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First off, he’s hard to miss. With a collection of wigs that would make Kylie Jenner’s closet look amateur, a penchant for fur shoes and booty-hugging sweatpants, his over-the-top glam style has become a signature that catapulted him to internet stardom. Aside from his looks, his talent as a hairstylist and wig maker for notable wig-heads like Cardi B, Joseline and Marlo Hampton has solidified his space in Black Hollywood. Now, though, he has his sights on something even more outrageous.
The 20-year old Cliff wants to become a rapper. When I speak to him on the phone (he’s based in Atlanta. I’m in New York), he already knows he’s conquered the hair arena. It’s almost become passé to him now, despite the fact that he is a wildly successful entrepreneur, selling his own hair, lashes and cult-style conferences, where he shares all his hair tricks. What excites him at this point is music. And good luck telling him he can’t do that. Cliff has absolutely no fear, and for someone barely entering his second decade of life, he is remarkably laser focused. I regret not asking about his astrological chart, but I imagine that it’s some powerhouse combination of fire and earth signs. Over the course of the hour, we discuss everything from his family life to his relationship status to his desire to sit atop the Billboard charts adjacent with the very same artists he does hair for. His story is an incredible one of self-determination, grit and glam, and if you find yourself wanting more of this, have no fear, because Cliff is the subject of the first-ever digital reality series, Wig Out, which chronicles his fast and fabulous life in Atlanta.
Tell me about what life was like growing up for you?
It wasn't that bad, actually. I lived with my mother and my father for quite some time, but after a while, you know, I started to have these urges to want to do hair. My father wanted me to do, like, sports and different things like that. My dad was more so, like, into the streets. The older I got, the more I developed a voice for what I wanted to do. I remember there would be times when my dad would go under my bed and find styles or mannequins and stuff that I would go out and buy. He would hit me, like, really hit me, like, physically hit me so that he could beat it out of me, but the older I got, the more I just started to get fed up with it.
What do you mean "mannequins" under your bed?
I would get them from having an allowance, and I would go over to Kmart. I would load money on a card and then order a whole bunch of mannequins and stuff each week. I just remember, like, the last time my dad pulled out all the mannequins from under my bed. We had got into it verbally and physically and I ended up calling the police on him. Once I called the police on my father, he ended up in trouble because I believe he was wanted by the police. He jumped off the balcony and shattered his ankle. Like, the whole bone in his ankle was shattered. After that, he still tried to stay around but, you know, I guess it just was something that he didn't want to be around, or he didn't want to involve himself in, so he ended up leaving.
Well when did you start discovering that you were interested in hair? What age?
I was very young. I was, like 2 or 3 years old when I initially first had, like, any type of interest in hair, like Barbie dolls and stuff. I probably would say like 9 or 10 is when I really was like, "OK, I really like this," and I started buying mannequins and stuff. Maybe, like, 13 is when I was like, "OK, this is gonna be my career."
I kind of had to put my grownup pants on, because my mother was out [of work] on surgery. She had had a knee replacement at the time, so she was out on work leave. I know being young, 14, 15, I was charging like $45 for, like, sew-ins and stuff. It wasn't a lot of money. It wasn't barely nothing, but any money I made, I would try to give to my mom to help support her and to build, but after awhile, you know, we ended up having to move out [of the house], and I remember my mom wanted me to stay with her with her boyfriend, but I didn't want to, so I ended up moving.... Then, finally, once my mom got herself back together, she was able to save money, and we moved into a house in Wilmington, Delaware, and ever since then I was working in a salon. Well, she let me turn the basement into a salon, and then from there I started working in a salon, and then, literally, like, it just, like, I just started leveling up.
Yeah, as far as, like, hands-on with hair, I was so, like, determined to really, really learn it, so when I was young, I had mannequins and stuff, and everything that I've learned I've taught myself. I remember one time I had got some blue dye, and I didn't even know you had to bleach hair. It all came through trial and error.
I went to a vocational high school. My mom is in the medical field, so of course she wanted me to go to be a nurse technician, but I begged and begged and begged her. I was like, "Mom, please let me go for cosmetology." So freshman year was the year that you kind of had to prove to the different teachers and stuff that you can get straight A's or that you will be a great student, and so she finally told me if I made straight A's she would let me basically do cosmetology, so I busted my behind freshman year to get those straight A's. Then I went to a vocational high school that teaches you the basics. You [learn] how to roller set, how to finger weave, how to trim, different things like that. They teach you kind of the basics and the history of hair, but as far as, like, the hands-on, like sewing wigs and stuff, that's all me.
