Will Claye shows us what life is like when elevation is the only option
Will Claye opens up in his new short film to share what it's like to pursue your dreams as a young Black athlete in America.
Most people are lucky to be successful at one thing they’re passionate about, but Will Claye has found two in both rapping and long-jumping. The track and field star, who has managed to grow a successful career in both sports and music, gives us an inside glimpse into what life is like for an athlete, musician, and family man on the rise.
Growing up in Tucson, AZ, Claye quickly took to sports at a young age. He and his friends would play everything from hockey to soccer during the week, solidifying what would ultimately become his first career path. Music entered his life when he played drums and sang in his church’s choir, but even as he began to embrace rap as he got older, it stayed in his periphery for years. But it's a new day for Will Claye who believes that you can do anything you put your mind to, so long as the ultimate goal is to elevate.
From day one you're putting a country on your chest—the best country when it comes to sports—at the biggest sporting event of all time and you come back to see people that look like you get mistreated in that country. That’s a tough space to be in.
With his mind and body already set on physical training, it would take a life-changing event to convince Claye that music was also his calling. A chance encounter in the studio with YG—who was impressed with his work—would push him to pursue music as more than a hobby. Over the course of the next decade, Claye would drop a handful of projects while taking home nine medals, including two Gold for the triple jump from the World Indoor Championships in 2012 and 2018, respectively. “Discipline and repetition is huge in both,” Claye explains. “The more that you do it and the more reps you can put in, the better you’re gonna get at it.”
Claye’s perspective has grown as much as his collection of accolades. “Wee Hours,” the new single he created with legendary producer DJ Khalil, is indicative of someone set on using an established platform to drop some knowledge and words of confidence to anyone willing to listen. “Elevate,” the new documentary short out now, charts the creation of the song and the nuances of Claye’s life as an athlete, musician, and husband.
Throughout the film “Elevate,” Will Claye proves he’s adaptable to nearly any element. The film follows Claye during a morning of training on the field, during downtime with his family, having serious conversations about Olympic representation with his wife, and recording in the music studio with Khalil and his musicians. Claye’s perseverance and thirst for truth manifests in every scene of the film, painting him as a beacon of hope for a new generation. No matter how you classify him, Will Claye is here for the long haul.
Watch the “Elevate” short film followed by a few thoughts from Claye below on life, sports, family, and music.
Talk to me about when you first fell in love with music.
I played drums at church and sang in the church choir from the time I was eight years old, so that’s what put me into music. I always had a love for the sound of music when my parents would play it at home, but as far as me actually making music, that happened around the time I was 12 or 13. That’s when I started rapping, which just came from bonding with friends. We’d just get a little mic and we’d have a little boom box and some instrumentals and we’d just record for fun. It was just something I was always good at, but I never thought of it as a means for a career at the time. Sports was always my career.
When was the first time you knew music would become more than just a hobby for you?
When I got in the studio with YG. One of my best friends is a producer and I was making music with him throughout high school, but we weren’t dropping it. He’d always say we should drop it and I’d always be like “I’m cool.” Then, I ended up at the studio with him and YG and we created the song “IDGAF” and then from there, I felt like I could do this. YG was even like “Bro, you been in the studio a lot?” And I was like “Nah, this is my first time in a real studio. We was just in closets and wherever before.” Bro was like “Yea, you definitely got it. That was gas.”
Do you see any similarities between making music and pushing your body to the limit as an athlete?
Discipline and repetition is huge in both. The more that you do it and the more reps you can put in, the better you’re gonna get at it. With training, on day one you start from ground zero. You start at nothing; you’re out of shape and you can’t really compete at that point. You work towards being able to compete over weeks and months until you get to this point where you’re ready to step on that stage. In music, you come into the studio with just an idea and then you turn that into a beat and lyrics and post-production before it’s time to put it out. I think those are similar things in terms of the creation process.
Your relationship with Coach Fisher, as displayed in “Elevate,” seems to ground you. Has Fisher been as encouraging to you on the music front?
We talk about music a lot. He’s always trying to get me to put him on a song and I’m like “Ain’t nobody wanna hear you, dude.” He’s supportive of what I do because it’s not trash. He knows that’s an outlet for me and something that I do to get away. You can’t do too much of anything, so I try to break up that monotony with music. That helps me on the track because when I come back, I’m clear-minded and ready to take on the day. He knows me well enough to know that I’m not gonna do anything to put my track career in jeopardy. When it comes down to it, he knows I’ll be back at practice tomorrow.
The scene where you ask your wife about representing the US in the Olympics while feeling underrepresented was powerful. Being an Olympic athlete yourself, I feel like I should ask you the same question: have you grappled with your position as a Black man representing the United States at the Olympics?
From day one you're putting a country on your chest—the best country when it comes to sports—at the biggest sporting event of all time and you come back to see people that look like you get mistreated in that country. That’s a tough space to be in. It’s tough because I’ve dealt with racism in many different countries. It’s a worldwide thing. That’s the tough part; it’s everywhere. I’ve been kicked out of AirB&B’s because of how I look and have had guns pulled out on me by police in the U.S. It’s tough.
You’re also becoming a budding activist. How do you plan on using your platform as both a musician and athlete to speak to Black and brown youth?
I’d like the same support shown to me as an Olympian to be shown to the people of our country, period. It should be love. The first thing is to inspire young Black and brown boys and girls. Once you know you can reach the highest of heights, there’s nothing that can hold you back. Secondly, representing them and speaking for them on the biggest platform possible is something I feel I need to do. If not, then who’s gonna speak for them? Those people are nonexistent to the world. What’s going on there needs to be spoken about. Doing that will give people awareness and give them what they need to go help.
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