10 Questions for Charlamagne Tha God
MTV and NYC radio personality explains his journey from rags to radio.
Moncks Corner, S.C.'s, Wikipedia entry indicates that the small town is only 5 miles wide, with only five "notable people" hailing from it. That equals to about one "notable person" per mile on average.
Before long though, somebody is going to have to add a sixth name to that list, and that person will most likely be radio personality Charlamagne Tha God.
Born Lenard McKelvey, Charlamagne describes the small town as an intersection of rural dirt roads and corn fields.
"It was real country living," he says, emphasis on "real." "We lived in a mobile home until my father built my mom a house. Matter of fact, my father used to tell me, 'If you see something on the side of the road and you touch it with your hand? If it's cold, leave it alone; if it's warm, it's dinner.'"
Fortunately, Charlamagne, who moved as a child with his family to Moncks Corner from Charleston, S.C., is eating a little better nowadays. He and his co-hosts, DJ Envy and Angela Yee, of the top-rated "The Breakfast Club" morning show on New York's Power 105 radio recently celebrated two years of setting the city's airwaves on fire. When he isn't working there, he's co-hosting a number of shows on MTV and MTV2. These days, you might even spot him in a Champs Sports commercial advertising sneakers.
He's come a long way from living a life of catching charges and working at Taco Bell. While the world may know him as the brash radio show host who isn't afraid to ask both the obvious and the obnoxious questions, there is a pretty inspirational story behind all the mayhem.
Loop 21 caught up with Charlamagne to find out how he made it from Moncks Corner to the Big Apple.
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Loop 21: Forgive us if we sound naive. But, what exactly is there to do in Moncks Corner, and how did you get started in media?
Charlamagne Tha God: There wasn't any media person for me to aspire to be like, but we watched "Rap City" and "The Box" like anybody else. As far as living there, I was a knucklehead. When I was living in Charleston, I was real smart, smart enough to skip grades. My mom was an English teacher. I used to love books. But when I moved to Moncks Corner, I got in trouble. When I was in Charleston, I was around smart kids, but when I [moved to Moncks Corner and] got into middle school and met my cousins who was thugging in the 'hood, I started rolling with them. I ended up going to summer school all through middle school and ... in ninth grade I started wilding out and got into selling drugs.
Loop 21: Can't imagine things went better after that.
C Tha God: First time I got arrested was for assault and battery with intent to kill. I got kicked out of one school and got sent to the school my mom taught at. I got in a fight there and a gun went off. I caught charges for possession of cocaine and marijuana. [Then one day] a friend of mine died in a car wreck, driving home drunk from the club. At that point I was done. I was out here playing around with my life. In order to change your life, you have to change your lifestyle, so that's what I did. I started going ... to night school, working regular jobs at the mall, Taco Bell, telemarketing, whatever I had to do to create some positive energy in my life. I stopped going to the 'hood, selling crack, everything.
Loop 21: So at what point did you get into radio?
C Tha God: I knew a dude named Willy Will who interned at [a Charleston] radio station. I asked how he got it so I could do the same, and I ended up getting on. [Then] they canceled the internship program. Seven months later, I called asking when they was going to bring it back and the new promotion director told me he could get me a job. I was driving the promo van hanging around at the radio station all day. I would talk on the mic during Willy Will's show sometimes, too. Then one day the [promotion director] told me he wanted me to be on the radio. I started on Sunday mornings. That gave me reinforcement that this was what I wanted to do.
Loop 21: When did you get a reputation for being no-holds-barred on the air?
C Tha God: I never did anything but be me. I was Charlamagne before the radio. Whatever we talked about in the 'hood or in the barbershop, I talked about on the radio. I used to watch other personalities and wonder why they were being so robotic? Why weren't they asking the obvious questions? I never told myself that I was going to do anything for a reaction, I was just being myself. After awhile, of course, I wound up getting in trouble for calling out this dude for acting like a woman over the air, so at that point, I could only announce the songs, that was it. But a new, hipper, younger station came into town, and I got a job over there. I raised hell; I took the show slot from number 14 to number two in three months.
