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Editorial

Catching Up With Clyde Singleton

Posted by Anthony Pappalardo7 min read
Friday, March 12, 2021

Charismatic, cocksure, and candid, Clyde Singleton’s contributions to skateboarding reach way past his output with Acme, 101, 23 Skateboards, Aesthetics, Zoo York and more. As a writer, video producer, and now a chef, Clyde brings a much-needed levity to skating that it often isn’t ready for, that's because it’s often real and on the nose. That’s the thing, skateboarding wants to say it’s for everyone but is quick to set rules and standards as soon as its conventions are challenged. That was never a problem for Clyde, who used his Instagram platform throughout Black History Month to celebrate the paramount contributions to skateboarding and elevate the heritage it wildly overlooks. 

Currently working on a podcast and book series, I connected with Clyde to not only hear more about where he’s at and what he’s working on but also to look back at The Minority Report (2007), an independent video he produced with some backing by The Skateboard Mag that stands as the first Black directed skate video, which stands as a milestone. The Minority Report featured a roster entirely of people of color but more importantly, it was the first to be driven by them. It’s also worth noting that one of the first Black videographers in the game, current Bones Bearings Team Manager Vern Laird, contributed to the video and was a key filmer at 411 Video Magazine in the late-90s - a time when the vast majority of people framing skateboarding were white dudes. This is the type of knowledge Clyde spent a month dropping, so if you’re not following his Instagram account, dig back in and learn about Ned “Peanut” Brown, Chuck Dinkins, Alyasha Owerka-Moore, and the deep Black history of skateboarding that many are unaware of.

Now let’s catch up with Clyde.

Clyde Singleton interview 1 101 Skateboards - Clyde introduction Ad 1995

You’ve been one of the few Black skaters who’s been vocal both during your career and after. Why do you think other Black skaters are reserved about addressing racism?

It's weird, like a slave mentality. Once you get into a really comfortable spot a lot of people don’t want to nudge that spot. It’s like the saying “The House Negro.” Once some Black folks get up in the house, they want their seat at the table and won’t do anything to disrupt that. I can't speak for everyone but, it's a sacrifice that people just aren't going to make. It’s almost like being a battered dog - the dog gets beat so much that it just becomes normal. The dog knows when a hand is raised to cower. That's how a lot of Black people are in with racism to the point where speaking up almost becomes a punishment. That’s why there’s so much tip-toeing about racism. For myself, it’s a little different, I do my own thing and realistically I don't give a fuck to be honest.

You’ve been posting a lot of knowledge for Black History Month on Instagram and Facebook and I still get shocked when people respond negatively to it.

I started to do it to show appreciation. I touched on this when I posted about Marty Grimes, the first Black pro skater. I mentioned in the caption that I saw a photo of Marty and the photographer just HAD to let you know that there was a known racist in the photo. Why? I have no idea. It's kinda like posting a photo of James Brown, with Richard Nixon during Black History Month. How hard could it really be to just acknowledge this man’s greatness, how much of a trailblazer he actually was/is? Pay your respects and keep it moving? I try to keep that space for appreciation and not give to people out there salivating to argue. There's always someone jumping in, trying to “clarify” the story or something. It's like, nah, why don't you shut the fuck up and let someone Black tell the fucking story, like without interruption. There’s a lot of names being protected in skateboarding because it’s business. Only a fool couldn’t see through that. Skateboarding is like any other business in that it lacks people of color in power, it lacks women power. It’s old white people money.

Clyde Singleton interview 2 Clockwise from top left: Chuck Dinkins for Walker Skateboards, 1988. Gershon Mosley for “ill” Thrasher, July 1995. Steve Steadham’s “Team Steadham Corp” Ad in Thrasher, September 1988.

Can you talk about that dynamic a little more because I think you nailed the problems in skating exactly?

I think Drake Jones is the perfect example. He’s almost the prototype - I’ve seen it over and over. Drake had style and stood out but it’s easier to just replace him with someone else than give him a long career. You just replace him when he isn’t needed. It’s like rock ’n roll. The companies just get a younger version of that person. It’s not even about skating, it’s about being able to rehash something. People talk about Drake’s style because it was unique. There wasn’t anyone for him to look at and copy. There wasn’t anyone back then for us to copy, so that’s why he stood out but then it gets watered down because when you don’t need him, you find someone like him. You see it a lot now, you got the guy pushing their overextended tricks trying to have “style.” That’s not style, that’s corny as fuck but you can’t tell people that because it takes away from the narrative. People freak out about Tony Hawk being a 50-something-year-old skater but no one says anything about Ron Allen being a 55-year-old street skater.

"I think back to growing up in Florida and filming with my buddy Robert, then everyone went to his house to watch the footage and edit their tapes and I’d be back at my house fucking pissed because apparently his parents didn’t like Black people and I wasn’t allowed over."

That ties right into what happened with Stevie Williams. Here’s a young skater with no one to copy who comes out with an original style and a ton of talent and he couldn’t get a sponsor back in the day.

