Some say “money makes the man;” however, for Charlamagne The God, it was “Humble Beginnings.” The Charleston, SC native is a testament that opportunity can come from struggle. Life, early-on for him, was by no means “easy.” He says, “You don’t even realize you’re poor and disenfranchised.” In the 1980s, Parenting while Black meant shielding your offspring from “reality,” working two-to-three jobs if necessary, and taking the hits so your children wouldn’t have to. This was the closest many would get to reaching “The American Dream.” Through observation, Charlamagne quickly realized success was a choice. This was privilege.
At the time, the only role models were “people that looked like me and were successful in sports,” says Charlamagne. He was “acting up in school,” “running the streets,” but didn’t have to. He says, “I chose to make the poor choices I was making; to hang around the wrong crowd.” He recalls his father, who hadn’t made the best life decisions himself, always saying “In order to change your life, you have to change your lifestyle.” Charlamagne understood. He was in control, and it was time to TAKE control. It was this “light-bulb moment” that Charlamagne said, “I’m going to start sowing seeds of positivity in my life.” The trajectory of his life was set, and would be forever changed.
In 1998, obtaining an internship in radio was as easy as putting in an application. Simple and done. It was that very moment, and individuals such as Z93 Jamz Music Director Ron White that would serve as the launching pad to Charlamagne’s impact to come. He recalls his first assignment, kicking off Sunday mornings, and he wasn’t the fit. He was loud in the “Bible Belt;” he “talked like he did in the hood,” and was quickly moved to a more appropriate time slot. He didn’t have a “conversational tone,” he said; he was never taught how. He says, “There was no social media. I came up listening to my father, uncle and grandma telling stories. It’s one of my favorite past times. I was taught wrong about a lot of things.”
Rather than conforming, Charlamagne’s edge worked to his benefit. The art of storytelling is attributed to his Southern upbringing. He says, “put your phone down, turn off the television, have dinner, have some alcohol and let’s talk… that’s what I like to do with my friends and family.” Those kitchen-table moments, are evident in the work he does today.
While Charlamagne goes more in-depth in his Biography and New York Times Best Seller, “Black Privilege: Opportunity Comes to Those Who Create It,” we find there’s power in the human voice, and Byrne takes it a step further, confirming there’s, “something about the sound of the human voice; hard to replicate it.” While storytelling simply came naturally, listening was an art.
Tests would repeatedly come his way, but would he listen? Jump to 2012; it was the producer for “The Breakfast Club” weekend syndicate, Chris Monroe, who would repeatedly tell Charlamagne he needed to do a podcast; Charlamagne says, “My ego was like, ‘why? I do radio. Podcasts are for people that aren’t on radio.” In 2013, Charlamagne says, “We just started doing it.” After thinking to himself, “maybe there is something to this podcast thing;” he’d never been one who liked to try new things, but “pushed his ego aside,” and now “glad he listened to Chris.”
Their first episode was unlike anything Charlamagne had before seen; they received 60k listens in one week. “Crazy,” he calls it. “Radio was a built-in audience. All you have to do is maintain that and grow it,” he said. Despite his growing success, popularity and years in the game in was in that moment Charlamagne realized, “people must really care what I have to say.” He continued, “The next you know, we’re doing live shows, selling merchandise and seven…eight years later, you’re a seven-figure business.” His answering the call, gave him a “front row seat as the medium exploded,” and an opportunity to prepare a table.
“No one starts out as a podcaster,” said Charlamagne. And, thank goodness he didn’t. According to Byrne, “over 110M Americans each month are listening to a podcast,” but after “10 to 15 years of growth, the industry still seemed broken.” Prior, podcasting seemed not to “welcome or support diverse creatives; black creators, in Charlamagne’s case,” says Byrne. Charlamagne had the most diverse programming at the time, and demanded more. He had a vision and set in his head to renegotiate nearing his five-year deal end. He said, “2020 came, and this was part of the negotiation… diverse Black Voices, and diversity of content also.” iHeart “believed in him as an executive, and empowered him in that way,” Byrne confirmed.
Since, greenlighting shows such as Michelle Williams and Health and Jess Hilarious and Comedy, Charlamagne has “created a space that lets black creators be unapologetically Black, regardless of the genre they work in.” Black people occupy a multitude of spaces; “we have to show that,” he said. It is because of his mother that Charlamagne is “curious in different things.” From Judy Bloom and Beverly Cleary to the “Autobiography of Malcolm X” and, now, self-help books and the “48th Law of Power,” Charlamagne, since the beginning “read things that didn’t pertain to him.” His voracious appetite for reading and learning pushed his awareness. Mental Health, Sports… he says, “they are just natural extensions of me.” It was just as natural to bring up other creatives along with him, he said “I want the best in the field on The Black Effect.”
“The Black Effect is Driving Culture,” said Byrne. Immediately, Charlamagne responded with assurance, “We control the cool.” Charlamagne explained what Black culture owns as the only excuse as to why those who attempt to suppress us continue to do so; much more eloquently than “they hate us, cause they ain’t us,” he said “When you put blackness into anything there is an immediate cultural impact, immediate cultural shift.” He referenced Kamala Harris, saying “you can’t act like having a Woman of Color on the ticket didn’t shift things; didn’t impact us in a major way. That should make people understand… put some Black on it!” He continued, “the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and their all-black coaching staff… stop scratching your head; it’s not rocket science.”
Do you understand the effect blackness has on everything? We control the cool. Invest in blackness!Charlamagne Tha God
Public figures using their platforms to push diversity forward… that’s the motto for 2021. After “facing two pandemics this past year, and still undergoing one,” as Byrne stated, citizens question can we heal and move forward. The answer is “yes;” if we can lead based on legacy, responsibility and impact as Charlamagne does. He stated, “Cultural blindspots exist, because no diversity is at the table.” With the commitment from organizations such as iHeartRadio and the iHeartPodcast Network, and individuals such as Charlamagne holding them accountable and “not afraid to ask questions,” we grow.