I don't know. I don't feel like I get my drive from anywhere.... I feel like every day you have to wake up and you have to have a purpose. You have to have goals. Even me being young, I always knew I wanted to be a big, like, star. I wanted to be, like, in the limelight. I always knew that that's what I wanted to be. Of course, if I stopped working, if anybody stops working, of course they won't have anything. They won't be getting money. You know what I'm saying? I just felt like I have to keep going, keep working, and I'm really definitely trying to set an example for the youth. I feel like I have the whole youth behind me, looking up to me, especially the LGBT community, so I definitely feel like I can't stop. I gotta keep going.
Well, I've been wearing makeup since high school. I remember the first time I even knew what makeup was. I went to the store and I was like, I hate my eyebrows. And I had got something and I started filling my brows in. And then, after a while, I got the concealer. A month later, I got concealer to kind of outline them. Then a month later, I started using the concealer for my brows, I would use that same concealer and put it under my eyes to give myself a highlight. Then, after that, I started contouring. And then I started putting on foundation. And everything kind of happened in steps like that. Then, about a year later, like, maybe after I graduated high school, I started getting my nails and stuff done. I would just get gel, baby pink and stuff on my nails. And I was just, like, this is kind of boring now. So I just always tried to step outside the box. But the way I started wearing hair is like, "OK, I'm tired of giving people free hair and stuff to promote me, and they don't promote it right. So I'm gonna wear it myself." So that's when I started doing it, literally ever since I started wearing my own hair.
I get backlash every day, child, especially from angry women: "Oh, you're never gonna be a woman, you're never gonna do this, you're never gonna do that." People be trying to slander me, but I ignore it. A lot of people be like, "Oh, my gosh, Cliff, you should get boobs," and I'm like, "No, I don't want boobs." Then, a lot of people ask me, am I transitioning? I get a lot of backlash, but one thing I will say is, publicly, it has helped my career. People know who I am. People already knew who I was.
When I was about 15, I could say ... like, when I first started, I probably was doing, like, maybe three or four people a week at, I want to say, like $65, so I was making maybe a good, like, $350 a week, but, like, literally every month it just started to increase. I remember I went up on my prices every three months, so every month, let's say I started to get at least two extra clients a month. By the time I had turned 16, I was doing at least, like, eight people a week at, like $85. I was getting a nice little check. By the time I turned 17, it was a wrap. It was definitely a wrap. I remember I was making like $1,000 a day, $900 a day, $800 a day, and this was just me standing on my feet doing hair. But see, the thing is, I've learned, especially over the young years, that I had to work smarter and not harder. I would have about five sew-ins to do. That's what would make me that $800, but by the end of the night, I'm beat-down tired. I remember my senior year, I started to sell hair, and then I only was doing like two people a day, and I was still making about $1,200 because I was charging both of those clients for hair as well.
Honestly, I was so young, I used to shop a lot. I used to shop a lot, and then I used to go to the hair store every single week and buy like $300 worth of hair stuff. To this day, at my mom's house, I can go there and I can probably pick up like a thousand dollars’ worth of products and stuff that she still has kept. I also had a team. I had like four assistants. I was young and I was dumb. I just had money and I felt like I needed to spend it. My mom, she thought that I just had a whole bunch of assistants because she said I felt like I wanted to have an entourage. But I had a briader. I had a personal assistant. I had a girl who would go run my errands. And then I had someone who would ship my orders and greet my clients. I had it going on.
No. They're not with me now. Because I'm kind of transitioning to rap now, I'm more focused on something else, so I don't really need them that much anymore. And plus, they live back home in Delaware, and now I'm living in Atlanta.
