Lenard McKelvey aka Charlamagne Tha God is regarded as one of the most powerful figures in media today. The meteoric rise that saw him transition from sidekick to Wendy Williams to co-hosting America’s most popular morning show has been nothing short of spectacular. With a television show on Comedy Central, multiple book deals, and a rising presence in mental health advocacy, Charlamagne has built himself up to be a force to be reckoned with.
Charlamagne was born Lenard McKelvey in 1978 in Charleston, South Carolina, but grew up in a small town nearby called Moncks Corner. A father to three daughters, he began his career in media doing small-time radio show gigs in his native town of Charleston. One of his first experiences saw him intern at a local Charleston station called Z93 Jamz. Ambitious and hungry – Charlamagne soon landed a place on ‘The Wendy Williams Experience’.
While the gig with Williams turned out to be a stepping stone to fulfilling his real prophecy, Charlamagne soon landed the deal of a lifetime. iHeart Media’s radio show ‘The Breakfast Club’ saw Charlamagne co-hosting alongside Angela Yee and Dj Envy. The radio show, touted as ‘The World’s Most Dangerous Morning Show’ is syndicated on over 100 stations nationwide, as well as Revolt TV and a podcast. It was also inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 2020, cementing it as hip-hop’s most popular radio show.
While Charlamagne’s success in radio is uncontested, he has consistently used his growing platform for one specific purpose – uplifting Black voices and members of the Black community. From giving out scholarships worth $250,000 to students at historically black universities to setting up publishing collabs dedicated to showcasing Black voices – Charlamagne has slowly defined what seems to be his life’s work.
In 2017, Charlamagne – who was now a man of the people – launched his NYT best-selling book, called Black Privilege: Opportunity Comes to Those Who Create It. The memoir outlined his journey from humble beginnings in Moncks Corner to becoming one of the most celebrated interviewers in the country. Over the span of two decades, Charlamagne has hosted the likes of Kanye West, Kevin Hart, Jay Z, Hillary Clinton, and Kamala Harris. Laying out timeless pieces of wisdom gathered over the years, the book was a sincere commitment by Charlamagne to encourage those around him to believe that the right outcomes were possible with the right tools.
Soon after the launch of his book, Charlamagne, who has always professed a love for literature, signed off on a deal with Atria Books’ new imprint – Black Privilege Publishing. In forming the collaboration, Atria said the imprint “will focus on opening new doors in the publishing marketplace by amplifying Black and brown narratives, rethinking traditional approaches to the industry, and engaging with the audiences Charlamagne knows best: cutting-edge, connected, and culturally aware.”
In September 2020, Charlamagne collaborated with iHeartMedia to launch the Black Effect Podcast Network. “The Black Effect Podcast Network was created to amplify Black voices for new and established content creators and storytellers, giving them a space to showcase their creative vision in the ever-growing podcast game,” Charlamagne Tha God said in a statement to Variety.
The network recently celebrated its success at the Black Effect Podcast Festival – showcasing its rising talent working on a roster of nearly 32 shows. “I’m excited to celebrate the first-ever Black Effect Podcast Festival, where talented Black creators and aspiring podcasters will come together for a day to uplift and inspire one another. This festival is for the culture and is one of many events the network will host for the Black community,” said Charlamagne.
Fast forward, to 2022, the cultural architect signed a deal with Audible Inc. to bring five new projects to Audible listeners. The project which partners with comedian Kevin Hart is aimed at supporting Black creatives and creating content that speaks to culture. With organizations such as Audible and iHeartMedia backing Charlemagne’s dreams and aspirations, it seems that there is no stopping the man from Moncks Corner.
While Charlamagne has always been candid about his life growing up, the past few years have seen a monumental shift in direction. Where the Charlamagne of old saw his primary focus as a harbinger of doom for those who dared take a chance on his hotbed of questioning, the new Charlamagne is laser-focused upon issues such as Black mental health
After a lifetime of dealing with anxiety and depression, Charlamagne has recently become more transparent about his struggles with mental health. On the Daily Show with Leslie Jones, he recounted how losing his job on the radio for the fourth time led to a series of events that would unravel his deteriorating mental health. “I was back at home, living with my mom at like 31, 32 years old with a two-year-old daughter and my now wife, who was back at home living with her parents. I remember having one of those panic attacks where you couldn’t tell me I was not about to die. And so I went to the doctor like I usually do, and the doctor told me I had an athlete’s heart. He said your heart is fine.” However, the doctor then added. “Do you deal with anxiety? It sounds like what you’re describing was an anxiety attack?”
A firm believer in the positive effects of therapy, in 2018, Charlamagne released his second book Shook One: Anxiety Playing Tricks On Me, which chronicles his mental health struggles and outlines his blueprint to breaking free from anxiety and fear. The book, which received widespread acclaim, also led to a shocking revelation. Charlamagne’s father disclosed to him a secret he may have kept till his grave if circumstances had been different. The man who Charlamagne had always seen as an alcoholic and plagued by inner demons opened up about his own struggles with mental health. He confided in Charlamagne about taking therapy his entire life and even being on 10-12 different medications at a certain point.
Cognizant of how the healthcare system in America has failed to address the needs of Black communities, Charlamagne has vowed to improve access to mental healthcare. To this end, in 2021, he launched the Mental Wealth Alliance, a “forward-thinking foundation created to destigmatize, accelerate, and center state-of-the-art mental health outreach and care across the U.S. while building an unprecedented long-term system of generational support for Black communities.” Charlamagne aims to provide free therapy services to more than 10 million Black Americans over the next five years. He also wants to train the next generation of psychiatrists and therapists and introduce more culturally competent therapists to address the varied needs of Black communities in America.
While several chapters still remain in what is yet to become the legacy of Charlamagne Tha God – one thing’s for certain – empowering Black voices will be the underlying theme in many of those chapters.