My “Renaissance Man” guest this week has a philosophy when he approaches the studio microphone.
“I always try to be the perfect balance of ratchetness and righteousness,” Charlamagne tha God told me. But he said he doesn’t know if that balance is always possible, so when all else fails: “I just strive to be human.”
The “Breakfast Club” co-host, who also hosts “Tha God’s Honest Truth” on Comedy Central, has been called the Hip-Hop Howard Stern and became famous for his searing commentary about figures in urban culture. But the personality, whose real name is Lenard McKelvey, has undergone a metamorphosis over the last few years that required him to address his vanity, his humanity and his panic attacks.
The South Carolina native told me that he became a “caricature” of himself as he tried to live up to his shock jock personality. But in the end, he realized he was hurting people, including artists he gossiped about and his own family. For example, Charlamagne said he had long criticized rapper Young Thug because they are from different generations and he wasn’t a fan of his music. He didn’t how his shtick hurt the then-budding rapper, until Young Thug opened up about it.
“He’s 30 years old and he’s telling me how much my words hurt him back in the day and how mad he was about it … And he was like, ‘Yo, I was 18, 19 year old kid coming out of the ghetto, just trying to figure things out’ … I didn’t understand it back then. And it really continued to put things in perspective for me, just like, I don’t want to hurt nobody, man. That’s … not my intention.”
And at home, he said his wife Jessica even asked, “Who are you?”
It was a question he had to tackle because trying to keep up with everyone’s perception that he was only an edgy, provocative larger-than-life personality started to mess with his sanity.
“I started going to therapy in 2016 because I was losing it. I just didn’t want to go crazy,” he said, adding he had been “really feeding into the character of Charlamagne and, you know, getting all the spoils that come with that, you know, the women? I never had this much money,” he said, adding that he didn’t want to break up his family like his own father had done a generation before.
He also realized he’d been having panic attacks for years and the more money and more power he got, the more intense they became. He went to therapy to address them. In 2018, he released a book, “Shook One: Anxiety Playing Tricks on Me.” The tome launched him into the category of mental health advocate, even though he initially fought against the label. When Tracie Jade, who works with Taraji P. Henson on mental health awareness charity the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation, introduced him as such, he protested.
“I’m like, ‘I’m not no mental health advocate.’ I heard Taraji was like, ‘Yes, you are. Whether you realize it or not. Right.’ And so I just kind of realized man, this is what I want my life’s work to be. I want to help black people heal, especially black men.”
Now, the father of four is extremely tapped into his feelings and in addition to talk therapy, he’s gone to “mental health gym” Inception in Michigan where he’s done float therapy and brain training — and he knows that’s part of his personal evolution.
“I know I’ve probably taken people on a bunch of different journeys watching me, you know, grow over these past 11 years with the Breakfast Club. I didn’t have four daughters 11 years ago. I wasn’t going to therapy. I didn’t have sacred purpose coaches and, you know, doing healing energy work on myself … So, yeah, I am a different human being, and I know that I approach things with a lot more empathy.”
That’s not to say he’s lost his edge. I’ve been friends with him for a very long time, and he’s just as entertaining now as he was when he was morphing from Lenard to Charlamagne tha God. But now he’s able to showcase all sides of himself, not just the character he played on radio. He’s loving his new show which allows him to show his comedic chops. And he still does the “Donkey of the Day” — a wildly popular segment he started doing at a Philadelphia station before Breakfast Club was launched in 2010. And sometimes he gives to himself because he’s a self aware dude with a sense of humor. And a person who dishes it, should be able to take it.
Charlamagne also acknowledges his mistakes and his hunger to always come back stronger. In fact, he’s been fired four times from different radio gigs, which would be a wrap for most mere mortals. For him, it was a learning experience.
With the kinder, more empathetic Charlamagne on display, I asked who is the celebrity with whom he’d like to make amends? He said Nicki Minaj. The pair were once “cool” with each other. But they have a contentious history. He criticized her “Anaconda” record and some of her life choices, and while she’s claimed that he’s banned her from his show it’s something he has denied.
“I got a lot of respect for Nicki. What Nicki has done is unprecedented. Like, she revitalized female hip-hop over the past decade. Like, all these new artists, every single one of them from Cardi to Meg [thee Stallion], whoever, is because Nicki opened in that lane again.”
So I am proposing the first “Renaissance Man” summit. It would be an honor to welcome Nicki and Charlamagne to the show and broker a lasting peace between the two icons. After all, we’re here to make history.
Detroit native Jalen Rose is a member of the University of Michigan’s iconoclastic Fab Five, who shook up the college hoops world in the early ’90s. He played 13 seasons in the NBA, before transitioning into a media personality. Rose is currently an analyst for “NBA Countdown” and “Get Up,” and co-host of “Jalen & Jacoby.” He executive produced “The Fab Five” for ESPN’s “30 for 30” series, is the author of the best-selling book, “Got To Give the People What They Want,” a fashion tastemaker, and co-founded the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, a public charter school in his hometown.
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