HomeFeaturesColumns/OpinionsReviewsAbout Us

Sky's The Limit

By Summer Sewellfeatures
Oct 10, 2006 - 3:28 AM

The living room of Skyler Clay’s Manteca, Calif. home looks much like it did when he and his wife and son moved in a few months ago. Black leather loveseats interrupt flawless beige carpeting. A few isolated canvases hang on an otherwise blank span of white walls. A TV in the corner offers the only diversion in the motionless room. Though it bounces flashes of color off the walls and plays loud music from a videogame, the TV is not the main attraction in the Clay living room. The center of attention is the wreckage of a spilled cardboard box. The content: Clay’s postponed dreams.

About a hundred black t-shirts sporting artwork worthy of framing have fallen out of a box labeled Kama 4k. Half are semi-folded on the sofa; the other half is strewn about on the floor. Clay walks past them nonchalantly – to retrieve juice for his son, Atlantis, from the kitchen or to answer the phone – each time stepping over them gingerly but never picking them up. They don’t seem to be a mess, or to bother the baby-faced 25-year-old. Instead, they are a tangible display of Clay’s long journey to his present success.

The story begins with a tenacious little boy raised by his grandmother and aunt in East Oakland. (Sixty Fifth St. to be exact because, “You gotta say what street you’re from!” he insists). He started drawing cartoons out of his imagination in kindergarten. By high school, he was entering and winning art contests which earned him scholarships to various summer art programs.

A week out of high school, Clay began attending the Academy of Art in San Francisco, majoring in illustration. Learning to meet his instructors’ expectations while still satisfying his own color-splattered visions was a process for the somewhat defiant artist. “I had to figure out how to let go,” he says.

Aside from learning how to obey instructions, and how to draw from reference rather than imagination, Clay had to learn how to paint, period. Though he was a master with Prisma markers and paper, he was a virgin to paint and an easel.

Right before completing his time at the academy in 2003, Clay found an outlet that allowed him to utilize his newly discovered strength as a painter while fulfilling his long-standing urge to unite hip hop culture with conceptual art. He began using plain men’s t-shirts as canvases, which he says he was one of the first to do. Clay painted abstract designs as well as icons in the urban community like Tupac and Michael Jordan directly onto cotton T’s. Each originally designed shirt took a few hours from start to finish. This unique style earned him recognition and granted Clay the return of his ability to express what he wanted to see on a canvas.

Though originally conceptualized in 1998 when it was called Kamikaze Warfare, Kama 4k had been stagnant for almost five years. Clay had been waiting for a breakthrough that would catapult his clothing line to the level he knew it deserved to be at; and he had found it.

With support and admiration for his art on shirts, he was building a solid reputation in the clothing industry and creating a signature style for Kama 4k. Most importantly, he was painting to please himself and still making profit. His days of being a talented servant with a brush were behind him, he thought. But he was wrong.

As Clay relaxes on the sofa and recalls segments of his life, he wears the steady grin of a child in front of his classmates for show and tell. He sits straight up, his hands resting flat on his dark denim pants. He calmly watches his son, who he calls “Papa,” disperse his endless five-year-old energy through flips and laps around the living room. Then his disposition changes. He begins shifting his weight and puts one Nike Dunk on his knee, then switches to the other. Clay moves his hands from resting on his thighs to being folded atop his freshly braided cornrows. He is about to discuss what he calls “the ugly part” of his recent past.

An entrepreneur named Nathan Khors approached Clay shortly after he graduated from the art academy and asked Clay to paint a few shirts for his clothing line. Khors’ clothing line, Cerbae, was also trying to make a name for itself at the time, and has since exploded on the hip hop scene. Clay saw it as an opportunity to make a little cash for his hobby and, at the same time, develop designs he could use for Kama 4k. He began painting three shirts a day for Cerbae, each taking a few hours to complete.

Clay says he never quite trusted Khors, calling him a “trend rider,” and a “privileged lil’ white boy.” Clay really began to question Khors’ integrity when he asked him to mimic the style of an east coast clothing line called Miskeen. “He was on some bitin’ shit from the gate,” Clay says. (*Editor’s note: representatives from Cerbae failed to respond to our multiple requests for comments.)

Against his better judgment, Clay did what he was asked. Before Clay knew it, he had made over 100 shirts for Cerbae. He was producing shirts like a one-man machine while not knowing if he was being given the correct percentage of an unknown profit, since Khors never told him how much he was selling them for (today, Cerbae t-shirts go for $98 according to their website).

