Five years after becoming a viral sensation, controversial rapper and influencer Lil Tay found herself back in the headlines in August 2023, first when a heartfelt announcement of her untimely death at 14 was posted to her Instagram page, and then, the next day, when she resurfaced with a statement via her family to TMZ, claiming her account had been hacked and she was alive and well.
The next month, Tay dropped her debut single, “Sucker 4 Green,” the timing of which drew more questions than answers.
So, what really happened? Months after the post went live, the truth behind who perpetrated the death hoax is still muddled.
In her first lengthy interview since the death hoax, Tay sheds little light on her rise to viral sensation and then essentially vanishing from social media in the spring of 2018 due to a bitter court battle between her parents, Angela Tian and Christopher Hope. The teen blames her estranged father for the death hoax, alleging his plans to “sabotage” her planned comeback.
Here’s what we know for now, from the background on Lil Tay, to the rumors of her death, to a bizarre crypto connection that makes everything even more confusing.
WHO IS LIL TAY?
Lil Tay rose to internet fame in 2018, when she was just nine years old, calling herself the “youngest flexer of the century.” She posted controversial videos on social media, which included her appearing to smoke, driving expensive cars and flaunting stacks of cash. She also had a short-lived feud with Danielle Bregoli aka Bhad Bhabie, and was interviewed by Jake Paul in a YouTube video that has over 1.6 million views to date.
Following claims that Tay was being coached by her brother, Jason Tian, and mother, Angela Tian, she and her mom gave an interview to Good Morning America in May 2018.
“People think it’s funny, I guess, cause I’m nine years old and I’ve accomplished so much,” Tay told GMA. “I’m the youngest flexer. I can do anything I like. If they don’t believe me, I don’t care.”
However, Tay seemed to disappear from the public eye as quickly as she entered it. Her online presence was almost entirely scrubbed and the later-deleted Instagram post announcing her death was the first on her page in five years, with the last post before that being a tribute mourning the death of another young rapper, XXXTentacion, who was killed in an armed robbery in June 2018.
“X you truly changed me ❤️,” she wrote, sharing a screenshot of the two FaceTiming. “You were there for me when everyone wanted me to fail, you were there to give me advice, you were there. As a father figure, when I don’t have one, you were here, FaceTiming me and calling me for hours when I’m down, 3 hours ago you announced the Charity event we were going to throw, we had everything setup, I can’t believe this, the evil in the world, This isn’t good Bye I Love you Bro ❤️💔😔😢❤️.”
In October 2018, someone identifying themselves only as a person who “previously worked with Tay” and has “seen everything unfold since the beginning,” posted an eight-part series on Lil Tay’s Instagram, accusing her father, a Vancouver lawyer named Christopher John Hope, of abusive behavior.
The later-deleted posts — shared by The Daily Beast — alleged Hope was behind the rapper’s sudden disappearance, and had court-ordered her back to Canada to profit off her success. They also accused Hope of sexual impropriety with his daughter, and alleged that his new partner was verbally and physically abusive to Tay.
According to two sources who spoke with The Daily Beast at the time, the only part of the allegations that were true were that Hope had court-ordered Tay back to Canada, as he had full legal custody. Hope also claimed in court documents obtained by The Blast that he had full legal power over his then-10-year-old daughter.
“Christopher Hope does not want any money from Lil Tay,” Tay’s former manager, Harry Tsang, said at the time. “There are only three things he wants to see. First, no more crazy videos of cursing from Tay. Second, 25% 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.”
Hope later sent a cease and desist to Instagram — obtained by The Blast — claiming that Tay’s brother Jason had assumed control of her social media accounts and has “encouraged others” to “conduct criminal extortion and harassment.”
He added the posts had resulted in “threats, including death threats and other threats of bodily harm against myself.”
