This was originally posted Thursday, April 20, 2017 by Rodney Hofirstname.lastname@example.org on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog
The oft-ignored aphorism “honesty is the best policy” is a deep-seated mantra for Charlamagne tha God, the successful New York-based syndicated radio host heard locally on 92.3/96.7 The Beat with the Breakfast Club.
He has antagonized many a celebrity, from Busta Rhymes to Lil Kim. He called Kanye West “Kanye Kardashian” to his face. He freely makes fun of his own looks for his “eggplant”-shaped head and “boonky” nose. And in his new book “Black Privilege: Opportunity Comes to Those Who Create It,” he calls out his former boss Wendy Williams for treating her staff poorly.
It’s also why his fans love him. As he says in the book and many times on air, “When you live in your truth, no one can use it against you.”
“Everybody respects an honest opinion at the end of the day,” he said in a recent phone interview with me. “They respect being told what they need to hear as opposed to what they want to hear.”
Charlamagne will be making two public appearances in Atlanta Saturday to promote his book, first at the Georgia Tech Barnes & Noble at 12:30 p.m. in Midtown, followed by A Cappella Books in Inman Park at 4 p.m. (I’m moderating a Q&A with Charlamagne at the 12:30 p.m. event.)
He designed the book as a blend of self help and personal anecdotes. “The truth of the matter is I’m big on self-help books,” he said, citing several off the top of his head including Don Miguel Ruiz (“The Four Agreements”), Malcolm Gladwell (“Outliers”) and Ryan Holiday (“The Obstacle is the Way”). “They are smarter than me. They put their principles and laws in their books. They use historical examples. I’m not well versed on that so I have to use stories from my life to back up my principles.”
In his book, he describes excelling in elementary school, encouraged by his mom to read a variety of books from Beverly Cleary to Elijah Muhammad. But being a nerd didn’t sit well with his dad and his cousins, who pushed him in middle school to act the fool. He became a troublemaker, dropped out of high school and was arrested multiple times on charges of possession of marijuana and cocaine with intent to distribute.
Fortunately, he nabbed an internship at a local radio station and soon followed a convoluted path up the radio food chain with stops in Columbia, S.C. and Philadelphia. Amazingly, he worked for Wendy Williams on her radio show for 18 months for free before getting a salary.
“I recognized an opportunity even though a paycheck wasn’t attached to it,” he said. “It knew it was a great position. That was a job anybody in my business would have wanted.”
He now helms his own show, heard on more than 35 stations nationwide including Miami, New Orleans, Las Vegas and Boston.
Sadly, he and Williams had a falling out, though he said he thinks it had more to do with her husband and manager Kevin Hunter. “I haven’t heard from her in seven years,” he said. “I talked to Kevin after Wendy got on Elvis’s show [Elvis Duran] and said she didn’t know who I was. Kevin reached out to me. We met in Newark and had a conversation. It wasn’t anything positive. He was just yelling and screaming.” [Neither Kevin nor Wendy have responded publicly to his book.]
For a time, Charlamagne also wanted to be a rapper. But one of his radio mentors told him straight out that he was not cut out to be one, that he should stick to radio. Instead of getting defensive and angry, he accepted that as truth. “I was trying to do two things at once instead of focusing on what I was really really good at,” he said.
Despite his rather grandiose self-appointed name, Charlamagne (real name: Larry McKelvey) said he works hard to stay humble, to always keep his mind open to new opportunities, new people, new ideas.
“I love new information,” he said. “I just think constantly learning and constantly being receptive to new things allows you to grow and evolve.”
One of his biggest mentors is Cadillac Jack, who in his book he notes is an unlikely person for him to lean on since he’s a white radio guy who specializes in country music. (I’m not referencing the local Kicks 101.5 morning host.)
“Knowledge is knowledge,” Charlamagne said. “It doesn’t matter where it comes from. You can learn from a crack head if you pay attention.”
He’s now building his multi-media creds. Besides his morning radio show, he co-hosts a podcast “The Brilliant Idiots” and a TV show “Uncommon Sense Live” on MTV. “I’m comfortable in the camera now,” he said, noting that TV and radio are different. Radio can be looser, he can warm guests up and shoot the breeze. But on TV, he has learned to get to the point.
Charlamagne grew up Larry McKelvey in the small town of Moncks Corner, S.C. He stays grounded by visiting his friends and family there often.
“I was home this past weekend,” he said. “It’s all good. It’s the same. Kids see me there and say, ‘Oh my God! You know you always say you’re from here. Now you’re really here!’ ”
He said he’s been doing this book tour, shaking hands and taking pictures, so home is more important than ever. “People tell you they love you and blow a lot of gas. I have to go home and reset. I know where real is at.”
The title of the book “Black Privilege” sounds counter-intuitive given so much talk about white privilege.
“It’s simple,” he said. “I feel like it’s a privilege to be black. White privilege is something systematic. I’m talking about something spiritual. We have the ability to tap into a divine system that helps us to prosper in spite of the obstacles thrown in our way in America. It’s a privilege to be alive. God put you here for a reason. God mad you. Embrace that.”
On a lighter note, he decided to mock the “blurbs” on backs of books by asking friends to make fun of him. An example:
“Charlamagne thinks that just because he’s wise about race stuff he can say whatever the f*ck he wants about women. That’s not how it works, dude. Nice try. And stop asking questions about my butt.” – Lena Dunham
Yes, he and Dunham are friends, another unlikely pairing. He’s a huge “Girls” fan and has noted that on Twitter. She then said she was a fan of his, which he didn’t believe. But he said her boyfriend Jack Antonoff of the Bleachers listens to the Breakfast Club all the time. “She wanted to come on the show,” he said. “We’ve been really cool.”
Charlamagne is not a fan of many of the ratchet TV shows on air, calling “Love and Hip Hop Atlanta” creator Mona Scott-Young “Satan” Scott-Young. He said she came on his show to defend herself on time, saying many of these cast members had never had a bank account before, had never paid taxes. “Mona,” he said, “sounds like a drug dealer who’s fronting people’s dope and bragging about making them money.” (I texted Mona on a number I still think she uses and am awaiting a response.)
He is less concerned about the stereotypes on the show than the fact reality people often think they can be the next NeNe Leakes or Bethenny Frankel. Most in the end get paid very little and end up bitter and confused after their time in the limelight is over, he said.
“It’s the fame monster,” he said. “People try to become famous just to be famous. That’s whack. You can’t eat no likes bro!”
His show was on Streetz 94.5 in Atlanta for a couple of years and did well. But a few months ago, his show was abruptly moved to IHeartRadio’s Beat station, which is brand new and struggling to get ratings traction in a very crowded hip-hop radio market. There are now four hip-hop stations playing current music and two more playing classic hip hop. Charlamagne is not concerned. Streetz owner Steve Hegwood, he claimed, “wasn’t paying the syndicator.” So they moved the show.
Hegwood declined to comment. True or not, since IHeartMedia owns Charlamagne’s Breakfast Club syndication, it seems logical that starting a new hip-hop station, they wanted their own show on the Beat.
Charlamagne tha God
12:30 p.m. Saturday, April 22
Georgia Tech Barnes & Noble, 48 5th Street NW, Atlanta
4 p.m., Saturday
A Cappella Books
208 Haralson Avenue NE, Atlanta