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He’s So Dope
Before he was DJ Clockwork, spinning discs for rapper Mac Miller and lighting up the airwaves and MTV, he was Garrett Uddin, spinning discs at UC parties and sparking up in his off-campus apartment. A modern-day Horatio Alger story. With weed.
The driveway snakes up a wooded slope at the base of a mountain overlooking Studio City on the northwest edge of Los Angeles. It ends in front of a three-story mansion so expansive you have to crane your neck to see the roof. Spotlights flood the terraces that surround the house, illuminating a gorgeous infinity pool with lights that shift from blue to purple to green every few seconds. Standing in the massive double doorway, his cheeks pressed back by a huge grin, is DJ Clockwork. “Welcome to the crib,” he says.
Inside, a two-story entry opens to a grand staircase with two-toned granite and ornate wrought-iron railings that splits into two additional staircases at the top of the landing. There are six bedrooms, seven bathrooms, four fireplaces, and a five-car garage. All told, the house encompasses more than 6,000 square feet—and every inch of it reeks with the sweet, decadent funk of marijuana. This is the home that rapper Mac Miller has leased for himself and his posse, of which DJ Clockwork is a made member, along with Q (Mac’s manager), Jimmy (Mac’s childhood friend), and Big Dave (Mac’s bodyguard). At the moment there is also a television crew gathered in the kitchen, waiting to film another scene in season two of the MTV reality show Mac Miller and the Most Dope Family.
Clockwork bounces up the staircase to his bedroom, where Q and Big Dave are hanging out, listening to a new mix tape he’s been working on. His room is small and square, a couple of beanbag chairs here, a lava lamp there, and 17 pairs of brightly colored sneakers lined up next to his bed.
Clockwork lights a blunt, the flame reflecting off his glasses, and passes it around the room as Big Dave and Q nod their heads in time to the music. An MTV producer appears in the doorway. “We’re ready for you guys downstairs,” she says.
“Is Mac down there?” Clock asks.
“He’s on his way up from the studio right now.”
Clock and Q share a knowing a glance. No one budges. Big Dave, a six-foot-one, 300-pound former NFL defensive lineman built like a tree trunk, doesn’t even glance up from his phone. “I’m not moving until I hear Mac’s voice,” Clockwork chortles.
The official DJ for Mac Miller, Clockwork left Cincinnati a year ago, the city where he’d lived and strived for 28 years, to be in Los Angeles full-time. It was a big step, for sure, another in a series of (mostly) steady steps in his fortuitous self-made journey from scratching at college parties in Clifton to globetrotting concert dates with a hip-hop luminary.
A few minutes (and tokes) after getting their call, the three Most Dope Family members head downstairs at a leisurely pace. The cameras are already in position around the open-concept living room, the producers viewing each angle through handheld mini-screens. As someone from the crew mics the housemates, the glass door to the kitchen slides open and Mac Miller steps through, ascending from his on-site studio, a converted guest suite one floor below. Mac is short—five-seven, maybe five-eight—his pale face sprouting a few days growth, his bloodshot eyes exuding his signature friendly-yet-mischievous look.
“All right, let’s go,” says Mac, feigning seriousness. “Some of us have important producers we have to meet with.” His new digital-only live album drops at midnight, which is just a few hours away back on the East Coast.
The lead producer—slight, sleep-deprived, and in his early 30s—takes that as his cue to explain the final shot they need for the day. Clock, Q, Big Dave, and another member of Mac’s management team have been out filming a friendly competition. Because this is reality TV, that means challenges and personalized team-colored shirts were required. Truth be told, racing around on Segways and staging a hot dog eating contest is not the most dope thing that the Most Dope Family would normally be doing on any given day. But with their show pulling in 300,000 viewers each week during its first season, dopiness is currently in vogue. The upcoming scene, for instance, will record the competitors as they return to inform Mac and Jimmy of the contest’s outcome. In actual reality, Mac and Jimmy learned the results after their roommates—including a victorious Q and Big Dave—got home from the bowling alley a few hours earlier. But since 21st century television has appropriated and stretched the definition of reality beyond anything heretofore acknowledged as real, this is no big thing.
After the cameramen, soundmen, and best boys settle into place, Clockwork and the others enter a room they just left, greet the same roommates they were just talking to, recount the ersatz events of a day everyone already knows all about, and Mac awards Q and Big Dave the honor of being the godparents to his new pair of terrier poodle puppies. Once again, the line between fantasy and reality has been blurred with subliminal ease.
Garrett Uddin remembers the exact moment when he realized he wanted to be a DJ.