The posts were removed shortly thereafter, but Jason shared similar allegations of abuse in an April 2021 GoFundMe set up under the name “Save Tay from a Life of Abuse (saveliltay.com).” The GoFundMe is still active and receiving donations, which Tay’s brother claims will go toward a custody battle against her father.
“Starting April 23, 2021, Tay will be on trial in the BC Supreme Court of Canada up against her absentee father Chris Hope, who along with his wife Hanee Hope (previously known as Richanee Alcover), had physically and mentally abused her,” Jason wrote. “Chris Hope is fighting to permanently gain control of her career as well as custody over her.”
“I want to take this time to personally thank everyone that believe the truth and supported Tay even through the conspiracy theories, please realize a Supreme court case directly involving a minor is not public information, all documents are sealed and will not show up in the registry, the truth will eventually come out,” he continued. “Chris Hope owes $400,000+ in child support and has stolen millions, I am just now speaking out about this because I am no longer a minor and now have the right to do so without harming my family legally. All people alleging that I am ‘stealing money’ through a GoFundMe please look at the facts. Look at the police reports about the abuse, this is a serious situation.”
On Aug. 9, 2023, a statement was posted to Lil Tay’s Instagram page — reportedly by her family — claiming that she and her brother, Jason Tian, had died and that the circumstances surrounding their death remained under investigation.
“It is with a heavy heart that we share the devastating news of our beloved Claire’s sudden and tragic passing,” the now-deleted statement read. “We have no words to express the unbearable loss and indescribable pain. This outcome was entirely unexpected, and has left us all in shock. Her brother’s passing adds an even more unimaginable depth to our grief.”
“During this time of immense sorrow, we kindly ask for privacy as we grieve this overwhelming loss, as the circumstances surrounding Claire and her brother’s passing are still under investigation,” the statement continued. “Claire will forever remain in our hearts, her absence leaving an irreplaceable void that will be felt by all who knew and loved her.”
Following the announcement of her death, Tay’s former manager called for “cautious consideration” when it came to the news.
In a statement to ET, Tsang said, “Given the complexities of the current circumstances, I am at a point where I cannot definitively confirm or dismiss the legitimacy of the statement issued by the family.” He added, “This situation calls for cautious consideration and respect for the sensitivities involved.”
The next day, Aug. 10, 2023, Tay released a statement to TMZ saying that she was alive and her Instagram had been hacked to release the false report of her death.
In a statement provided by Tay’s family to the outlet, she said, “I want to make it clear that my brother and I are safe and alive, but I’m completely heartbroken, and struggling to even find the right words to say. It’s been a very traumatizing 24 hours. All day yesterday, I was bombarded with endless heartbreaking and tearful phone calls from loved ones all while trying to sort out this mess.”
“My Instagram account was compromised by a 3rd party and used to spread jarring misinformation and rumors regarding me, to the point that even my name was wrong,” she continued. “My legal name is Tay Tian, not ‘Claire Hope.'”
Tay claimed that the team at Meta had helped her regain control of her account, however, no pictures or videos have yet been posted.
FORMER MANAGER’S CONCERNS
Following the statement denying Tay’s death, her former manager, Harry Tsang — whose current Twitter bio still refers to him as “That Asian Guy on Liltay’s Video” and claims “Yes I am a real influencer” — gave a statement to ET saying, “I find relief in the fact that she is safe. However, I believe the reported hacking incident may not have occurred.”
“My rationale for this perspective is twofold: firstly, the restoration of a compromised account on platforms like Meta/Instagram typically does not necessitate a 24-hour timeframe,” Tsang continued. “Secondly, the actions of Liltay’s brother, renowned for his propensity for extreme measures, lead me to hypothesize an alternative motive behind this occurrence. It is conceivable that the intention behind these events could be rooted in an endeavor to illicitly extract funds from devoted supporters and unwitting bystanders.”
“Simultaneously, if the underlying motive is indeed to rekindle Liltay’s prominence within the public sphere, I contend that such actions demonstrate a certain degree of irresponsibility. It’s essential to consider the potential repercussions of employing such tactics, particularly given their potential impact on the perceptions and sentiments of the broader audience,” he concluded.
