10 Questions with ... Charlamagne Tha God
March 4, 2014
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
I started off as an intern in 1998 at WWWZ (Z93 Jamz)/Charleston, SC. I got a job in promotions as a part-time on-air personality, but left Z93 Jamz to take my first full-time gig at Hot 98.9 in Charleston S.C. I later joined the Big DM in Columbia, SC., until the station flipped formats and I transferred to Hot 103.9 in Columbia, SC. In 2005, Wendy Williams hired me to be her co-host, and I worked with her until 2009. Afterward, I was hired to be the host of "Charlamagne and The Morning Beat" on 100.3 The Beat in Philly. After 13 years in radio, I ended up as a member of "The Breakfast Club" on Power 105.1; now we are a nationally syndicated morning show. If you want the full details to my journey, I'll tell you at another time when it's not a "Brief Career Synopsis."
1) How did you come up with the name, "Charlamagne Tha God"? And, what do your parents think of it?
When I used to run the streets in Moncks Corner, SC, which is a small town with a population less than 8,000. I would always say my name is Charles or Charlie, because if I ever gave my real name Larry, they would know I was Larry and Julia's son. When I was in night school, I read up on Charlemagne, which was French for "Charles The Great," so I said to myself, "I'll start calling myself Charlemagne." Tha God came from when I started studying the 5% teachings of Islam, which technically makes no sense because Charlemagne is "Charles The Great" not "Charles Tha God," plus I spell it "Charlamagne" not "Charlemagne" ... See, this is why you don't stick with nicknames you gave yourself at 18.
2) You have so much going on, what's a typical day like for you?
I wake up at 3:45a, shower and get dressed. I get to "The Breakfast Club" by 5a to prep with the team (which really means laugh with each other or talk shit to each other, depending on what day it is). I typically stay at the studio until noon, then head over to MTV or MTV2 and film for "Charlamagne & Friends," "Guy Code," "Girl Code," "Guy Court," etc. It all varies depending on the day, but I typically have 15-hour work days, but I don't mind because I've been fired four times in this radio game and I'd rather work 15-hour days than collect unemployment checks.
3) You, Angela Yee and DJ Envy have such great chemistry on the air. Do you three practice a lot off the air?
If by practice you mean yell at each other, curse each other, and play cruel pranks on each other, then Yes! As far as traditional practice, that never happens. The three of us just work well together; I think it's because we were all sidekicks/co-hosts at one point, which enables us to understand the roles we play a lot better. We all know our lanes and we stay in them.
4) What are your plans for your radio and TV future?
I'm just going to keep working. I'm following the blueprint of the Steve Harvey's, Ryan Seacrest's, Wendy Williams' and Howard Stern's. I have shows I'm producing, and more shows I'm appearing in. I would love to do daytime TV like Queen Latifah or Steve Harvey, or do late-night TV like Jimmy Fallon or Arsenio Hall, but you don't ever have to worry about me leaving morning radio. I love it and I wouldn't be here without it. I'll just keep growing and evolving and following my motto, which is "Keep God first, stay humble, and keep working."
5) How did your involvement with MTV2 start and how many shows are you currently on? Can you clue us in on this season's storylines?
Well, my guy Paul Ricci, Chris McCarthy and Candida Boyette approached me in 2010 about signing with the network, and I'm an energy guy. I just felt their energy; it was that simple. I didn't know MTV2 would grow into what it has today, but it absolutely was one of the best decisions I ever made in my life -- professionally and personally. Unlike DJ Khaled and Drake, I believe in acquiring "new friends" and I have acquired a lot of them at MTV2!
6) Are you and your cohorts on the MTV2 shows very involved with the behind the scenes creative process?
Absolutely! I'm all in with the producers and writers, always throwing around ideas, coming up with sketches ... everything. We are very hands-on.
7) Wendy Williams played a major role in getting you noticed; what's the story on how all that happened?
Wendy was on WBLS/New York, which was owned by Inner City. I was utilizing the Internet and blasting out a lot of my interviews, and my conversation with Buffy The Body caught Wendy's attention. She actually reported it on her show, so I was on her radar then and she came down to Columbia a few times and we just kicked it. Wendy and her husband Kevin invited me to a party in NYC. I went and she asked me to come on her show the next day. I was there for 20 minutes and I literally never left. They offered me the position as co-host and told me they couldn't pay me but they could give me a place to stay, so I worked for her for free for a year-and-a-half. A lot of people wouldn't do that, but I recognized the opportunity and I knew that if I did what I was supposed to do on that show, I could write my own ticket and that's exactly what happened.