“I saw Sir Mix-a-Lot’s music video for ‘Baby Got Back,’” says the artist known as DJ Clockwork. “This is no lie. There was a guy in the video deejaying on top of some butt cheeks, and I was like, I really want to be that guy. That was my motivation. I was maybe 12 years old.”
As pop cultural eureka moments go, it may not have the heft of a young Bruce Springsteen seeing the Beatles on the The Ed Sullivan Show, but it’s still pretty brilliant. Clockwork—which is what everybody calls him now, save for his parents—has been involved with music since an early age, when his mom forced him to take piano lessons from the mother of one of his classmates. “I absolutely hated it,” he says. “It was the worst thing as a kid. But thank God my mom did that, because it changed my life for the better.”
Growing up, first in Corryville, then Evanston, the six Uddin siblings were always involved in different activities—sports, music, art—but it was music that Garrett latched on to, solidified by the derrière-loving stylings of Sir Mix-a-Lot. He was the first among his four brothers and one sister to attend the School for Creative and Performing Arts for high school, and around age 15 he got a job at a Dippin’ Dots stand at Kings Island, saving up all of his earnings to buy a two-deck turntable. Once he figured out how to hook it up correctly—which took a few months—he spent hours practicing after school at his house or with friends. “The first gig I had was my high school homecoming,” says Clockwork. “We had it in the cafeteria, and I deejayed. It was wild.”
As for his stage name, that came naturally. “When I was younger, I was always getting into trouble,” he says. “One day I got sent home from school and my oldest brother, Demetreous, was like, ‘You’re always in trouble, man. You get into trouble like clockwork.’ Gradually, people just started calling me Clockwork.”
He enrolled in the University of Cincinnati in 2004 to study communications but continued deejaying on the side, picking up random gigs at college parties before meeting Sean Herron, a local event promoter who started booking him at 18-and-up club nights at Exchange, Red Cheetah, and the Mad Hatter. “I was just trying to build my name and build my brand,” says Clockwork. “I didn’t even have a manager at the time. I was still running around like, ‘Hey, call my cell phone.’ ”
Then the needle jumped the record. Clockwork got involved in drug dealing in college. It started small, a quick way to pick up some easy cash, before rapidly spiraling out of control. “I was just caught up with the wrong people,” he says. “I was selling a little weed, and then it started getting bigger than that.”
“Coke,” he says with an embarrassed grin. “At the time I was thinking I could be this college kid and be inconspicuous and still sell drugs and never get caught. That was completely wrong. I got caught.”
In April 2007, he was arrested and charged with separate counts of possession and trafficking in cocaine. He claims that one of his friends, who had access to his apartment, set up shop one day, making coke deals in the living room while Clockwork was in class. Cops busted the place that same day, and because Clockwork’s name was on the lease, he was implicated. He maintains he was innocent. Yes, it was his apartment and he had been involved in other dealing, he says, but he had no idea his apartment was being used as a coke house. After months of litigation in court, the possession charge was dismissed, with Clock pleading guilty to a reduced charge of trafficking. His punishment? He was put on probation and his driver’s license was suspended. “That’s why I can’t do Canada tour dates,” he says with a chuckle.
“It was scary,” his mother, Veta Uddin, says. “I was furious and nervous. [His father and I] really had a heart-to-heart with him. We all have bumps in the road, but I still say this to him today: Be aware of your surroundings. Be aware of what’s going on around you.”
It’s advice that her son took to heart. “When that whole thing happened, that’s what really made me start to focus on music,” says Clockwork. “It really turned my life around. I was either gonna continue to sell drugs or be dead. That’s the only way the drug game goes. You die or you go to jail. There’s no in-between. I had to choose otherwise.”
Two years later, Clockwork scored his first big break. Herron, who was still booking him at nightclub gigs around town, introduced him to Hi-Tek, a rapper and producer who works out of a studio in Covington with well-respected MCs like Talib Kweli and Mos Def. When Tek and Kweli reunited their Reflection Eternal group for a tour in late 2009, they tapped Clockwork as their touring DJ. In early 2010, Herron created SelfDiploma, a booking and entertainment company focused on bringing national hip-hop artists to Cincinnati and teaming them with local rappers as opening acts. Herron also officially took on Clockwork as a client, making him the house DJ for any SelfDiploma event and taking over full management of his bookings. “[He] loved the touring experience [with Reflection Eternal], so I thought, Who else can I send Clock out with?,” says Herron. “I wanted to find an artist that he could grow with.”
Later that year, someone turned Herron on to Mac Miller, an 18-year-old white rapper out of Pittsburgh whose homemade videos were attracting hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube. In Miller, Herron saw a young, social-media-savvy talent that Clock could flourish with, so he booked Miller for a four-stop mini-tour (Columbus, Cincinnati, Dayton, and Lexington), charging $10 a ticket for the rapper’s first performances outside his hometown market. SelfDiploma paid Miller $400 and a bottle of liquor for each night.
