[image-2][image-3]”Fuck Your Dreams” isn’t typical self help book advice, but we’d expect nothing less from Charlamagne Tha God. The host of iHeart Radio’s The Breakfast Club, Charlamagne (a.k.a. Lenard McKelvey) is a provocateur to the nth degree, and a local one at that. The man who has been called “Hip-Hop’s Howard Stern” grew up in Moncks Corner, and against all odds — poverty, drug dealing, jail time — Charlamagne managed to become one of the most influential voices in radio today. But that wasn’t due to fate. As he says time and again on his morning show, life isn’t a matter of chance, it’s about choice. And his rise to stardom, as he explains in his debut book, Black Privilege: Opportunity Comes to Those Who Create It, is the direct result of following eight principles. For instance, Principle No. 5: “Put the weed in the bag!”
What the hell is he talking about? Well, what the “Prince of Pissing People Off,” is trying to say is you have to first work hard, then worry about the money — put the weed in the bag. Or, as he’s tweeted, “Put yourself in position then take over.”
Being able to share gems like that is why Charlamagne Tha God decided to write a book in the first place. “For me, it’s one of those things, it’s like a right a passage in the radio game. I read Howard Stern’s Private Parts, Wendy Williams Brings The Heat, ‘Petey’ Greene’s book, Big Boi’s books. I wanted to share my story. Those stories inspired me. I wanted to be to my generation’s version of that,” he says.
And unlike many celebrities, he didn’t have a ghostwriter either.
“My guy Chris Monroe, he’s the producer of my weekend syndicated show, he’s helped write all of Russell Simmons books and was always telling me I should do a book,” says Charlamagne. “So I started with Chris and he’d record me and I’d talk, but I didn’t like the way that felt. I didn’t like the way it was reading. So I started waking up at 4 a.m. on Saturdays — I usually sleep in on Saturdays —and I’d sit in my office and just write. Chris helped me structure the book.”
Which is to say, what you’re getting with Black Privilege is pure, undiluted Charlamagne Tha God at his most revealing. In the course of a few chapters, he goes from exposing his own experience being molested by an aunt to how he got his first gig in radio. And that kind of honesty, his stock-in-trade, is refreshing.
He even shares his fight to publish his book with a different title.
“I was determined to call it I Don’t Give a Fuck and Neither Should You,” Charlamagne says. “But Steve Harvey heard the situation, and Steve looked at me like no. He said,
‘Coming from where you come from and do what you do, you have experiences that you need to share, something that people can learn from.'”
Shifting the title to Black Privilege, however, is just as provocative. And it comes with just as many questions, like does he think a title like that could open a door to racists who might spin the title to say, “See, Charlamagne says black people are privileged, they don’t have any problems?”
Of course, but Charlamagne is prepared for that question.
“For me, it’s a privilege to be black, it’s something spiritual. White privilege is something systemic. Anybody who feels marginalized or oppressed, we need to access what we have. It’s divine,” he says. “It’s a privilege to be alive. Whatever god created you to do, you have to access that privilege to succeed. We spend so much time talking about white privilege. What about you? What do you have that you can use to make you greater, make your lifer better? You a woman, you have woman privilege. You Asian, you have Asian privilege. Mexican? Mexican privilege. It doesn’t matter. It’s divine.”
And he’s not about to allow some conservative talking head to twist his book title back on itself. “If we allow some white talking head to do that, we’re the stupid ones because we know the truth. I’m not negating white privilege or letting America off the hook to oppress. What I’m trying to do is empower my people. Growing up, it was a sense of pride in being black. We’re special too. Period,” he says.
That’s right, the same guy who repeatedly clowns on guests and gives out a daily “Donkey of the Day” award to the biggest idiot, wants to empower people. And his book? Well, in it Charlamagne’s essentially a wise-cracking cheerleader.
Take for instance the aforementioned “Fuck Your Dreams” advice. As Charlamagne explains in his anecdotal chapters, as a young guy in Moncks Corner, his dream was to be a rapper. That was what he was determined to do. But he sucked. Big time. But he wasn’t hearing it. It took a mentor straight up telling him he was awful — telling him to go fuck his dream — to finally get Charlamagne to realize his real potential as a radio jock. And he wants other kids to be real about their goals too.
“I want them to feel empowered and enlightened and say man I can do it too,” he says. “I write in the book about sitting in my Mom’s house and listening to DJ B-Lord and Big Tigger and him saying ‘So you’re from North Carolina?’ and him correcting him and saying ‘I’m from South Carolina.’ I remember back in day, people who made it from this state. I’d be googling and be like ‘Andy Dick’s from South Carolina? I don’t want to be like no Andy Dick.’ Vanna White’s from here, that was dope to me. Now you’ve got Stephen Colbert, Chadwick Boseman. Hopefully people look at me and say, ‘Wow, that’s something I wanna do.’ I feel proud to be from this state. Greatness comes from our state.”
So what’s in store with his talk with his old friend Channel 4 newscaster Tessa Spencer?
“There’s no agenda. Tessa’s read the book and I can’t wait,” he say. It should be a casual, comfortable conversation. Charlamagne and Spencer go way back.
“Tessa used to host the Z93’s The Breakfuss Club in Charleston. I started there as an intern and got on the air. She was the first person who called me and said, ‘You sound good.’ The first person. That meant the world to me. That put a battery in me. She called me to tell me there was a traffic accident going on. I said I voice tracked so I couldn’t cover it, and she said, “Oh, either way you sound amazing.” She was like the first person who told me ‘You’re gifted, like a natural.’
Coming full circle is not lost on the controversial jock. He’s looking forward to returning to the area he grew up in and sharing his story. One day “Moncks Corner’s own” may even move back.
“I was about to close on some property near the new Volvo plant, but I backed away from that situation,” he says of his future plans. “I’ve talked to Jadakiss about opening juice bars down there, and I own land in Moncks Corner. I’m figuring out what I want to do with that.”
Giving back to the community is in the works too. “I want to open a couple of youths centers to have a place for people to come and have mentorship and breakfast in the morning. I have my organization Third Eye Awareness,” he says. Plus, he just got his own day. “Mayor Steven Benjamin made April 8 Charlamagne Tha God day in Columbia so I gotta figure out something to do with that too.”
To buy tickets to Charlamagne Tha God’s talk and book signing at PURE Theatre on Sat. April 22 at noon, visit citypapertickets.com. Tickets are $28. General Admission is included with your purchase of a signed copy of Black Privilege: Opportunity Comes to Those Who Create It.