Lil Tay Breaks Her Silence: ‘I’m in a Bad Situation’
The 10-year-old social-media ‘flexer’ vanished from the internet amid allegations of hacking, fakery, and abuse. Tarpley Hitt speaks with Tay and her parents about the controversy.
As 2018 grinds to an end, no roundup of internet aberrations would be complete without the story of the 10-year-old rapper best known as “Lil Tay.” In the eight-odd months since her rise, the preteen has played the embodiment of the 21st-century American id—a Canadian transplant trying to make it in music, who shot to fame on a combination of social-media scandal, racist role-playing, and a commitment to constant posting, and who disappeared, suddenly, in what proved to be a battle over contracts, custody, and the rights to her brand.
For those following Tay’s arc, the public reactions unfolded in two stages—beginning, primarily, with disgust. Tay first drew attention in the spring of 2018 after a series of conflicts with minor internet personalities like RiceGum, a YouTuber who traffics in parody diss tracks, and Woah Vicky, a white Instagram influencer who claims she’s black. She later dropped a series of generic rap tracks and “flex” videos of nice cars, model houses, and huge stacks of cash, while claiming, variously, to be the “youngest flexer in the century” and “above the haters.”
But disgust quickly gave way to concern. In late May, a video surfaced of what appeared to be the rapper’s older brother, Jason, coaching his sister on how to behave. Later, news broke that Tay’s mom, a Vancouver real-estate agent named Angela Tian, had lost her job after using company homes and employee cars as props for their videos. When one pundit called Tay a “hostage” of her family, he didn’t seem far off—especially after June, when the rapper cleared her Instagram, leaving only a story with the words “help me.”
In the months since, Tay stayed largely out of the public eye, resurfacing only by way of a rotating roster of alleged spokespeople—Alex Gelbard, Harry Tsang, Diomi Cordero, Chris Jones, and, most recently, Charles Wong—each claiming semi-ownership of the preteen’s problematic brand (Tian denies that any of them had a contract). By mid-autumn, so many adults had laid claim to Lil Tay’s online presence that the kid herself seemed almost like an afterthought. Then, in October, Tay’s name reappeared when a series of alleged hacks to her Instagram produced a series of violent, racist imagery, personal documents, and details of abuse allegations against her father, Christopher Hope. (Hope denies them.)
Among other things, the Instagram posts alleged that Tay’s father had filed a court motion in June, calling his daughter back to Vancouver and prompting her sudden disappearance. At the time, a spokesperson for Hope, Harry Tsang, told The Daily Beast that the father did not want any money from his daughter. “There are only three things he wants to see,” he said. “First, no more crazy videos of cursing from Tay. Second, 25 percent of the gross earnings going to a trust fund dedicated to Tay. The third thing is, there has to be structure in her operation, in her public image.”
After The Daily Beast reported on the alleged hacks and the suspect allegations, Tay’s latest informal representative, Charles Wong, reached out and arranged an interview with the 10-year-old and her mother. After two phone conversations, The Daily Beast obtained Hope’s response to their claims. The transcript below is compiled from those calls and edited for clarity.
Angela, what’s your background? Where did you grow up?
Angela Tian: I don’t want to go into too much detail about my family. I can give you roughly my background. I grew up in China. I came to Vancouver. I immigrated here in 2002, with my background and master’s degree at one of the best universities in China, Fudan University. I studied math. I worked for the government and then came here... I worked at the government statistics bureau. I [came to Vancouver because] it was cleaner, and also more beautiful... My parents live in China. They have a very comfortable life, just like many older people in China. They like Vancouver, they come and visit, but they don’t want to emigrate.
When did you meet Chris Hope?
Tian: I met Chris Hope in 2004. It’s a long story and it will waste a lot of time. I’m not interested in talking about how I met him, because right now I want to focus on Tay’s issues with him. When Tay was 1 year old, I separated with Chris Hope. Tay lived with me full-time. When she was 5 years old, Hope owed a lot of child support. He did pay some, but he didn’t pay for after school, daycare, and everything that he was supposed to share. So I took him to court. For the first time, he started applying and asking for parenting time. Before Tay was 5, he just visited her. He didn’t have any [parenting time]—she didn’t stay with him. The law says both parents should have contact with the child as much as possible. After Tay reached 5 years old, she started going to his place: one week with him, one week with me. Every Friday, [we] switched… [but] Tay didn’t want to stay [with her father].
Where was Jason in all this?
Tian: Jason lived with me the whole time.
So he has nothing to do with Chris Hope?
When did Tay get into music?
Tian: She always had a passion for music. Before Lil Tay blew up, she always had singing lessons and dance lessons. The public doesn’t know anything about our family. It’s so unfair to me and it’s unfair to Lil Tay. She had singing lessons.
So when did you start doing Instagram?
Tian: It think it was February of 2018. She had the idea with her brother. I was never involved. I’m kind of old. I don’t Instagram.
Christopher Hope: [I found out about Tay’s Instagram] probably around April or May. I’m not sure. Somehow I was made aware of it. I wasn’t seeing Claire often at that point. I was really unhappy that she had dropped out of school to participate in inappropriate activities that I thought could negatively affect her future and her present.
How did you feel about Tay using crude language?
Tian: All these swear words—I didn’t know what she was doing. She knew what she was doing. I don’t think she hurt anybody. Other people, if they have a different opinion, that’s their opinion. I still don’t think she hurt anybody. If other people are hurt, then that’s their own problem. I know my kid.
What about the N-word? That one is very bad.
Tian: That is the very first time. This is a very old question. She answered before. She promised that she would never say that again.
