Charlamagne Tha God is an icon in the making, for the same reasons that make most icons: Being unapologetically himself and doing things on his own terms. This can be costly, especially early on in a career, which is often the reason that many potential icons give up or compromise their values. There are always people who don’t like you when you rock the boat or dare to stand on your own two feet because they can’t control or guide you at THEIR pace instead of your own. This dynamic has often been paramount (and unfortunate) within the urban radio industry, post-1980. A modern-day Petey Green with a great sense of humor, Charlamagne is surprised by the public perception—after the release of his great New York Times bestselling book “Black Privilege”—that he’s considered “smart.” This revelation, and his reaction to it, speaks volumes not only about the way HE is/was perceived but also about the way Black men are often perceived in general. In our community, the smart kid is often the bullied kid, so dumbing down is a way to fit in—that is, for those who WANT to fit in.
I’ve known Charlamagne for several years and I always knew he was a cut above the rest. Working in the New York market, you’d better be if you want to succeed. But what’s great about Charlamagne is that he is humble, he’s clear about his shortcomings and his strengths, and he’s wise beyond his years. For this issue, I learned a lot about him from several people, including the fact that he is widely respected; the most common thing I heard is that he does great things for people and doesn’t talk about them. Instead of writing about his beginnings here, I urge you to buy the book “Black Privilege.” There is an audio version (which I purchased) and he voiced it. (click NEXT below to see the next page of the story)
I was able to catch up with the busy broadcaster and author recently for an in-depth talk about his career, the radio industry, and his success. Note: The interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length. Enjoy!
What’s up, Charlamagne?
Good! What’s up brother?
I know you’ve got a lot of stuff to do, so I’m going to try to make this real brief. You had success with the book “Black Privilege” this year. What has changed after that?
That’s a great question. I’ve had this conversation with Chris Rock a few times. I’ve had conversations with Chris Rock this year. And Chris Rock has really made a point, very simply, that, I think, sums it all up. And that point is: People think I’m smarter. Which is kind of weird. I would think that I’ve been doing radio all of these years and doing my podcast all these years, and television all these years. I would think that people would know I’m not a dummy. I’m not an expert at anything, per se. And I am not, you know, the most academically sound person. I don’t think I’m a great intellectual. I’m an articulate person, but I’ve never been a dummy. But I think, for some reason, people think I am smarter. And I think they put me—I’ve seen, like, even on TMZ one day, I remember they said: ‘Radio personality, TV Personality, Author, Activist.’ I’m like, Activist? When did I become an Activist? So, it’s just weird the spaces that the book has put me in. But I definitely think it’s the more academic spaces, ‘cause all I’ve been doing out here is speaking at different colleges, so that’s a great thing. I love that. I love touching the kids. I love talking to the students, you know. So that’s a great thing. To keep it simple, as Chris Rock said, people, think I’m smarter.
Well, maybe it’s because [as a radio host] you were always talking to other people, and kind of letting them shine instead of you?
That’s very true, too. I agree with that. You know, I’ve done a lot of interviews, and when I do interviews, people give more insight to me. But I mean, I’m a radio personality. I express my personality on air, and then people see me interviewing people and it is really all about them. I think that’s the sign of a good interviewer. I hate people who do interviews and they try to make it all about them. And even if you listen to the great ones—if you listen to greats, some of the greatest interviewers even to me, like Larry King, Barbara Walters, Diane Sawyer, Oprah Winfrey—they never make it about them. Neeeever. But for some reason, they are just the greatest guides as an interviewer. So, yeah, I mean, that is—that’s what I do. Yeah, you’re absolutely right.
Which actually makes them more interesting at the end of the day. Did you feel that you had to grow from what you were doing before, or are you still pretty much doing the same thing?
I always feel the need to grow. I feel like it’s the positive energy that activates constant elevation. I feel like you should always be growing; you should always be evolving. I’m never looking to stay the same and, I mean, this is a daily thing. You know, this is not even daily sometimes—sometimes hourly. I’m not afraid to unlearn anything I may have already learned in my life. I’m always reading new literature and having new experiences and meeting new people that are assisting my growth and my evolution. I knew when the book came out and did what it had done [that it would]. I believe in writing out your long-term goals and short-term goals. I believe in vision boards, so I can show you old vision boards from five years ago. ‘I’m going to write a New York Times best-selling book.’ I said that five years ago. I know it before I actually do it. I feel like everything happens for a reason. I said it. I started writing this last year, and it came out this year. I just think—I just take it to another level. And when you do things that take you to another level, then you have to go to another level. But I feel that, honestly—honestly? I feel like mentally and spiritually, I was already at that other level. I just needed everybody else to catch up to me. I think that I needed everybody else to just catch up.