After Clay came up with a heat-press technique so he could produce shirts faster, and after the Federation rocked Clay’s designs on an MTV appearance, Khors asked him to stick around and be Cerbae’s head designer. Clay signed a contract that guaranteed him a steady income and an opportunity to build connections in the fashion industry. But it also restricted him to designing only for Cerbae, meaning he could no longer use the designs for Kama 4k.

In March 2005, Clay represented Cerbae at the Magic show in Vegas, where the hottest new designers gather once a year to show off their latest designs. Shortly after, Clay moved to LA to be closer to Khors’ new design studio. Timeka, Clay’s wife who is also a youthful 25, says it all happened so fast. “I tried to just be supportive,” she says, even though all this was going on right when they were trying to plan their wedding. “We’re young, and you have to start somewhere.” She spent time away from her job, and even thought about quitting and moving to LA to help Clay fulfill his dreams.

Meanwhile, Clay was busy filling over $100,000 in orders and training Khors’ friends to paint his designs on Cerbae shirts to help meet the overwhelming demand.

By June 2005, the little voice that initially whispered in Clay’s ear not to trust Khors was now screaming. After hearing Khors remark in interviews that Clay’s designs were his own, and that he paid Clay to create the technique, Clay left LA and Cerbae.

To this day, Cerbae has not paid him for all of his designs, according to Clay, but they still use designs he made for them from over two years ago. Clay checks their website occasionally, and says that without fail, there is always something “borrowed” from his Kama 4k website. “The main thing is, he is not giving credit where credit is due. I do a Huey Newton, they do a Huey Newton. I do Eazy E, they do Eazy E,” he smirks, and slowly shakes his head from side to side. He shakes his head, shrugs his shoulders, and looks down often when he talks about “the ugly part.”

Looking back, Clay admits his impatience to marry art and hip hop fashion allowed him to be taken advantage of. He was fresh out of art school with big dreams, and mistakenly jumped into something that was indeed too good to be true. But surprisingly, Clay has emerged from the dust with an attitude of no regrets. “Success is the best revenge. I’m gonna just outshine and expose him,” he says.

The garage may be the most visibly lived-in space of the Clay household. It will never house cars, just creation. There are 15 easels drenched in all varieties of paint – from puffy, to spray, to acrylic. The white sheets spread sporadically on the ground are more often kicked off to the side than used as the landing for colorful drippings.

As Clay bounces into the garage, his steady smirk turns to a full-blown smile. He scans the room, rubs his hands together, then sits down behind and easel with brushes in hand. The buzzing of artificial lights is silenced by music and reminiscing as Clay and childhood friend, Keez, pop open paint bottles and embark on what will be another long, smoky night tribute to Kama 4k.

“We’re not using a name to sell anything – we’re using the quality of design to sell it,” Clay says. “I don’t want my name to sell nothing.”

He plans on painting objects and scenes that are less popular in the hip hop community, like nature and animals. “I want to do shit that’s not in demand and create and demand for it,” he says.

Clay recently attended this year’s Magic show. Though it was his second time attending the show, it was the first time he got to display his talent under his own label. To eliminate any confusion, he signs the bottom left corner of every shirt he makes, “Sky.”

What else can be said at the end of such a journey? A lesson was learned, to say the least. Or as Clay’s wife resolves, “It’s a great reflection of his willpower.” Perhaps the man who went through it first hand says it best when he offers his hard-learned lesson as advice to other anxious entrepreneurs: “Get it off your own steam, don’t hitch a ride.”

Comments (20)

Sunshine Mexico says:
September 27, 2007 2:29 AM
Everyone does Huey Newton and Eazy. You should paint a shirt with Charles S. Dutton on it and write "Roc Solid" on the top. Remember his TV show, Roc? I do. Also, I never understood why it's called the Magic Trade Show? Are there actual magicians in attendence? Someone fill me in. Oh yeah, if you need someone to paint the Charles Dutton shirt, I can do it for like $20.

indesmeld says:
April 29, 2011 11:17 PM
[url=http://www.polo-online-outlet.com]polo outlet[/url] So polo lure a portly figure of people. Mens polo shirts can be worn as regards assorted occasions and events such as golf or simply dressing destined for a party. polo shirts in compensation men may present gladden, while being happy-go-lucky reasonably against the job. Every the human race should include at least undivided polo.

