowd seems to want, and pointing out the ridiculous lengths they’ve gone to to get his attention: making paintings of his face, dressing up like Teletubbies, throwing bras on stage. When Tyler is orchestrating the venue, Earl will either dance or take a seat in the treehouse, and when he joins in on songs, you can again sense the symbiotic relationship; they rap at each other, for each other. Throughout, Mike G, Jasper, and Taco will occasionally join in, with the entire present crew wilding out on as yet unreleased posse cut “Trashwang.”
When the bra is thrown on the stage, Tyler picks it up and shows it to Earl. Deadpan, Earl says, “That is absolutely unacceptable.” What’s striking isn’t the bra, as cliché a rock moment as them getting on stage in the first place. It’s the way that Earl, who not that long ago was an urban legend, a kid rapper martyred against his will, seems so comfortable; it’s the way he and Tyler work the performance, the crowd, the music. At that moment, sitting in front of me, Christian looks over his shoulder, grinning like he couldn’t be prouder.
Both Clancys say repeatedly that one of the greatest things about Odd Future is how different all the members are, which seems to make their lives easier and harder. And it’s here that their position as surrogate parents becomes more distinct.
“We are as involved in these kids’ personal lives as much as we are on the work side of things,” Kelly says. “When we met them, they were all 18 or 19; Taco was 16. We’ve seen them grow up in a lot of ways just as people, whether it’s helping them rent their first apartment or buy their first home. I love it — I feel like, how incredible that they want us to be a part of something like that. So it’s very different, the lines between the business and the personal are extremely blurred.”
This also means liaising with their real families. “We talk to some more than others. I don’t want to cross the line with parents; we want to be an open book. It’s important that there’s communication there,” Kelly says. “Tyler’s mom tells us all the time how grateful she is that we’re in their life; same with Jasper’s mom. We’re not trying to overstep boundaries and be their parents, but on the road where there are none, of course. I treat them like I treat [Chloe] — I mean, not as a 5-year-old; well, some of them as a 5-year-old.”
And by taking such close care of their charges, they wind up understanding, or at least indulging them, and their creative impulses, in a way that a more traditional artist-manager dynamic might not allow. It often means just plain saying yes.
“I think it’s simply a matter of truth. These kids are doing what they want, how they want, when they want, and that resonates,” Christian says. “Tyler on the ‘Yonkers’ video, I asked him, ‘We’re going to shoot a video, what do you want to do?’ He says, ‘I’m going to eat a cockroach, I’m going to puke, and I’m going to hang myself.’ All right. Let’s get you with the right people who will make it look like you see it in your head.”
We’ve been talking in the Clancys’ dining room for hours, and Christian gets up to pour everyone iced tea. There’s the sense that we could have this conversation endlessly — it doesn’t have a circular momentum so much as a downhill one. It’s clearly easy for them, a joy for them. I ask if there’s anything else they want to mention before I go.
“The same formula doesn’t necessarily work for each kid, but it’s the same job: to facilitate for each one of them individually, or the silos within the group,” Kelly says. “That same philosophy applies.”
“Defer to the artist before you defer to an executive,” Christian finishes the thought. “The executive’s in an office. These kids are culture.”