Now, are there times that this all seems surreal to you? Or have you pretty much caught up with what’s going on?
Every day, my brother. Every. Single. Day. It all feels so surreal. Because, you know, when you are a kid from Moncks Corner, South Carolina, who has lived the life that I’ve lived, from running the street to being a part-time radio personality in Charleston, South Carolina, I can remember things I said to myself; I can remember declarations that I made out loud. I remember sitting in the studio in Charleston, South Carolina, at 92 Jams and being on the Internet and looking up—I was listening to old Big Tigger interviews, and Star and Buc Wild, Doug Banks, and Tom Joyner—and saying to myself, I am going to be one of them, I want to be a super jock. ‘Cause to me they were super jocks, and they still are super jocks, ‘cause, we had, I think, syndicated in South Carolina was Tom Joyner and Doug Banks. So, to me, those were the guys. I was like, I want to be like them, I want to be one of those guys.
And like, to actually walk into those studios and look around, and [It really is when you go into towns—like I was in Kentucky this weekend, and you hear [syndicated shows] on Kentucky stations like one in the morning in Lexington and Louisville. That’s when it’s like—that’s when it’s really surreal. Like, I’m actually a nationally syndicated radio personality, yeah. And sometimes, it hasn’t hit me that I’ve done five seasons of a television show. I’ve got a New York Times bestselling book. It’s scary, man; it’s scary, because … Everything that I have ever written down and visualized for myself and said I am going to do to this point, I’ve done it. And now I’ve got a whole new set of goals. And I am seeing a lot of those new goals manifest. So, it’s very scary. It makes you guard your mental, tremendously. It makes you keep certain toxic things out of your mind because you realize how powerful your brain is … you need to make sure your thoughts are always positive.
What do you think is the difference between you and the majority of other jocks, who get into the game and can’t ever seem to go past working market to market and never really progress to a new level?
That’s a great question, man. What success is to me is just doing what you love to do and being happy that you’re doing it. So, it’s probably jocks in other markets who are doing well enough in their market for years and they are making a decent living. Their family’s straight, and their kids are straight, and they’re happy—that’s success. So, if you ask me what’s the difference between me and somebody else, the answer to that is, I’m me and they’re them …. I just can’t really qualify or justify why I am doing what I’m doing and somebody else is doing what they’re doing. I just don’t think that’s the path that God has us on.
“I think a lot of times we get more hate and more pushback from people who have already experienced it”
Do you also think that a part of that is that you are your own man? That you think for yourself and that you took risks?
Well, yeah, that’s a good way to look at it, ‘cause I’ve been fired four times in the radio game. And, you know, I think being fired those four times allowed me to always, constantly, feel comfortable being me. You know what I mean? ‘Cause, trust me, there have been plenty of times in my radio career when program directors would tell me that I have too much of an opinion, and I’m not supposed to have an opinion, you know. Or they would put me on liners and try to just get me to say a time and temperature and the positioning statement. And I said, ‘I can’t do that. That’s not me.’ So being fired four times—the ones that hired me knew exactly who they were hiring. And I just think those four firings put me in a position to where [I thought]: Yo! If you’re hiring me, you know exactly what you’re hiring, so …
How did you realize that going home helps you to regroup and refuel to go back out there and be even better than you were before?
I mean, home, home, home is always your center, right? Like, home is always where the majority of people will get their energy from. And I’m a firm believer that whenever you lose something, the best way to find what you lost is to backtrack, right? So, there’s no greater backtrack than going aaaaall the way back to the beginning.
When I went home in 2010, there was really—I had no other choice. It was a financial decision. I mean, I guess me and my wife, we could have thugged it out. We could have thugged it out in New York or New Jersey. But it was—why? You know what I’m saying? And honestly, it was kind of a situation God set up because I had got fired. We literally already had cleaned our apartment out, ‘cause I was literally going to move into my house, my condo in Philly that day, the day I got fired. My wife already had put her two weeks [notice] in. So, we really didn’t have anywhere to go!