“Even if the tour didn’t make money, I just wanted [Mac and Clockwork] to be homies, because I believed in Mac,” says Herron. “And they hit it off. That’s the thing with Clock and his personality—I don’t know many people who don’t hit it off with Clock.”
The small tour paid off in a big way. Miller had signed to Rostrum Records, a tiny hip-hop label based in Pittsburgh, earlier in 2010; in November 2011 his debut album, Blue Slide Park, reached number one on the Billboard 200 chart—the first independent release to hit the top spot since Tha Dogg Pound’s Dogg Food in 1995. In 15 months, he went from performing in front of 300 people in Cincinnati—for four C-notes and a bottle of Grey Goose—to having the number one album and a spot on MTV’s 2011 New Year’s Eve celebration. In 2012, Forbes reported that Miller earned $6.5 million, a figure he may very well have surpassed in 2013 when season one of Mac Miller and the Most Dope Family debuted on MTV2.
Timing is everything, a truism Herron clearly has a good grip on. Hooking Clockwork up with Miller was a smart managing move. As Miller’s star has risen, he’s pulled his posse up with him. Hence Clockwork’s move to Los Angeles last spring and his prominent role on the show this season.
“Who knows, I might become the next Snooki,” says Clockwork, referring to the ubiquitous Jersey Shore starlet turned tabloid celebrity snack food. “Snooki is looking good now, by the way.”
Clockwork scrolls through his phone in a small storage room at the Canoga Park Boys & Girls Club, deep in the San Fernando Valley. It’s late December, which semi-explains why he’s clad in a gently used Santa Claus coat and pants, with a bushy white beard pulled down around his neck, a black-and-teal snapback hat perched backwards on his head, and a pair of Jordans obscuring his (also teal) Bart Simpson socks. “This show is a lot of hurry-up-and-wait,” he says.
Today is the last day of filming for season two of Mac Miller and the Most Dope Family, which is set to premiere this year, and the guys find themselves in the midst of yet another meta-reality moment. Mac is here to tell the kids about the importance of kindness and giving during the holiday season, and to deliver some presents. The bleary-eyed producer from the previous day pokes his head in the storage room to let Clock know they’re ready for him. Scooping up gift bags in each hand, Clockwork turns the corner into the gymnasium where Mac has been shooting hoops and chatting with the kids. “What’s up Santa Clock!” Mac hollers. The kids all laugh in unison.
Mac and the Most Dope crew aren’t actors so much as reactors, placed in potentially entertaining made-for-TV situations. Unlike a lot of MTV’s reality programming, where the show introduces new personas to the world and stokes their notoriety, Mac was already a known commodity before they ever filmed an episode—a multi-millionaire rapper living in his on-screen rented mansion, working and socializing with his on-screen “family.”
“Most MTV shows, they give them the house to live in,” says Clockwork. “But the house is actually where we live. You wake up in the morning, go downstairs, and there are 10 cameras.”
That the show is also jumping from MTV2 to the main channel for its second season is evidence of how strongly Mac resonates with MTV’s under-25 age demographic. Season one was the highest rated original debut season in MTV2 history, ranking tops among male teens in its late-night time slot. It’s afforded the show more resources and opportunities, including filming in Europe and Hawaii. (“I was in a luau contest with coconuts on my breasts,” says Clockwork. “I came in second place.”) Even for people like Mac—and especially for someone like Clockwork—it amps their pop cultural visibility. But there can be downsides, too.
“I’m afraid to watch it,” says Clock’s mother, Veta, laughing a little nervously. “I’m gonna watch it, but my concern—and I shared this with him—is: just don’t be a buffoon.” She may not want to watch that Hawaii episode.
For Mac and the guys, the show is mainly a platform to promote their first love—making music. The music is what pays the bills, what keeps the cameras interested. It’s earned them millions of YouTube hits along with press coverage, late-night television appearances, and international tours. This past winter, they opened for Lil Wayne all through Europe. “Every night we were the first people going out there in front of 15,000 people,” says Clockwork. “That was an awesome experience.”
“I think when they started going to Europe is when it really hit me,” says Veta. “I was like, OK, this is for real.”
The past few years have resulted in dreams lived and fulfilled for Clockwork, a by-product of his talent and Mac’s, as well as the loyalty they’ve shown each other. “Mac has adopted Clockwork to his team,” says Herron. “They had their little Pittsburgh clique, but Clock fit right in.”