Is Tay on the phone right now?
Lil Tay: Hello?
When did you start the Instagram account?
Lil Tay: Um, I started in the winter season. I don’t know the date, but around the beginning of 2018.
Why did you do that?
Lil Tay: I just wanted to do that.
Was there some account in particular that inspired you? What did you have in mind?
Lil Tay: I don’t know. I’m just me. I just wanted to start Instagram.
Were there particular people you liked online?
Lil Tay: No. Not really.
Was it your brother’s idea to start the Instagram?
Lil Tay: Um. Maybe I should talk about this in a separate interview.
OK. Should we schedule another call?
Lil Tay: Right now I’m in a bad situation and I don’t want to talk about these things.
What’s the situation?
Lil Tay: With Chris Hope.
THE CUSTODY BATTLE
What happened in June?
Lil Tay: In June of this year? Well, he filed something to the court and the court ordered us to go back here, and he said that I was in danger and stuff.
Hope: We applied for an order that she be brought back to Canada. That was an order of the provincial courts. It was around June. She stopped doing the videos. We started trying to figure things out.
He wants you to stop making music and go back to school?
Lil Tay: I’m too famous for school. I don’t go to public school. I’m being homeschooled right now. He wants me to go to public school and he knows how many people know who I am, he knows that I’ll get mobbed. He wants me to go to public school. I’m too famous for that.
How are you studying now?
Lil Tay: Homeschooling. I’m in 5th grade. There’s nothing specifically I study that’s different from anyone else. I don’t know, just stuff. I just do anything a normal kid would do, basically that’s it.
After you got court-ordered, did you go back to Vancouver?
Lil Tay: Well, yeah we had to. It was a court order.
Are you living with him now?
Lil Tay: He was threatening to arrest—to have my mom arrested if we didn’t go back.
When you flew back to Vancouver, what happened when you saw him?
Lil Tay: I didn’t see him for multiple years. He never saw me for so long, it’s obvious he just came back because he wants money.
Did he ask for money?
Tian: Um, well, he’s done many things that showed that. Last week, Tay was searching online, and found out that Chris Hope trademarked “Lil Tay.”
Hope: I applied for the trademark because it was obvious that her mom hadn’t taken any steps to do things in a business-like manner—reserve the names, get accounting set up, make sure tax obligations could be satisfied. Filing a trademark was one of the things that needed to be done. I was concerned that people were also trying to use that name. Recording artists need to be incorporated, but none of those things had been done. I wanted at least to take the minimum steps so that Claire would be protected if her career did go somewhere.
Lil Tay: I will never go to his place. I was literally locked in a closet. He was out partying. His wife—she has a sister, and her sister was babysitting me. She never liked me. She locked me in a closet.
When did that happen?
Lil Tay: Probably 2014.
What happened when she locked you in the closet?
Lil Tay: I didn’t do anything. She just never liked me.
Tian: She came back to me and she told me she was locked in a closet for a few hours. I called Chris Hope and he did not answer the phone. I left a message and said, “You cannot do that. You cannot leave her with a babysitter.” I text-messaged him and he ignored me. After that, the next week, she went there and came back to me and told me the same thing again. I was really frustrated and I took Tay to the police. After Tay, I said, “Did you tell your dad?” And Tay said, “Yeah.” And I said, “What did your dad say?” And her dad didn’t say anything. I was so surprised. I took Tay to the police and the police reported it to the Ministry of Children and Family Development. It’s a long name, I think it is like in Child Services in America. Here, it’s called something different, but it’s the same thing. We went to the police. The police had a file. They said it was their job and the police called me. They called me two times. She had a serious talk with Mr. Hope. That’s all I know.
Hope: She was never locked in a closet. If there is any abuse, it didn’t take place at my house or have anything to do with me. Whoever was running the Instagram—I think we all know who was running the Instagram—made a lot of false allegations.
Who erased all the accounts?
Lil Tay: He was threatening to have my mom put in jail.
Did you erase everything on your Instagram?
Lil Tay: Yeah. He was threatening all these things.
So, who erased it? You did?
Lil Tay: We all had to.
He said you had to erase it as a condition of coming back to Vancouver?
Lil Tay: Yeah.
What happened with the “hack” in August?
Tian: We don’t know. I don’t know who got the access. Tay couldn’t do anything. Hope didn’t show any interest. He doesn’t care about Tay. He doesn’t care about Tay’s video. After Tay became famous and all the videos, he never went to L.A.
As part of the “hack,” there was a passport of Tay’s that said she was 16.
Tian: We have no clue. Just like the hacker we have no clue. She’s obviously not 16. Compared with the 10-year-old she looks different.
Why did you decide to come forward with all the documents [about Chris Hope] on Instagram?
Tian: It wasn’t me. I don’t handle Instagram. In September, the Instagram got hacked two times.
Has Lil Tay made any money?
Tian: Lil Tay has made no money. We got a lot of chances, but we didn’t accept them. You can tell. We didn’t accept a contract. We could have made a lot of money if I wanted. The first person reached out to us for Tay’s Instagram last December. Then, at the beginning of April, many people were interested in her. In April, on April 5 we went to L.A. to see Lil Pump’s manager. He paid the airfare for all three of us. He reached out to us. I think five people reached out to us before we went to L.A. But Tay blew up in May. In May, we had chances to make money, but our focus was on getting a manager. That was our plan, our goal. I wanted to focus on her having a professional team. I wanted her to have a very strong foundation.
Hope: I don’t want anything except for Claire to be educated, safe, and happy and protected both now and in the future. Everything is unresolved right now.