We stayed with my wife’s grandma in Brooklyn for a couple of weeks, and we all just drove back to South Carolina, and plus, you know, when I was talking to Kendra G, Kendra G was like, “Yo, go home, spend as much time with your family as you can, because when you get back in position, you’re not going to have time.” And she was absolutely, positively correct.
Who said that?
Kendra G, she does the morning, she did the morning—
Yeah, I know, in Chicago.
Yeah, she’s a really good friend of mine. We were working together in Philly at the time. And I just knew, and I mean, even now, I’m going home this weekend. I’m happy that I’m going home, because my wife—one of my wife’s college best friends is getting married, and so I’m going home on Sunday. And I can’t wait to go sleep in my old room; can’t wait to go sit on my grandmother’s porch—even if it’s just a day. I’m only there for the day, but I need to have that energy right now. You know, to finish the year strong, I needed that.
Right. And then what I found is that, when you come back home, you realize what’s really important.
My next question to you is about working with Angela and Envy. The three of you, as you explained in your book, were all working on sidekick stuff for other people. What is it like when you are off the air? I mean, what would you attribute the show’s success to?
I think that that’s it. I think the fact that we all were co-hosts, we are—were sidekicks, so we all understand how to play our positions. And I think the fact that, we all grown, man. Like, you’re not dealing with kids here; you’re dealing with adults, young adults who got families. Or least me and Envy—me and Envy got families, me and Envy are married. Just, I don’t know, I think we understand each other; we understand each other on an adult level, and we understand each other just on a … I think that’s it. Just on a radio level and just on an adult level, we understand each other. And, like, we’re all watching each other grow, we’re all watching each other evolve, and I think that’s actually where the chemistry comes from. You can’t force the natural chemistry on air, you either got that or you don’t. And I think, what’s made it consistent is just the fact that we’re all watching each other grow, we’re all watching each other evolve. You know, Envy had like three more kids since he’s been on the air. I’ve had another daughter since I’ve been on the air. I’ve gotten married since I’ve been on the air. Angela’s opening up businesses. Like, it’s just different—like my book coming out. This is all new to us, so it’s kind of hard to have an opinion on something that’s new if that makes any sense. [Laughing] You know what I mean? I think a lot of times we get more hate and more pushback from people who have already experienced it, You know what I mean than you would somebody who is just new to it. and it’s all dope shit, like Fetty Wap, that’s doing great. He got an album coming out, and I do all my TV stuff; Angela’s opening up businesses; like, we all doing good.
Are you working on another book or are you gonna chill for a while on that?
No, I’m working on another book right now—right, literally right now. It’s funny because I didn’t want to just jump out there and do another book with the success of this book. And I mean, the book’s still doing great. It’s a book, though; books will do great forever if you’ve got a good book. I didn’t want to just jump out there and do another one, because I didn’t want to do it just for the check, ‘cause, of course, everyone—the booking agent, everyone—saying, “Oh, we going to go out there and get you the next big deal,” and yada, yada, yada. And it’s like, “Naw, I don’t do things for money.” And literally, literally, like the deal was for something, like, my whole life, and I just started to come to terms with—so I’m going to discuss that in the next book. I think it’s something that everybody deals with. They just don’t acknowledge it. But I’ll reveal what that is shortly.
Now you stressed in your last book that you think that being honest is the key to your success. On the side of you having a personal life, and you keep that personal, why do you think that you don’t need to involve your personal life in your success?
Well, I do it! I talk about being a father all the time. I talk about things that I do with my wife; I talk about things that I do with my daughters. I mean, I do that all the time. It’s just that, if you not, like, my friend, you don’t really see [my family]. That’s the funny thing; people always like, “You don’t show your wife.” And I’m like, first of all, my wife’s with me the majority of the time, like when I am out of town, at events, making appearances, you know, she’s with me most of the time. And all my friends and family know my wife. I’m just not posting my wife and kids on social media because that’s just not something I want to share on social media, to be totally honest. Like I saw Nick Cannon say something today like he’s not going to post anything personal on social media anymore because these entities are getting paid off our personal lives, and I kind of been saw that a loooong time ago. And not to mention, that’s just not me. I’m not into just sharing, like, “Hey there’s a picture of my child, hey, here’s a picture of my wife,” like, for what? I know what they look like. [Laughing] So, I think I might have posted my dad once, you know what I mean, just because he was in the paper when he got arrested. But like I just—that’s just not what I do, honestly.
