With two shows on MTV2 (Charlamagne & Friends and Guy Code) plus his radio gig co-hosting New York City’s The Breakfast Club on Power 105.1 FM with DJ Envy and Angela Yee and a social media presence that never fails to provoke, chances are you’ve probably heard of Charlamagne Tha God. The man is everywhere.
Born Lenard McKelvey in Moncks Corner, South Carolina, Charlamagne is now a long way from the days of hustling in his tiny town. These days, he’s known for his outspoken, sometimes-controversial opinions and wisecracking radio commentary. Whether you’re an A-list celebrity or an up-and-comer who hopes to be famous someday, you better get yourself in the hot seat with him. Just don’t get too mad if you can’t handle the heat (ahem, Kanye).
We’re at Engine Room Audio, a recording studio in the Financial District of New York City. Charlamagne’s getting ready to record a new episode of The Brilliant Idiots, his brutally honest and often-hilarious podcast with comedian Andrew Schulz. I’d be lying if I wasn’t slightly worried that some of my questions might set Charlamagne off like the time he called Kanye out for hypocrisy, described Yeezus as “wack,” and basically blew up the Internet.
Before the interview began, I was mentally prepared for a possible battle. But during the live recording of The Brilliant Idiots podcast, I’m struck by Charlamagne’s ability to make his guests feel simultaneously at ease and uncomfortable. He gets people to open up and share embarrassing or incriminating stories, despite their protests that they don’t want to talk about certain topics. He makes people show that underneath a veneer of larger-than-life celebrity, they’re human after all.
Bevel Code: Say you can go back in time. What words of wisdom would you share with your younger self?
Charlamagne: Keep going, doing what you’re doing. Destiny’s not a matter of chance; it’s a matter of choice. I would say I’ve made a lot of terrible choices in life, but I also feel like there’s no bad or good experience.
I woke up with the revelation that in order to change your life, you’ve gotta change your lifestyle to get on the right path and get focused.
Destiny’s not a matter of chance; it’s a matter of choice. I would say I’ve made a lot of terrible choices in life, but I also feel like there’s no bad or good experience.
BC: Tell us a lesser-known story about your journey from South Carolina to New York City.
Charlamagne: It was total culture shock, since I was doing radio six days a week in South Carolina.
It’s funny. I remember the first time I’m walking down the street in NYC. It’s the dead of winter, January or February. This guy walks up to me and he has on a Hawaiian shirt and Capri pants. It’s cold as fuck and he’s dressed like he’s going to Hawaii.
He stops me and asks, “Yo, what’s your name?” I don’t even remember, I might’ve even said my real name. “Lenard,” he says, “what do you do?” He goes, “You’ve got a lot of spirit guides around you and I just want to tell you that you’re gonna make it. Whenever you’re gonna get to where you need to be, you’ll deliver the message. I see a microphone, I see Howard Stern.”
I said, “I do radio” and he goes, “Radio! Radio! Who do you do radio with?” I said Wendy Williams. He says, “She wants the best for you, she wants you to do great things.” He asked me for nothing and just walked off. It was 2006 and he couldn’t have known me. I had only been there for 30 days.
BC: There are so many ways to consume music and media now. What do you think this means for the future of radio?
Charlamagne: Radio’s not going anywhere. It’s now about how to evolve it. People forget that radio was the original form of social media. Calling into the station to express something, discussing something because it was on the radio…it all started here.
BC: You’re often called the Howard Stern of hip-hop, but you definitely have cooler style than he does when it comes to clothing.
Charlamagne: My style? Effortless, man. I don’t try too hard. I throw on some Timbs and PRPS jeans, a sweatshirt, a hat and keep it moving.
BC: I know you usually have your barber clean you up, but how’s your experience shaving with Bevel been?
Charlamagne: Bevel’s cool—I usually don’t shave with a razor because of razor bumps, but I just tested it out a couple of times and didn’t get any. It didn’t give me any breakouts, so I’m cool.
BC: How can you sense a great opportunity? They say go with your gut, so do you pursue what you want in the face of adversity?
Charlamagne: I don’t care what you think you know about somebody—you don’t know what’s going on in their life or what that person is sacrificing to get that opportunity. Nothing worth having comes easy, and nothing worth having comes instantly. At the end of the day, the only person that can stop you is you. I truly believe thoughts can become things. I’m the type of person who’s gonna aim for the fucking moon. If I can’t hit that moon, I’m at least gonna get some stars.
Nothing worth having comes easy, and nothing worth having comes instantly. At the end of the day, the only person that can stop you is you.
I grew up with people who said you can do anything you want, you just have to believe it. It saddens me that in 2014 that people have such an inferiority complex and I blame the media for it. They had to take examples of Trayvon [Martin] or Michael [Brown] and conversations in the media to make us feel worthless again. I’m not gonna tell myself I can’t do anything because I think white privilege exists. I’m looking at Barack as President, Oprah buying networks, and Diddy buying networks.
At this point, I feel comfortable enough around Charlamagne to pretty much ask him anything. I want more of his opinions on women and society. Will he shut me down if I try to expose a softer side of his personality? I decide to take a page from the book of @cthagod and keep pushing.
BC: People always say, “You just know” when it comes to finding the one, if there is such a thing. How do you know?
Charlamagne: I’ve been with the same young lady forever; we’re from the same hometown in South Carolina. You know when they’re just down for you and not for any other reason other than that they love you. You can tell if a person is down with you if you’re an artist and they never call you by their stage name.
BC: How has your daughter changed you?
Charlamagne: Love is love, but I don’t think you truly understand love until you have a child. An OG lady once told me, “If you don’t feel the same love for your mate that you have for your child, it’s not meant to be.” You’re like a unity candle. You’re yoked; there’s a lot of synergy there.
BC: Hip-hop is not always known for gender equality, but neither is the larger world. What do you think the world needs to change?
Charlamagne: Martin Luther King Jr. had the best ideology. He wanted to live in a world where we are judged by the content of our character. It shouldn’t be based on race, gender, sexuality, or whatever. It’s just got to be fair and balanced. You’ve got to start seeing things through a lens of equality. I don’t even like the words “racial equality” because we’re all spiritual beings living a human existence. Not all white people are winning and not all black people are thugs. Stop putting people in boxes and let’s have real conversations with each other. Women are the original CEOs, so I don’t understand why they can’t be in a position of power or why their gender is being held against them.
If Hillary Clinton is running in 2016, I’m voting for her. I’m voting for her because she’s a woman. I voted for Barack in 2008, which was the first time I voted and I voted for him because he was black. I want a woman in the White House. We need to keep that diversity going.
Women are the original CEOs, so I don’t understand why they can’t be in a position of power or why their gender is being held against them.
BC: What’s on your required reading list?
Charlamagne: The Seat of the Soul, by Gary Zukav, The Secret and The Magic by Rhonda Byrne, Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, From Niggas to Gods by Akil, and The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene. The 50th Law book by him is about conquering fear.
BC: You seem fearless these days. When was the last time you had to overcome a fear?
Charlamagne: Truthfully, the biggest thing about fear is fear itself. But you gotta realize that when you have that feeling, it’s because there’s something valuable there. All of my fear comes from things in my own mind. The things you don’t want in your life? You can’t focus on that. Those are deaf thoughts. Focus on the life you want.