Following the death rumors, Rolling Stone uncovered a bizarre new tangle in the story — that Tsang was named as the CEO of a cryptocurrency called Lil Tay Token, which uses Tay’s name and likeness.
“Good Morning Legends! Our CEO Harry Tsang has been active with the mainstream media, there are certain things we’re unable to address at the moment. This situation calls for cautious consideration and respect for the sensitivities involved,” read a tweet from the crypto brand posted on Aug. 10, the same day Tay’s family issued the statement saying she wasn’t dead.
Rolling Stone also reported that, for a time, Tsang’s personal website, www.theharryvoice.com, redirected to Lil Tay Token, though the site now says that it is down for maintenance.
The Lil Tay Token Twitter account later shared two more tweets in an attempt to clarify their earlier statement.
“Our response was due to the fact that our CEO managed Liltay,” they wrote. “We had no direct connection with the information released on Instagram. This was personal to him so we had to address it immediately.”
In reference to the actual Lil Tay crypto brand, they wrote, “Sharing this to let everybody know that we will not be launching anything soon. We’ve been in development for 4-5 months now. If anybody is reaching out to you for money saying they’re involved with $liltay it’s not true. If you see another token/coin with liltay it’s a scam.”
Tsang later told ET that he no longer wants to launch the Lil Tay token amid the current headlines about her family, explaining, “I don’t want to rip people off.”
TAY SPEAKS OUT
“I really wanted to get things going,” Tay told Rolling Stone in her first interview after the hoax, published on Nov. 14. “And this was just something that came out of absolutely nowhere. And I had to clean up.”
The teen — whom the article notes is 16, per court records — said that she “always had a vision of myself becoming famous.”
“It was something I wanted to do,” she added. “And I just spoke it into reality.”
She told the outlet that her comeback was planned before the Aug. 9 Instagram post was published, but the truth behind who perpetrated the death hoax is still muddled. Tay, her mother, and her half-brother, Jason, blame her father as well as her former manager, Harry Tsang.
“I had some songs that I wanted to put out after winning my freedom,” Tay told Rolling Stone, claiming that her father orchestrated the hoax as a “last resort” to “sabotage” her career. “And thankfully, I did. So I was looking to get back on track as soon as I could. And then the death thing happens.”
According to court documents obtained by Rolling Stone, Hope obtained a court order in May 2018 requiring Tay be brought back to Vancouver from L.A. when she started missing too much school.
“She was onstage with a bunch of adults in adult situations at the age of 11, getting in these fights,” Hope told the outlet, explaining that he sought the court order after a teacher allegedly expressed concern over Tay’s online content. “That was completely the opposite of what I wanted to happen. I wanted them to find some kind of manager who would give her advice about getting into acting and singing.”
Tian alleged that Hope refused to sign any contracts related to Tay’s career, claiming he sought an order to prevent Tay from posting on social media. Around the same time, Tian and Tay accused Hope of domestic and sexual abuse, which he denied.
Calling the allegations “totally and obviously extremely false,” Hope told the outlet that he would “never, never have, never would hit [Tay, or] do anything that caused her any harm.”
When it comes to the death hoax, both Hope and Tsang deny involvement, with the latter proposing that Jason used the hoax as a publicity stunt leading to Tay’s comeback. Jason also denies making the post.
“Somebody has a strategy that a good way to get publicity is to make accusations against me,” Hope told the outlet. “They’re all false.”
Tay shut down speculation that her brother perpetrated the death hoax, simply telling Rolling Stone, “There’s always going to be conspiracy theories. If you want to make conspiracy theories, I can’t stop you.”
She added that although she and her brother created the “Lil Tay” character together, “I am the one that’s always wanted to become famous. I was the one who had a vision for myself as an artist, and I made it happen.”