Popular radio personality Charlamagne tha God always seems to have someone in his sights. Be it Joe Biden or recently paroled hip-hop artist 6ix9ine, tha God doesn’t spare anyone from hard-hitting questions or sharp criticism.
One of a trio of hosts on the hit syndicated radio show, “The Breakfast Club,” he has risen to the top of the industry. The show, which also features DJ Envy and Angela Yee, was nominated for an NAACP Image Award and in August 2020, the trio was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame. Charlamagne also just inked a multi-year, multi-project deal with Amazon’s podcast platform Audible.
His rise to the top didn’t occur by happenstance. Here is the chronology of how Charlamagne built his career by being consistent and playing the long game.
Born Lenard Larry McKelvey in 1978, Charlamagne grew up in Moncks Corner, South Carolina. Early on, he got into trouble. As a teenager, he was arrested twice for selling drugs. When he was arrested a third time for possession of marijuana and cocaine with intent to distribute, his father refused to pay his bail money. Charlemagne stayed in jail for 41 days before his mother paid for his bail.
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Charlemagne took this as a second chance and began attending night school, eventually landing a job as a radio intern.
“I was always told that in order to change your life you have to change your lifestyle,” he told Black Enterprise. “I had a lot of disciplinary problems in high school which led to me being a problem child in the streets of Moncks Corner, S.C., and I was just tired of being in and out of jail. I don’t have a college degree so all I knew how to do was work. (Before I was on radio) I worked at a telemarketing place, Taco Bell, a warehouse, a flower garden and a clothing store in the mall called D.E.M.O.
“It’s funny because even though I had felonies, I never let my criminal record stop me from getting a job. When I would come to the part where it said have you ever been convicted of a crime or have felonies I would just say, ‘Yes,’ and it never stopped me.”
Eventually Charlemagne made his way to New York City and became second mic to popular and controversial radio host Wendy Williams for her show on VH-1. It was during this time that he took on the radio name of Charlamagne, , Rolling Stone reported. The name was taken from “Charles” — his pseudonym as a drug dealer — and he crafted a new persona based on King Charlemagne, who ruled much of Western Europe from 768 to 814.
In 2010, Charlamagne began hosting “The Breakfast Club” with DJ Envy and Yee on WWPR-FM in New York City, New York, along with its national TV simulcast on Revolt. As of July 2020, the show reached 8 million listeners a month, according to Nielsen.
From this point, Charlamagne was on a roll. He was a cast member of “Guy Code,” a comedy TV show on MTV2 from 2011 to 2015. In 2015, Charlamagne began hosting the short-lived MTV2 show “UncommonSense.” In the midst all of of this, he also starred on the MTV2 show “Charlamagne & Friends” in 2013.
Charlamagne co-hosted MTV New Year’s live event from Times Square in 2013 and 2014. In 2015, he was a correspondent for the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards pre-show. He was also a VJ for “The Week in Jams” with DJ Envy and Sofi Green.
Charlamagne switched gears in 2017 and released his first book and it became a New York Times bestseller. He described the book, “Black Privilege: Opportunity Comes to Those Who Create It,” as “a self-help guide for the hood.”
The next year he released his second book, “Shook One: Anxiety Playing Tricks on Me.”
Along his journey, Charlamagne has offended many celebrity personalities and gotten into on-air battles with them.
He made hip-hop artist and actress Lil’ Mama cry during an interview. Hip-hop mogul Birdman stormed out of an interview. Charlamagne also got into it with then-presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren over Native American ancestral claim.
Charlamagne famously beefed with Joe Biden with a line of questioning that prompted Biden to say, “Well I tell you what, if you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t Black.”
He and other celebs including Diddy and Ice Cube urged Black voters to hold their vote hostage until the political parties pay attention to the needs of Black America.
While Charlamagne’s on-air confrontations get media attention, they have also gotten him in trouble. “I’ve been fired about four times, so, yeah, I guess somebody wasn’t agreeing with my candor,” he told Black Enterprise.
While it has been a slow year for many, Charlamagne has been busy in 2020. During a session of the “The Breakfast Club,” he said he had been working as a producer for a BET special about Uptown records founder Andre Harrell.
Through his production company, CTHAGOD World Productions, Charlamagne also founded in 2020 the Black Effect Podcast Network in collaboration with iHeartMedia. The podcast is anchored by “The Breakfast Club,” according to CNN. The new network was expected to debut with 18 podcasts on iHeartRadio and other podcast platforms curated by Charlamagne.
In July, Charlamagne announced a chat show for Comedy Central.
Back in March, Page Six reported that Charlamagne had various “potential deals” on the table if he decided not to re-sign with “The Breakfast Club” when his contract is up at the end of the year.
Well, he inked one deal. In late October, Audible announced that Charlamagne and Kevin Hart are working together on a series of shows for the company. It’s a multi-year, multi-project deal for Charlamagne.
“The slate of episodic long-form Audible Originals will feature fiction and nonfiction scripted series from both emerging and high wattage superstar talent that the two entertainment giants personally source, cultivate and develop,” according to a press release. “It will also include projects co-written and performed by Kevin and Charlamagne, as well as programs written and performed separately.”
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Charlamagne has also given back. In 2019 he donated $250,000 for student scholarships at South Carolina State University’s alumni association, ABC Columbia reported.
“Always remember, investing in (historically Black colleges and universities) is investing in the future of our people,” Charlamagne wrote about his donation on Instagram.