Well, I’ve got two more questions. What is the best interview you think you ever did? And why?
Man, that’s a great question. I honestly don’t think I’ve done it yet. I mean, everybody keeps asking me that. I really don’t know what my best interview is. You know what I mean? ‘Cause it’s just a lot. I don’t know, maybe I’m just too critical. Like I listen to Oprah, Super Soul—you know, podcast—and I hear her, and I’m like, man, that’s … she’s amazing, you know what I’m saying? I don’t know, I don’t know what the best interview I’ve done yet is because my bar is like very, very, very, very high.
Well, let me put it this way, what is the one interview that you’ve done that you’ve learned something you didn’t know before? That you think maybe changed you in a way you didn’t expect?
Oh, I got a few of those. I mean, when you talk to somebody like the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan … I’ll give you the latest example; my favorite interview this year, in 2017, was with Tiffany Haddish. I just think that she is just an amazing person, and I just feel her story is so inspiring and so empowering. It’s just like, it made me appreciate life more. Like, listening to her story made me just like, you know what, man? I just really need to just enjoy the moment more, ‘cause I feel like that’s what she does … And that—that was a very, very, very powerful interview. And honestly, it’s a story that I had heard before—a few of the stories that I had heard before when I heard her on a podcast—on The Champs’ podcast … Like, she just got like a different energy; she’s got like a divine energy around her. I feel like that energy touched me all year long, and I see a lot of myself in her. We’ve got a lot of similar experiences. She grew up a Jehovah’s Witness. And I had this toy that would come alive and play with me and mess with me. And she had this [toy] that she had in her room. It’s just like little things … like she got molested at a young age and didn’t realize that it was molestation until she was older—same with me. It’s just like, it’s a lot of different things that we mirror each other, but she’s a better version of me, so to speak.
And … what kind of interview would you never do again?
I mean, there’s a lot of mistakes that happened in interviews. Like, I think that whole situation with Lil Duval and Janet Mock—I think that was just all bad. Like, there was nothing to be learned from that situation; like there was no socially redeeming value in that situation. Like that was just, that was just something I wish I would have edited altogether—you know because it didn’t benefit the Breakfast Club, it didn’t benefit Lil Duval, and it didn’t benefit Janet Mock and the transgender community. Like I just, just wasn’t—that interview just wasn’t good. You know? And then, ‘cause it kind of felt like … like when I played the audio of Floyd Mayweather reading—that didn’t feel good either, you know? And that’s why that’s why I didn’t make that mistake again. Like when they sent me the reference tracks of Drake, like when the ghostwriting accusations just started. They sent me all those reference tracks, and I didn’t play ‘em on the air. I’m like, man, I’m not playing these, man, you know what I’m saying? I actually did the exact opposite, and I reached out to some of his people and just was like, “Yo man, I’m just letting y’all know this is what’s coming down the pipeline.” And I didn’t get anything out of a relationship or nothing like that. Like, I just did that. And I mean, look—look what happens when you do the right thing, he immortalized me by putting me in a song, you know what I mean?
That’s another thing I want to ask before I let you go. When you feel that people have done you wrong, or you’re in a situation where somebody doesn’t like you, do you try to extend olive branches, or do you just move on?
Nah, for what? Because I’m never being malicious. I mean that. There’s nothing I’ve done that I feel like, I’m doing this on purpose—like I’m really just trying to hurt you or just trying to harm you. Nine times out of ten, I’m just giving my opinion on stuff, you know, I’m just a cultural critic at the end of the day. But with the Floyd Mayweather thing, I actually felt bad about that ‘cause there was no reason to do that. Like, I didn’t even use that as a moment to teach or nothing. That was just me trying to get ratings, trying to get attention, trying to beat Jimmy Kimmel to the punch, ‘cause I saw Jimmy Kimmel offer him some money to come on and read a [Harry Potter book on the show], you know. And 50 [Cent] was offering him money [to read] something on Jimmy Kimmel. So that was just me trying to beat them to the punch—beat the white guys to the punch, that’s all. You know what I’m saying? Like it wasn’t even—it was just done in poor taste. It was like, nah, ‘cause honestly, I don’t feel like nobody’s done me wrong. Honestly, I don’t feel like nooobody’s done me wrong. I feel like people do what they’re capable of doing. And if it’s wrong, then, hey, that’s what they’re capable of doing.