His style of skating wasn’t appreciated back then. It didn’t speak to people in the industry, therefore he was held to a higher standard. You know what I mean? And even when he gets on a company, he’s only one guy. Everyone starts looking at him to get put on and he’s a teenager. It's such a tricky thing like being Black and getting put on because your friends don’t understand the dynamics. This isn’t like the fucking Wu-Tang Clan, I can’t just walk everyone up in the office and give out record deals. It takes time. Stevie had to go out to California to literally make it out of Philly and have a career in skating. It took time but now he has his own thing. There are a lot more people like him out there and I think the Black story is very important to tell in skateboarding because it’s not that old but racism in America is the oldest thing in the book. The Civil Rights movement was not that long ago. I think back to growing up in Florida and filming with my buddy Robert, then everyone went to his house to watch the footage and edit their tapes and I’d be back at my house fucking pissed because apparently his parents didn’t like Black people and I wasn’t allowed over. But honestly, that just gave me the fire to make it. That gave me the fire to skate more instead of letting that burn me up. People talk about skateboarding being "colorblind" but they don’t know what it’s like to be the only Black person in the room or in the van. There’s nothing cool about that.

Clyde Singleton interview 3 Left: Sean Sheffey Life Skateboards Ad, 1991. Right: Kenny Hughes Element Skateboards Ad Transworld, 1998.

And it never gets addressed or talked about and if it does come up, it’s immediately that double-edged sword dynamic you mentioned.

I don't know if you guys also notice but the white part of skateboarding is completely covered. It’s 1000% covered but the history of Black skateboarders is an untapped thing, the history of Brazilian skaters is untapped. I want to speak to them because you know they have stories about growing up in the slums and what they had to deal with—not just racism from white people but racism from other Black people because they had darker skin. I really want to cover that. How many more stories can you read about a bunch of dudes in a fucking pontoon boat looking for a full pipe or some dudes shirtless in a van touching each other? That shit does nothing for me.

What led you to want to make The Minority Report?

I got sick of seeing the same narrative and I got sick of complaining. I was like, "Fuck it. I’ll make the video I want to see with the skaters that represent what I like in skateboarding." I was seeing the same fucking videos forever. There was a void and a lot of the younger guys at the time just wanted to be seen - they didn’t want much more than to get some skateboards. They weren't trying to ask for money or an apartment, just to film and get their foot in the door. I never made a video and I was working at Brooklyn Projects at the time, so I got a second laptop, an external hard-drive, downloaded a program and learned by trial and error. Mr Len from Company Flow gave me a ton of music and got me in touch with Jean Grae so somehow I had all the music ready. Because I was working with The Skateboard Mag I was able to get them to put out an ad and sponsor it. They hooked the ad up for free. So this is where it got good. I went back to all the skaters who were getting flowed in the video and had them ask their sponsors to distribute the video. I ended up selling close to 11,000 copies before the thing was even made.

I didn't have an apartment. I didn’t even have a fucking monitor. I didn't know how to save files at first. My friend Dennis would come over and help me out. People would keep sending footage and it just came together like a mixtape. I didn’t want anyone to have parts because I always liked the montages in videos. I didn’t put anyone’s names in the footage because I want them to stand out, like, "You know exactly who the fuck this is and if you don’t, I’ll list everyone out in sequence at the end." It came out perfectly but I ended up having problems with the distributor and was owed a lot of money. I got so fucking pissed and moved back home and was pretty much over the skateboarding industry for a while.

"Fuck it. I’ll make the video I want to see with the skaters that represent what I like in skateboarding."

Clyde Singleton interview 4 Left; Clyde, Aesthetics Skateboards ad, 2000. Right: Clyde, 101 Skateboards ad Thrasher, August 1995.

It’s crazy to think that since The Minority Report there's still been so few videos made by Black skaters. You have Gang Corp and most recently, what Davonte Jolly accomplished with GODSPEED, which I think was amazing, but because of the internet, a lot of people are arguing about the music or the filming.

It’s so fucking stupid. That video is amazing. What’s the problem? It’s not a Supreme video? There’s not some Baker dude playing the guitar for your part? I want something I can relate to. Everything doesn’t have to be some theatrical hammer with you and your buddies in vests hugging each other and running around. I love Jolly’s videos. How can people complain about the music? He’s got Frank Ocean in there - a fucking Grammy Award-winning artist. I like how all those dudes stuck together and blew up together. Jolly and those dudes aren’t gonna conform - I love that. He makes films he wants to make with the people he wants to make them with, and that is fucking awesome. That is power. I'm fucking 46-years-old and I watch that video at least once or twice a week, at least. Clean skating with all the tricks hit on the beat? I can relate to that.

So now you’ve got a successful cooking career going with The Ollie Llama (@theolliellamagram) and you’re moving back to Florida. What else do you have coming up?

I’m just psyched to be on the road. I’m more productive on the road, so I’m going to work on some podcasts and turn the Black Skateboarding History content into a book. The plan is to launch some smaller versions quarterly then come out with a big one at the end of the year. I already have content together, it’s just gathering it all up. I got the van, I got these projects, and I can just be on the road and gather footage for another video project too. It’s not going to be easy but I have a few people helping out and it should be off to a very good start. 

Clyde's Insta

Big Thanks to Chromeball

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