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Outlandish. Provocative. Infuriating.
These are just a few of the descriptors that some people would use when talking about the one, the only Charlamagne The God. Born Lenard McKelvey, the Moncks Corner, South Carolina, born-and-bred radio personality has built a reputation for being a button-presser, a rabble rouser, a man amongst the people. Blessed with the ability of having great comedic timing and a penchant for piling on the pressure, Charlamagne has racked up headlines for the past few years.
As one-third of the world’s most dangerous morning show, Charlamagne can be heard most mornings on Power 105.1’s The Breakfast Club. Alongside cohorts Angela Yee and DJ Envy, Charlamagne adds an extra element of explosiveness that registers across the pop culture spectrum. Never one to bite his tongue, he’s riffed on human memes like Justin Bieber and pissed off Hip-Hop luminaries like Onyx’s Fredro Starr.
Rolling Stone praised his rising star as an equivalent to Howard Stern. He’s held a critical mirror up to popular culture and the entertainment industry’s collective faces, and read them all their receipts. It’s only fitting that Charlamagne Tha God would have his truth rewarded with more success. From television shows to an upcoming self-help book, Charlamagne Tha God is winning by using his honest-to-God voice to inform the masses and critique the fraudulent.
With that said, BlackEnterprise.com was caught up with the headline-grabbing radio host to discuss his growth as a personality, how honesty has separated him from his contemporaries, and career advice to those looking to follow in his footsteps.
BlackEnterprise.com: Before you made your transition to New York radio you were an intern at Z93 Jamz in Charleston, S.C. What sparked your intent to apply for the position? Also, can you talk about a few of the odd jobs you had prior to your internship?
Charlamagne Tha God: I was always told that in order to change your life you have to change your lifestyle. I had a lot of disciplinary problems in high school which led to me being a problem child in the streets of Moncks Corner, S.C., and I was just tired of being in and out of jail. I don’t have a college degree so all I knew how to do was work. [Before I was on radio] I worked at a telemarketing place, Taco Bell, a warehouse, a flower garden, a clothing store in the mall called D.E.M.O.
It’s funny because even though I had felonies, I never let my criminal record stop me from getting a job. When I would come to the part where it said have you ever been convicted of a crime or have felonies I would just say, “Yes,” and it never stopped me. I got involved in radio because I used to hang out at a recording studio called T&T Records. I met a guy name Willie Will who used to do radio at Z93 Jamz and I just asked him how did he get into radio. He told me an internship, and I thought to myself, “It’s that easy?” He affirmed my suspicions, so I went down to the station and got one. The rest, as they say, is still history in the making, I guess.
In between working gigs in Columbia and Charleston, you would post videos online starring yourself discussing celebrity news and random topics. What was the digital landscape like at that time?
The digital landscape was fairly new. I was using Youtube and various file-sharing sites very early, though. At the time I only remember two hip-hop websites that I would frequent: AllHipHop and SOHH.com. Both places embraced me early on. AllHipHop used to post a lot of my content on Illseed’s rumors section. At the time, that was big for me because I’m in Columbia, and we didn’t have any outlets to shine through. The Internet made the world a whole lot smaller. From MySpace to Facebook, I was online heavy, just networking and building a base alongside people who I still seem to have riding with me to this day.
Once you made a lane for yourself alongside Wendy Williams, you quickly had a penchant for representing the everyday listener. How has being honest and unafraid engrained you to patrons? Can you also talk about any moments where your candor backfired on the air?
I’ve been doing radio for 16 years and started out as an intern when I was 18. I’m 34 now. In that time, I’ve been fired about four times, so, yeah, I guess somebody wasn’t agreeing with my candor. It’s not something that I set out to do. This is how we talk around the way in Moncks Corner, South Carolina. We just have real honest conversations with each other. I would sit back and watch the personalities on television, listen to the people on the radio, and just wonder aloud why they didn’t really have an opinion. Why didn’t they ever ask the obvious question when they had the chance? So, I said to myself that if I got that same opportunity, I would just go in talking the way that we talk in the hood. Honestly, since I didn’t have a background in radio, or even go to school for, being this way is all I knew how to be anyway.
You didn’t hold back that your former boss hurt your feelings when you spoke about the situation on your Brilliant Idiots podcast. For those who are making their entryway into the industry, what advice can you offer about maintaining positive relationships and when one should burn a bridge-or not?
I don’t think you should ever burn a bridge, but I do think you should know when to burn down the Carter. That’s a New Jack City reference for anyone who doesn’t know. You have to know when a situation or a person is just no longer good for you. I was told once, “Just because someone has done something good for you doesn’t mean they are good for you,” which I believe. Personally, I just try to maintain positive relationships with everybody because I always want to treat people the way I would want to be treated. I’m a very loyal dude. I have the same friends since forever. My wife has been down with me since high school. If you see me not dealing with someone that I once was close with, trust and believe, it was not my fault.
Look, when you pray to God to take negativity out of your life, he’s not swinging at spirits, he’s swinging at people! He’s swinging at things that are the embodiment of that negativity in your life. So, when people get removed from your life, just know that God knows better than you do. Continue to pray for protection from your enemies and you will start to lose friends.
Check out how Charlamagne Tha God is expanding his brand beyond radio on the next page …