Loop 21: How did you connect with Wendy Williams (who first brought you to New York) and become her co-host?
C Tha God: That connection happened from being a genuine person. I was doing part time at Hot 103.9 in South Carolina, but you'd never know because I was there every day. Wendy's show used to come on our station during the day, but they moved it to the nighttime at 10 p.m. There was a period of time when they kept running the same show over and over. One day, I called her husband/manager Kevin asking why they kept running the same show. He said they weren't, but ... that whoever's job it was to program the new show, wasn't doing it. So he said he's coming down there. I picked him up from the airport and we kicked it on some g s**t. We just became cool.
[Charlemagne later got suspended from his radio job at 103.9 due to a rift involving a local night club manager, and had his air time reduced to just once a week from five as a result.]
Loop 21: When you got suspended from your job, how did that lead to you ending up in New York?
C Tha God: Wendy heard about that and asked me what happened. When I told her, she and Kevin invited me to New York for a party they were doing. I came and literally never left. She used to talk about me on her show all the time. She was looking for a co-host at the time, so she made me one. What people don't know is that I was working for Wendy Williams for a year-and-a-half and didn't even get paid. They gave me a place to stay and I made my own way. I knew that if I could do what I do on this show, the sky is the limit. I look at these kids nowadays and laugh because they want instant gratification. I worked for Wendy and didn't get a paycheck. There were times where the place they had me staying would forget to pay the light bill and I was sleeping in the cold, taking cold showers in the winter in New York. But I understood the opportunity I was being given. I'm from the 'hood; I was broke before I even knew I was broke.
Loop 21: You and other staff got fired from the Wendy Williams show as part of a massive layoff at the radio station. What did you do after that?
C Tha God: When I got fired in 2008, I was out of work for seven months and my daughter [was] born around that time. But I didn't look at [the layoff] as a stumbling block. I saw it as getting moved in a different direction. So that whole time, I was just a stay-at-home dad. When the mother of my child would go to work, I stayed home and raised her. Then in 2009 I got a call from 100.3 in Philly to do mornings at The Beat. I did that, but then I got fired there 10 months later. That messed me up because I'm thinking, Why do I keep getting fired? I got fired the Monday after I did the Beanie Sigel interview where he aired out Jay-Z. Crazy thing is I got fired there the same day I did from Wendy's show, Nov. 2.
Loop 21: Is this when you returned home?
C Tha God: I went back to South Carolina. The good thing about it was that I was able to collect unemployment. I was getting nice unemployment checks for like a year; that's what kept me afloat. That's when I started doing my online sketches with Lil Duval. That's when Gee Spin and Cadillac Jack reached out and asked me what I was doing. They told me a situation in New York may be available. Awhile later, I wound up on Power 105.
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Loop 21: You've always been known for your interview style, but more people are getting familiar with it now that you're on Power 105. Do you welcome being such a polarizing figure?
C Tha God: There's nobody on this planet that everybody absolutely loves. The majority of people might, but not everybody. There's people who don't like Oprah. There's people who don't like Barack Obama. There's people who don't think Lebron, Kobe or Jordan are the greatest. I love when people hate me, and love me. As long as it's genuine, I love it. If you are being your authentic self, whether you're Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity, you will prosper. People gravitate towards me because they see I'm real person.
Loop 21: What do you have in store in the future?
C Tha God: I'm signed to MTV and MTV2; a new season of "Guy Code" is coming. I'm writing a self-help book for the 'hood right now, too. My ultimate goal is to have a late night TV show. There hasn't been anybody young, black and broad since Arsenio. He could talk to 2Pac, Bill Clinton and Farrakhan. I'm just working. I'm blessed and highly favored. God is good.
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