Charlamagne Tha God is hip-hop's answer to Howard Stern. A 'shock jock' who calls himself the 'prince of pissing people off', he's the voice of a new generation who isn't afraid to get his opinion off and stand by it, no matter how controversial it may be.
Born and raised in Moncks Corner, South Carolina (a US state rife with racial tension) – a fact he reiterates time and time again, becoming a running joke amongst his fans – he went from a troubled teen, always getting into sticky situations to someone who wanted to better their life after a prison stint shook him into action.
Earning his stripes on various radio shows, including The Wendy Williams Experience, it wasn't until he landed a role as part of the newly formed Power 105.1 morning show The Breakfast Club in New York that he found a place he could truly call home. Alongside hosts DJ Envy and Angela Yee, the trio took hip-hop radio by storm. Interviewing the biggest names, as well as offering opinions on various topics, 'the world's most dangerous morning show' became nationally syndicated in 2013 and was eventually simulcast by P Diddy's Revolt.
With segments such as Tell Em Why You Mad, The Rumor Report, and Positive Note of the Day helping make The Breakfast Club one of the most popular morning shows on radio, Charlamagne's Donkey of the Day is clearly the favourite among fans.
Donkey of the Day hears Charlamagne pick out an individual, sometimes more than one person, and brand them as that day's ass due to something stupid they've done or said. Loved by all – until they receive the 'donkey' accolade themselves, that is – Charlamagne sits down with IBTimes UK and explains the concept of the popular shaming segment, among other things.
"Hopefully one day people will like it and think it's legendary," Charlamagne says of Donkey of the Day. "When I used to do radio with Wendy Williams, 50 Cent had put out this mixtape [called G-Unit Radio 21] and on it he says: 'F**kin' monkeys talking 'bout me, man/ Pull through there man, it's hot/ These niggas out on the curb, I'm like look at these donkeys/ Bunch of f**kin' jackasses,' so I just started calling people donkeys because that's truly how I felt. I felt like people who had a lost mindset, or who occasionally did stupid things, were having a donkey moment, or some of them are permanent donkeys so I just started calling them donkeys. So when I went to Philly to do my own morning show that's when I first started doing 'Donkey of the Day'."
As someone who believes in living his truth on the daily, Charlamagne has used that to his advantage in a Kevin Hart kind of way. Literally telling stories from his past – whether on The Breakfast Club or on the podcast The Brilliant Idiots with comedian Andrew Schulz – no matter how blunt or shocking some of his revelations may be, he has built a huge fan base that love listening to them.
"I mean that's life, right?" he says after being asked how he became the voice of the streets after struggling for so long. "I mean, every coal has to be put under pressure before it turns into a diamond. I just feel like it's been a lot of hard work and just being consistent. That's what people don't understand, whatever you do in life you have to be consistent at it because that's when you'll reap the rewards from it. A lot of people aren't consistent. I ask people, 'Would you rather score 40 points once or average 25 for your whole career?' I'm trying to average 25 for my whole career, and occasionally score 50 on them."
The fame game
Being so candid has occasionally landed Charlamagne in hot water. The infamous 'drop' situation, where he was asked to record a shout-out but then got jumped by a group of guys outside of the radio station is just one in a long line of controversial instances that has plagued the 'mouth of the south'. Discussing a recent act of stupidity, which highlights the growing mentality for 15 minutes of fame over career longevity, Charlamagne discloses he was a recent victim of being recorded without consent. He explains:
"So everyone knows I'm getting into the production side of things when it comes to television, so anybody who has any show ideas, or show pitches, it's like, 'Yo, holler at Charlamagne.' So my man Kaz, he's from DC, that's my dude, he comes on Uncommon Sense – he introduced me to this guy and me and this guy were talking about a show idea that he had. But in the process he got upset because we had the Money & Violence people on [The Breakfast Club], and during the interview I brought up this guy's show idea, because the show was presented to me as a Money & Violence type show. So I asked them 'What do you think about people who have Money & Violence type shows but from different cities?' They were like, 'It's cool, we like it, it's good that we inspire people.' But for whatever reason this dude thought that was the biggest insult in the world.
"So he was texting me crazy... and mind you I don't know this dude, but me being the overly accessible mother f**ker that I am I decided to pick up the phone and call him just to talk to this brother so there's no misunderstanding, and maybe I can give him an opportunity to learn something. So that's what we were discussing, and that's the conversation he recorded. He called me the next day and was like, 'Yo! I f**k with you, I've got mad respect for you, you such a real nigga so I just wanted you to know that I recorded you when we spoke.' I was like, 'What!?' It was already done so why would he do that? And then a week later he put it out online. I called him and just said to him, 'Look man, God bless you, and I hope the attention you garner from this phone call works out for you.'"
Seeming like a very forgiving person, Charlamagne says it's not really forgiveness. "I don't know if forgiving is the word, I'm just not f**king with you no more," he says. "I think forgiveness is overrated personally because some things people do are unforgivable. Like what that guy did, me and him will never do business together ever again. He's f**ked that all the way up, he's burned that bridge for 1000 hits on YouTube. You know what I'm saying?"
Concerts and controversy
As a fan of hip hop, Charlamagne is known to heavily promote the music he likes. With the news that P Diddy will be putting on a Bad Boy Records reunion concert in New York next month, with a vast number of artists from the label's past and present roster performing – will he be in attendance at the historic occasion? "I absolutely will be," he says. "And I'm going to wear my Bad Boy windbreaker. You remember those old school Bad Boy windbreakers they used to wear on tour in the 90s? Somebody sent me one of those, I can't remember who, maybe Diddy gave it to me, I don't know but I'm wearing my Bad Boy windbreaker to that concert.
"We had Diddy up on The Breakfast Club [recently talking about it]. Black Rob's gonna be there. Total's gonna be there. Mary J. Blige. Faith Evans. I mean, the only person he didn't say was Da Band. It would be kinda cool if in the middle of the show he put Dave Chappelle up on the screen saying 'Dylan, Dylan, Dylan,' and then he brought out Da Band. That would be dope!"
One artist on Bad Boy's former roster, who Charlamagne has had issues with in the past is Ma$e. Apparently confronting Charlamagne in a restaurant in Miami because he was unhappy with something he said on-air, the rapper-turned-minister was then thrown out of said eatery by Charlamagne's longtime friend Wax. So will there will more trouble if he sees Ma$e at the Bad Boy reunion concert?
"I don't give a f**k about him," Charlamagne admits. "God bless him. However they choose to move we react to that. I'm not going in their with no ill intentions. I'm not gonna see him and be mean mugging. I don't f**k with him, and that's just it. I had an opinion on him, which was that I thought he was hypocritical because he went from rap to the reverent, back to rap and now he's trying to be a reverend again but also rap again. I just don't f**k with him, that's all. He approached me, Wax threw him out of the restaurant."
Will Lavin is a Hip Hop Music & Lifestyle Specialist of 10 years. A 2015 IMC Award winner, he's written for publications such as VIBE, XXL, Complex and Blues & Soul. He's worked with artists such as Chaka Khan, Timbaland, will.i.am. and Chris Brown. He also runs illwill.co.uk.