Q, who has managed Mac since high school, feels the same way. On the outdoor court behind the Boys & Girls Club, he’s shooting hoops and checking his phone while waiting for things to finish up inside. “Clock keeps us on track, musically,” Q says, his jump shot caroming off the rim. “[He and Mac] definitely influence each other. We really look to Clock as a creative leader.”
So it really is a family, one in which Clockwork has carved out a role that allows him to earn a living doing what he loves. His relationship with Mac has also given him entrée to other musical avenues, such as producing and rapping. But Clock doesn’t plan to give up his turntables anytime soon.
“First of all, the stage ain’t shit without a DJ, and the party ain’t shit without a DJ,” he says. “People need to realize that. It’s the DJ that gets it going.”
Ralph and Lauren, the terrier poodle puppies, scurry around Mac’s living room while Deep Impact plays on the 80-inch Aquos television. The coffee table, as big as the screen it sits beneath, is dotted with empty cans of Sprite and Mountain Dew, neglected bottles of ketchup and mayonnaise, and day-old Styrofoam carryout containers. And then there’s that ever-present smell of weed. The place is more or less a frat mansion, fitting nicely with the laid-back, college stoner vibe that Mac’s family projects—a few easy-going guys in their 20s with more disposable income than they know what to do with.
The thumping bass from Mac’s converted studio, just a floor below the living room, cuts out. A minute later Mac and Clockwork enter through the side door, eyes bloodshot, talking in a hushed tone. The studio gets a lot of use. Despite the lurking cameras and constant blunt-induced haze, there’s no lack of effort among the Most Dope Family. Legitimate downtime is often interrupted by someone vanishing into the studio to lay down some new beats and rhymes, or to huddle around a laptop to listen to tracks. Discussions about girls and sneakers and which bar they should venture to later always seem to flow into the next project, the next show, the next album. It’s not pulling a double-shift at the coal mine or digging ditches in the blistering sun, but for a group of increasingly famous and suddenly rich homies, the dedication to their craft is impressive.
“I’m just trying to do as much as possible with music while I’m still young, while people still know who the fuck
I am,” says Clockwork, reclining on the sectional couch in the living room. It’s why he loves living in L.A.—everyone is always working, “always on their grind,” he says, now fiddling with the television remote. Complacency breeds stagnancy, and in the music biz, stagnancy equals irrelevance.
It’s the most intriguing aspect of this Hollywood hip-hop lifestyle Clock’s now living. Subsumed by the MTV show, flight itineraries to Hawaii or Copenhagen, routine deliveries of free clothes, it’s easy to overlook that few ever reach this point purely on luck—without that Gladwellian theorem of endless hours of hard work and countless attempts that result in failure, without undying loyalty and a solid support system. General day-to-day worries and concerns still apply; the desire to improve and prosper and succeed still burns. It’s why that line between reality and fantasy is so blurred, beyond even what’s seen through the lens of a TV camera.
Suddenly, Clock falls silent. He looks perplexed. His eyes drop from Deep Impact to the remote in his hand, rows of glowing buttons staring back at him.
“See, that’s the problem with expensive shit,” he says, tossing the remote aside. “It’s confusing.”
Does he miss anything from back home? “Oh, Grippo’s for sure,” says Clockwork, rubbing his stomach.
Clock may be reveling in hip-hop largesse in L.A. but he is still a Cincy kid at heart. The signs are there for all to see—the 513 area code tattoo down his right calf, Cincinnati unfurling in script lettering on his left forearm, or the fact that he’s always following exactly 513 people on Twitter. All the places he’s been, all the people he’s met, all the holiday-themed costumes he’s worn for the cameras—none of it has superseded where he comes from.
He’s upstairs now, sharing a blunt with Q and Big Dave as Q loads new music on to Big Dave’s iPod. They all have early flights in the morning—though none have started packing—heading home for Christmas and a few shows back east before landing back in L.A. around the first of the year. After tour dates in Australia and New Zealand, it’s back to the West Coast again to continue work on the next couple of albums. Clockwork hopes to do more producing in the coming year too, maybe even some rapping.
He steps out onto Q’s bedroom balcony, the thumping bass from a few floors down alerting anyone nearby of Mac’s presence in the studio. “The neighbors hate us,” Clock says.
The view from the balcony—one of five—is striking, and with a warm breeze moving through the late-December evening air, the valley lays below them like a blank canvas. Off to the right, the lights of Studio City glow softly. To the left, the mansions grow larger as the street climbs higher up the mountain, an unlit path to Hollywood fame and fortune that fades until it’s too dark to distinguish from the night sky.
“I just want to get better, keep working. Maybe buy a place like this of my own,” Clockwork says, back to contemplating his future. “But for right now, I’m just gonna enjoy this.”
Photography by Scott Council.
Originally published in the April 2014 issue.