8) What direction do you see for Urban radio? What changes do you think need to be made for the future of the format?
Urban radio is heading in the right direction, but for the future, I think we have to broaden that term. I personally believe that Urban is a played out term if you are looking at Urban to only mean black. People don't understand the "Tanning of America" is real. It's so many kids of all races with blended values, blended beliefs, blended tastes and blended lifestyles. The disconnect comes from adults who don't realize that these kids don't view things like race the way we used to, so you're programming stations based on an old model of what your average listener used to look like. That 22-year-old black girl named Shameka with a kid and job, who Urban programmers said we should be talking to, may not be black and her name may be Sharon and she may be white or Spanish or Asian, and she probably loves Hip-Hop more than Shameka. Hip-Hop and R&B is not just a "black" thing anymore. It's an American thing, a culture thing. Even records that are defined as "pop" work well in Urban formats because the listener isn't looking at the format; the listener just likes the record. Whether it's "Happy" by Pharrell, "Blurred Lines" by Robin Thicke, Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" -- these are all records that work in the quote unquote "Urban markets," but they are labeled as "Pop." I just think for the future, we have to broaden what we consider Urban and realize that it has evolved.
9) What people have helped influence your career and in what way?
So many people have influenced me and helped me grow at different times in my life. George Cook, PD at K104 in Dallas now, was the first person to give me a full-time job and even though I was doing nights, he told me to treat it like I was doing a morning show at night. He remains a great mentor to me today. Some others include Mike Love, who hired me at The Big DM and taught me how to be me and not cross that fine line; Elroy Smith, who taught me the importance of being involved in the community and how to be me, but likable; Baby J, Tessa and Ron White from Z 93 Jamz in Charleston taught me all the basics of radio when I was an intern; and of course, Wendy Williams, who taught me that you're either going to be of the industry or of the people. When you're of the people, you will continue to give the real opinions of the people, and when you're of the industry, you will be fake and do what's necessary to make sure you're invited to the next album release party.
I've been blessed in this radio game to meet and chop it up with a lot of great radio minds. Skip Dillard was my PD at WBLS; Big Boi from Power 106 gives me great words; Sway; Tom Joyner and Doug Banks -- all of them have given me little nuggets in passing. Cadillac Jack, who taught me the "Rule of 10," which means, out of 10 people, three are going to like it, three are going to hate it, and four aren't going to care, which is a life motto of mine. I'm just privileged to have a direct line to great minds like Geespin, Doc Wynter and Thea Mitchem. I guess you can say I've been put in a great position to learn a thing or two, and I have and I will continue to. I'm also influenced by people I haven't met like Petey Greene, Frankie Crocker and Howard Stern. I like fearlessness in personalities -- people who aren't afraid to gamble on themselves or their talent.
10) What are three things you're most proud of in life? And why?
Being a father. My daughter is everything to me. I just want to raise her to not be a cast member of "Love & Hip-Hop" or a "Worldstar Hip-Hop Honey."
My career. I love radio. It's amazing the way the Universe works. When I was 17, I got a tattoo of Wolverine from the X-Men holding a microphone in his hand because I thought I was going to be a rapper, but that mic symbolized my radio career and radio has become the tree that has produced this other fruit called TV, movies, books, etc.
I'm proud to be from South Carolina. Period.
Is there something you like to do that would surprise a lot of people?
Empower people ... especially kids and women. I know it may not seem that way all the time, but it's a method to the madness.
What's your idea of a perfect evening out or at home?
I like being home. All I want is a nice, cooked meal, snacks from Trader Joe's, and the remote control. I'm always working, so when I get a chance to do nothing, I enjoy every moment of it.
Do you ever worry about ticking off an artist or actor with some of your observations? Has anything you said ever cost you a friendship?
I made a choice a long time ago to be of the people and not the industry. I'm just a fan, a consumer who gets the chance to actually speak to the celebrities and not just Tweet about them. Also, when it comes to the friendship thing, these industry people aren't friends -- they know how to pretend. It's a select few people in this game who I actually consider a homie and even "friends." I'm still going to express my honest opinion about them and as "friends," they should understand.