I was like, listen, if I'm gonna be young doing it, I want my team to be young doing it with me. I was 18 at the time with a personal assistant that was 15. He didn't know nothing about personal assisting, but I was like, look, you gonna learn now. You know what I'm saying? Even my assistants around me, they were either in my grade or younger than me. And I was like a mentor to them. We traveled everywhere. Sometimes I feel bad for people, because a lot of people have real big dreams and big goals and stuff. But they just don't know how to get there. There was no blueprint for me. When I first started out, there was nobody teaching classes. There was no one to say, "Hey, Cliff, this is how you get to this level." Like, literally, I learned everything from trial and error. So I always told myself, once I get to the point I can help people, I will always help people. I don't ever want to be the person that's selfish or only cares about myself. I really do care about a lot of people. So I always try to help people in different ways that I can.
The LGBTQ community, they're behind, rooting for me 100 percent. They're like, "Go, Cliff, keep going, keep going." But in the show, you'll see how Marlo told me, "Stick to hair, honey." A lot of people say stick to hair, stick to hair. But it's like, if you really, really think about it, these people think I wake up and say, "Oh, I'm gonna ask them what they think I should do." No, I'm gonna do what's gonna make me happy, because at the end of the day, I'm the one that has to do it.
Trust me, people tell me all the time, "A gay rapper? Uh, no." Well, guess what? Society has to get used to it, because we get introduced to things every single day. You know what I'm saying? I'm just gonna be the barrier to kick all these doors down.
My dream in music is to be, like, the top of the top. I wanna get to the level where I'm on chart after chart. I wanna be performing at all of the awards shows. I wanna go number one all the time. I wanna be that person when it comes to music. I wanna have my own record label maybe 10 years, 20 years from now. I wanna be a legend. I wanna be like a Michael Jackson or a Prince. And they wore makeup.
Well, I technically haven't really done a client since 2017. I grossed all of my money in 2018 via selling plugs and doing my classes and stuff. Already in 2017, once I stopped, that was when I kind of was over the hair industry, because I feel like as a hairstylist, every day I was dealing with so many things. So many different attitudes, so many different people just trying to get over on you. Trying to file disputes and things like that. I started to get really tired of it. So I said, you know what? I can't do this. Rapping, you can't file a dispute rapping. If you spend a dollar with me on iTunes, you can't dispute that. I mean, you can, but it's just a dollar.
Of course. Any of my celebrity clients, I will always come out of retirement, for a quick second though, I'm not going on tour or nothing like that. I'll come out of retirement for a quick one, two days or something. If you need me, I got you.
I'm single as a dollar bill. They don't get no more single than I am. I remember two years ago I was in a relationship and it threw me all the way off my focus, and I told myself I would never do that ever again. I would never get off of my focus for a guy ever again. I was so upset with myself. A relationship can always wait. I can have friends. I go on dates here and there. But I don't be interested and my friends get so mad. They be like, well give the boy a chance, Cliff. I'll be like, no. So that's just how it goes around here.
Well, it gets lonely. But guess what I do? I call one of my teammates and I just bug them to death every day about how far I wanna go. Don't get me wrong though, I do talk to different guys here and there if I get super bored. But no, I have little Yorkies, and that's who I can share my success with.
Never. Never, never, never. You know why? Because when people are content, that is an issue. If you ever wake up and you're super content with your life and you just ... you're not worried about anything, you feel like you're not under pressure. I can't do that. I gotta keep setting new goals every single day. I gotta keep investing in myself. I gotta keep going, because the best has yet to come. You know? I don't even have a full night's sleep, ever. I might go to sleep three o'clock in the morning and wake back up 7 a.m. I don't relax. Maybe a couple months ago I found myself, I kept laying in the bed and I had a little bit too much free time, and I was getting so mad at myself because I couldn't figure out what it was that I could do to get out of the bed. What is going on? I hate relaxing. Anytime I am relaxing, I might be sitting in the tub, I might be writing down some goals, writing down some to-do things. There's never a day that I'm not doing anything.
No. But you know what's so crazy? I felt like I did burn myself out with the hair industry. You gotta remember, I was 16, 17, standing in the salon until three in the morning around prom season, and then going straight to school every morning. I would go to bed at, like, 3:30 and wake up at, like, six o'clock in the morning, and I was all the time throughout prom season. So I felt like once I had moved to Orlando, I felt like I was burnt out. [In hair], there was nothing that I haven't done before, but music is a lot different. I feel like once you get in front of that crowd, that anticipation builds up, and you're just like, "I gotta do it." And it's, like, that excitement, that thrill that you get. I always gotta keep going. I would never get burnt from rapping. That's too easy.