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Charlamagne Tha God: The Reintroduction of Lenard McKelvey

Radio host. New York Times bestselling author. Late-night talk show host. The multi-hyphenate known as Charlamagne Tha God has come a long way since his early days as Lenard Larry McKelvey. The young Moncks Corner, South Carolina native couldn’t have imagined all he would become. Although he enjoyed reading, thanks to his English-teacher mother, Charlamagne found himself in a world of trouble and on a path that could have ended badly. After witnessing firsthand where that path would lead him, The Breakfast Club co-host decided he wanted much more for his life. Now, Charlamagne is ready to reintroduce the world to Lenard.

There is a method to Charlamagne’s madness. Having launched his career as an intern for Z93 Jamz in Charleston, South Carolina, the radio host is now one of the voices of New York City as a co-host on the Radio Hall of Fame inducted The Breakfast Club. “I was fired from radio shows four times,” Charlamagne says about his radio career. “This is the longest I ever worked at one radio station.”

Twelve years in, the successful morning show has evolved into a juggernaut that has become one of the first press stops Black celebrities, politicians, and everything else in-between make in order to reach the Black community at large. “I always knew when me, DJ Envy, and Angela Yee got together that we were building something special,” Charlamagne shares. As a young up-and-coming host, the Black Privilege author never wanted to just be a regular radio host – he wanted to follow in the footsteps of super jocks such as Wendy Williams, Angie Martinez, Howard Stern and Tom Joyner. With the show now averaging over eight million listeners a month, the evolution has been heard around the country. “If you haven’t evolved in 12 years, something is wrong,” Charlamagne says.

Now that the moment when the idea of our culture continues to be a hot topic, Charlamagne says it has been on his mind lately. “Culture can’t just be one thing,” Charlamagne says. “There are so many different sub-cultures of whatever this hip-hop Black culture is. Over the years, the culture of Blackness, and hip-hop has always constantly evolved.” Charlamagne identifies that the root of culture is music, from blues to jazz to country and disco. “When you look at music, there are so many different subgenres and subcultures of music now. I think that there are a lot of shared experiences that Black Americans have, and we've turned them into this culture,” he says. And with those shared experiences, Charlamagne says he believes that’s what The Breakfast Club is. “Even if you don't understand these three individuals, you understand somebody who sat in that seat. You understand some guests that have been up there. You understand some conversation we have had,” Charlamagne notes regarding the morning show’s place in culture.

Charlamagne has continued to grow his media empire while coming into his own. Season 2 of his late-night talk show Tha God’s Honest Truth returns to Comedy Central this summer. The show features the unfiltered host’s take on social issues with deep dives, sketches and social experiments. Tha God’s Honest Truth made its biggest headline with an interview featuring Vice President Kamala Harris, where Charlamagne pressed her on the power of Senator Joe Manchin. The heated exchange went viral with people criticizing Charlamagne’s questioning and others criticizing the Vice President’s response. Still, the host continues to keep his eye on the prize even through heavy criticism.

“I like radio. I like being a nationally syndicated radio show host. A late-night television host is something that I want to really become. It's something that I want to conquer,” Charlamagne remarked about the next chapter in his career. For a young Lenard, watching The Arsenio Hall Show while growing up in the ‘90s helped him study and become who he is today. As an adult, watching YouTube clips of old episodes has continued to inspire him.

Charlamagne has had his fair share of backlash on his path to becoming a media mogul. He often found himself on the receiving end of what some may call “cancel culture.” Knowing the importance of having a voice, Charlamagne launched his own podcast network, The Black Effect. The network hosts shows featuring the likes of NBA veteran Matt Barnes, comedian Jess Hilarious and the popular financial literacy show Earn Your Leisure. It was a natural progression for Charlamagne to create the network, as he is all too familiar with how social media can misconstrue messaging. “I can say something to you right now. I can say a complete sentence. And somebody could take that complete sentence and chop it into two words, put it on social media with whatever headline and a caption they come up with, and create a narrative and people will run with that,” Charlamagne says.

The threat of weaponizing someone’s words against them without full context can lead many to abandon their authentic self. Charlamagne built his career by being real. Still, the 43-year-old had moments in his career when he couldn’t recognize himself.

“I've been unauthentic. I've been the caricature of myself, and not even realizing I was the caricature of myself while telling myself, ‘I will never be a caricature of myself.’ But it's almost impossible when you want to come up in this game. Rolling Stone or whoever is talking about you and calling you the hip-hop Howard Stern. In your mind, you're like, ‘Oh, this is what they like,’” Charlamagne muses. “When multiple magazines say they love when I do this to people or that to people, you start giving them more of what they’ve come to love you for.”

With all of the success, Charlamagne says he still “wasn’t happy.” Panic attacks began to get worse; bouts of depression became more intense; drinking increased – all effects of not seeing himself in the work that he was doing. Although Charlamagne says he loves his father, during this moment in his life, he started becoming just like him. Someone he did not want to be. This led the Radio Hall of Fame inductee to embark on a journey of healing.

It wasn’t until Charlamagne was authentic to himself that his healing truly began. “I started talking about it. That's authentic… that's me. That's who I was at that moment. I had to let people know I'm dealing with depression. I'm dealing with anxiety on a real high level. I'm not happy. I'm trying to better myself.” By sharing, his progress and revelations, Charlamagne continued to heal. “What you see right now is the most authentic I think I've ever been.” He claims that authenticity began when he asked himself, "Who is Lenard?"

These days the media mogul fully embraces being called his given name. He has said that being called Lenard humbles him and that he actually likes to hear it. With multiple projects on the horizon, Charlamagne is showing no signs of slowing down. Being genuine and prioritizing his healing has placed Charlamagne among the upper echelon of how we now view culture. Lenard is ready to be reintroduced to the world.

Check out the full interview.

Check out the 2020 Culture Issue.

Photographer: J. Monroe of Monroe Media

Creatives: BYOUNG Agency

Grooming: Carol McColley

Stylist: Ty Turner

Stylist Assistant: Sierra Simone


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