nike lunarelite+ 2 says:
June 7, 2011 4:47 PM
Now I just want to tell you how much my partner and I appreciate every little thing that you provide to help raise awareness of the issue of material value on human life.Through their own article, I had just passed a novice in the area experts. It can be a realthank you for your efforts. Thank you

nike free run says:
June 7, 2011 4:53 PM
Now I just want to tell you how much my partner and I appreciate every little thing that you provide to help raise awareness of the issue of material value on human life.Through their own article, I had just passed a novice in the area experts. It can be a realthank you for your efforts. Thank you

reverse phone lookup business says:
June 28, 2012 10:06 AM
I would really love to guest post on your blog.,

reverse phone lookup says:
July 17, 2012 9:35 AM
To be successful in this issue you have written about, one will have to really devote time and effort into it. I worked on doing a research upon it in my spare time and you also wouldnt believe in the possibilities that opened up job wise. This is mostly a terrific discipline and can lead to quite a ton of exciting prospects. Thanks for sharing your ideas.

http://www.cellphonelookuped.com/ says:
July 17, 2012 10:36 AM
This is really exciting, Youre an enormously knowledgeable blogger. I have enrolled with your feed and also anticipate witnessing that the useful writeups. At that the same time, Ive shared your site in our social networks.

One of that the moreimpressive internet websites Ive seen. Thanks so much for keeping the internet classy for a change. Youve got class. I mean it. Please keep it up because without thenet is definitely lacking in intelligence.

reverse phone number lookup says:
July 18, 2012 10:08 PM
The idea of sending a squad in the ‘copter and getting in and out hours before the bombing doesnt seem to be an option even though there have been helicopters all over that the place, never seeming to be doing anything worthwhile.

reverse phone says:
July 18, 2012 10:12 PM
In a similar fashion, figure out this particular. might a male exactly who says he has gaining plenty of trillion us dollars annually, take that the time to manage to local seo create plus existing market a great booklet expounding on the best way he / she would the item Theres no doubt that not necessarily! Choose a persons very first instincs, theyre typically rather appropriate!

Jimmytf8ti says:
November 2, 2012 7:17 PM
odpvw donovan mcnabb jersey otyxl b.j. raji jersey pdesp jonathan vilma jersey sjbjb randall cobb jersey jgpoc marshawn lynch jersey

reverse phone yellow pages says:
March 14, 2013 9:32 AM
i always enjoy to do blog hopping and i stumbled upon your blog .””;

not fake says:
August 11, 2013 10:37 PM
Though the cash advance service is legally followed, you need to notice that various agents charge a fee varyingly [url=http://www.to5tallyrealsitenotfake2.com]not fake[/url] you should set who you are a firm financial plan then attach to it.

voyance gratuite says:
August 20, 2013 8:30 AM
Horoscope poissons 2012 amour jeux de [url=http://www.foryou-wasserbett.com]voyance gratuite[/url]

Dionne Seekford says:
August 30, 2013 11:55 AM
hello!,I really like your writing so a lot! proportion we communicate more approximately your article on AOL? I require a specialist in this area to unravel my problem. May be that's you! Looking forward to peer you.

dog life jacket says:
August 31, 2013 5:12 PM
What a information of un-ambiguity and preserveness of valuable familiarity about unexpected emotions.

car insurance comparison says:
September 7, 2013 12:44 AM
Hi there colleagues, its impressive paragraph about educationand fully defined, keep it up all the time.

voyance gratuite en ligne says:
September 16, 2013 9:56 AM
Magie voyance gratuit tirage de tarot amour gratuit Have a look at my page; [url=http://www.vinopak.biz]voyance gratuite en ligne[/url]

Zita says:
November 2, 2013 5:16 AM
Very good blog! Do you have any hints for aspiring writers? I'm hoping to start my own website soon but I'm a little lost on everything. Would you recommend starting with a free platform like Wordpress or go for a paid option? There are so many options out there that I'm totally overwhelmed .. Any ideas? Many thanks!

http://www.callofdutyghostsdownload.com says:
November 5, 2013 10:42 AM
palooka  palpate  palping  palship  palsied  palsies  palters  paludal. sachemic sacheted sackbuts sackfuls sackings sacklike sacksful sacraria. picante  picaras  picaros  piccata  piccolo  piceous  pickaxe  pickeer.

Post a comment

     Verification (needed to reduce spam):

issue=200611 slug=kama4k byline=Summer Sewell bylineemail=summer@ohdangmag.com position=, staff writer thumbnailtype=jpg thumbnailname=kama4k-thumb




Hollywood Triple Feature $24 for 2 or more


StudentUniverse.com - Travel More. Spend Less


Apple iTunes

Oh Dang! Copyright © 2006-2007. All Rights Reserved.