For the last fifteen years, Lenard “Charlamagne Tha God” McKelvey has carved a unique path through the world of media. In 2006, he left Moncks Corner, South Carolina (which is roughly an hour from James Island, a.k.a. the Charleston, South Carolina suburb where Tha God’s Honest Truth with Lenard “Charlamagne Tha God” McKelvy executive producer Stephen Colbert grew up) to begin his radio journey working with Wendy Williams. Four years later and Power 105.1 FM assembles its Breakfast Club, with Charlamagne Tha God joining forces with DJ Envy and Angela Yee to put the pressure on Hot 97. The show went on to impact the culture, but also took on the greater cause of bringing larger conversations to the people, hosting the likes of presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden.
Alongside Charlamagne’s Breakfast Club explosion has been a host (pun intended) of television work. The man who calls himself the “Prime Minister of Pissing People Off, the Architect of Aggravation, and the Ruler of Rubbing People the Wrong Way” was also finding himself as a voice people wanted to hear weigh in on the situations of today. By the third season of his MTV2 series Uncommon Sense, Charlamagne tells Complex that the direction of the series “was more politically driven. It was me by myself and it was just more politically driven. Next thing you know, they’re having talking head segments on MSNBC about the Charlamagne caucus, and how all of these presidential candidates got to come through and sit down and talk to Charlamagne on The Breakfast Club, and Meghan McCain on The View saying the best interviews in the political cycle and the best questions are being asked by Charlamagne. It was just interesting how that just came about.” It made sense that, at some point, Colbert—who’d started to regularly feature Charlamagne on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert would be receptive to a project from Charlamagne where he’s giving his honest truth about the social issues being debated on our timelines and playing out in the news on a regular basis.
Ahead of the premiere of Tha God’s Honest Truth on Comedy Central, Charlamagne Tha God hopped on Zoom to speak on his journey. Not just his journey of becoming a television host, but The Breakfast Club’s journey to the Radio Hall of Fame. Charlamagne also gets candid about the work he’s done on his own mental health, and how that change has played into how Tha God’s Honest Truth has evolved, as well as how that particular journey informed the upcoming Mental Wealth Expo that he put together for World Mental Health Day (Oct. 10) in New York City.
Alongside this conversation, you will see exclusive images from the set of Tha God’s Honest Truth. Charlamagne called on Nigerian artist Laolu Senbanjo (who’s worked with everyone from Beyoncé to Alicia Keys) to bring a unique vision to life. Nah, seriously: the Jack Morton-designed set is inspired by the inside of a Cadillac Escalade (deadass) and is covered in art that features a mixture of Yoruba patterns and Nigerian symbols that Senbanjo calls “Afromysterics” with callbacks to Charlemagne’s South Carolina roots
This may not be the Charlamagne Tha God interview you were expecting, but this is the Charlamagne Tha God interview you’re being given. And, for some, maybe it’s the Charlamagne Tha God interview you need. And that’s Tha God’s honest truth.
I read that this show was supposed to premiere during the 2020 election. Was that true? How long had you been working on this before we got to now?
Yeah, it was… Damn, I forgot all about that. Yeah. We announced it last year, but I think the announcement came more so because my man Chris McCarthy and Nina Diaz had an article. I did an interview for the interview, talking about Chris McCarthy and my relationship with him and how he [was] the first person to put me on TV, and how he’s such a good eye for talent because so many people came from that MTV2 / Guy Code/Girl Code cool wave. Me and Pete Davidson and Awkwafina and Andrew Schulz, Lil Duval, so many people, right. Nicole Buyer.
It got announced and that was the plan. I was like, “I would love to get on before election season, just because I wanted to have a real voice in that election cycle.” Which is so interesting, because you can have a good plan, but that’s not God’s plan for you, right. God’s plan wasn’t for me to be a part of that election cycle with this TV show. I was a part of the election cycle with The Breakfast Club.
A lot of that has continued to set the stage for what we’re doing now and I’m glad. I love God’s divine timing because there are just so many different elements and pieces that got added and got removed. And the show that we would have done this time last year wouldn’t have been the show that we’re doing now and the show that we’re doing right now is the show we’re supposed to be doing.
I remember the MTV2 series Uncommon Sense from about five years ago. What did you learn from that experience and what did you bring from that experience into Tha God’s Honest Truth?
Oh, so much. I mean, before Uncommon Sense, it was Charlamagne & Friends. I did two short seasons of Charlamagne & Friends, and even then it was just me learning to be a host. That was a weird time because I was kind of in the caricature of Charlamagne, but then also MTV2 was trying to make me a talk show host. So I’ll be up there with the suit and everything else and I’d be having to do mad different takes because I’d be being me or being the character of me, right? And it might’ve been too raw for MTV2. You know what I mean? So I just had to kind of play the game a little bit. Uncommon Sense came along and was a little bit more me, but then that was also a time where I just learned how to host a talk show, to be honest. I just learned how to hold a talk show because Uncommon essentially was more Chelsea Handler. Both shows are more Chelsea Handler than anything because I had a panel and I had a co-host. Zuri Hall was my first co-host, then Crissle West from The Read was my co-host. [By] the third season, it was just me. It’s so interesting how God works because even the third season of Uncommon Sense, [it] was more politically driven. It was me by myself and it was just more politically driven. Next thing you know, they’re having talking head segments on MSNBC about the Charlamagne caucus, and how all of these presidential candidates got to come through and sit down and talk to Charlamagne on The Breakfast Club, and Meghan McCain on The View saying the best interviews in the political cycle and the best questions are being asked by Charlamagne. It was just interesting how that just came about.
I learned so much from all of that. I learned just how to be a talk show host. But one thing that I wasn’t doing on that show was completely being me. It wasn’t completely my POV, but I learned a lot of the mechanics of just how to host and run a talk show from Charlamagne & Friends and Uncommon Sense.
I think the other thing that’s changed, too, is social media, specifically people being unafraid of speaking out. For someone like you, who is also unafraid to speak your mind, have you had to adjust your approach to certain topics or subjects?
I think for me, I approach things with a different level of empathy just because I like to give people the same grace that I want God to give me. And if that’s too hard for folks to give other folks the grace they want God to give them, at least give folks the grace you would want another human to give you. I approached things differently just because I’ve done so much work on myself. I know I’ve disturbed a lot of people’s peace in my day. Sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally.
I realized that the best way to keep your peace is to not disturb the peace of others, and I say that all the time because it’s so true. I’m just more careful with the way I say and do things just because I know humans are impacted by it and humans are influenced by it. It’s literally that simple. I don’t want to intentionally hurt anyone. So you can’t be just reckless and say, “Fuck it.” You can’t do that. That’s just not going to work, and I realized that long before any of this social media outrage was going on now.
I’m not afraid to have people disagree with my opinion, that’s never going to be a problem of mine, but I’m very cognizant of unintentionally hurting people. And by the way, I still don’t always get it right. I still might say something and think I got the best intentions and think I’m doing this because I’m trying to raise awareness to something and end up unintentionally stepping on somebody’s foot. That’s when you just apologize. If that person wants to accept, cool. If they don’t, God bless them. I send them healing energy, but I got to keep it moving.