A Black Privilege follow-up wasn’t always in the cards for Charlamagne Tha God. Even though the New York Times best-selling author and radio host had publishers waving lucrative checks in his face, he repeatedly declined the idea of penning another book without something captivating to offer his audience.
“Last year, I was sitting on one of my favorite islands of Anguilla and I was with all my friends and family sitting by the pool and I had this really serene feeling,” Charlamagne tells Billboard. It was at that moment of serenity that a light went off looking toward his next chapter.
Just over a year later, the brash The Breakfast Club co-host returns with Shook One: Anxiety Playing Tricks on Me, an obvious ode to both Mobb Deep and the Geto Boys. His second book will focus on personal experiences dealing with anxiety and peeling back the layers to traumatic events that were never dealt with properly at the time.
Overall, CTG looks to elevate the conversation surrounding mental health, especially in the hip-hop and black communities. Shook One cements the radio personality’s stance in making sure he’s on the right side of history when it comes to society’s growing focus on mental health, while helping remove the negative stigma of remedies such as therapy.
Billboard caught up with Charlamagne for an extensive conversation prior to the cancellation of his TimesTalk with Kanye West, but his answers regarding Ye could provide some insight into his hesitancy at going through with the event at this time. He ended up touching on his new book, mental health in hip-hop, Kanye’s visit to the Oval Office, favorite Breakfast Club interviews of the year, Drake earning his respect and much more.
Pre-order Charlamagne Tha God’s Shook One: Anxiety Playing Tricks on Me prior to its global release at your local book retailer on Tuesday (Oct. 23).
Billboard: They say everyone’s got one book in them, what makes you think you could have success with two within 18 months?
It’s honestly something I wasn’t expecting to do. With the success of Black Privilege, of course the book publishers wanted me to come with another book immediately. They came with the check, but I don’t do things for money. I was like, “Nah, I’m good.” If I don’t have the experience that I want to share, then what’s the point?
Last year, I was sitting on one of my favorite islands of Anguilla and I was with all my friends and family sitting by the pool and I had this really serene feeling. It was the first time in a long time that I could remember not having any anxiety whatsoever. I was saying, “How can I constantly feel like this all the time?” It can’t just be location, there’s got to be something else I’m missing out on. I finally decided to deal with my anxiety.
The first step was going to therapy. I had plenty of friends who dealt with anxiety and borderline depression that were on medication, but I didn’t think I needed any of that, so I figured I’d find someone to talk to. A lot of times, when you’re the go-to person, you got to ask yourself, who does the go-to person talk to? Sometimes you need to seek a professional opinion. God was telling me to go talk to someone.
I’ve heard you talk about how you were diagnosed with anxiety 10 years ago, what was the holdup to only starting therapy just last year?
It happened at a period in my life that I had just been fired for the fourth time from radio. I was living back at home with my mom at 32-years-old. My daughter was two-years-old. My now-wife had to go back home to live with her parents, so I was stressing. I had an artist I was working with and that didn’t work out, so I was angry about that. That’s when I was having all these crazy panic attacks. One time in particular, I was riding down I-26 in South Carolina with my cousin and I really felt like I was having a heart attack. My heart was beating fast and my arm was going numb. I told him to pull over and got some water to calm down. I went to the hospital the next day and the doctor said, “You got a healthy heart. You got an athlete’s heart, but it sounds like you had a panic attack. Do you suffer from anxiety?” He asked if I was stressed about anything and I was like, “Hell yeah.”
So once he told me that, I knew what it was. I started thinking back in life to all the times in life I’d had those feelings. The Breakfast Club came a few months later. When you’re seven years into doing what I’m doing on radio and you’ve had success doing books and television and still having those same panic attacks, you’re like “why?” I thought I was good, but clearly, I’m not, so that made me want to start going to therapy.
Is the book going to be more of a look inward revolving around your own experiences, or will that be correlated with an expert’s opinion?
It’s based off my own experiences with anxiety, going to therapy, realizing I got PTSD and even trauma from things that happened to me when I was younger. I definitely wanted to bring in an expert’s opinion because I’m not an expert in anything. All I have are my experiences and I like to share my experiences to see if people could learn from them. I had to go get Dr. Ish Major, who is a therapist that specializes in black mental health. So everything I describe in the book, he gives a clinical correlation for at the end of each chapter. It would just sound like I’m venting [without it].
Can you explain what you mean by rational versus irrational anxiety?
Rational anxiety is when you’re aware of the source of your anxiety. Like if I have to host an award show or talk to millions of people on the radio, I’m going to feel anxious and I know why. Irrational anxiety is when I’m leaving CVS and there’s a car behind me and I’m wondering if he’s following me home? Should I start doing detours? I’m making sure nobody’s running up on me and you look, but it’s some Logic-looking kid driving past you. That’s trauma and anxiety from things I’ve been through. Being black in America, you’re going to have a sense of paranoia people won’t know how to remotely unpack. I got a whole chapter called “Blackannoyed.” When I get pulled over, my mindset is totally different now. I don’t have the luxury of asking, “Why did I get pulled over, sir?” I can’t curse the cop out. I have to comply.
Your first book laid out your principles of life. How is Shook One: Anxiety Playing Tricks on Me set up?
It’s a little different. My first book was me being transparent. I’ve never had a problem with being transparent. The second book is me being more vulnerable. I think there’s a different between transparent and vulnerable. It’s one thing to tell a story, but it’s another to tell how you feel. It’s me sharing my experiences. There’s definitely stories since I’m talking about various panic attacks and situations that I didn’t give the type of thought I do now. There’s things I never peeled back the layers on.
What’s hip-hop’s connection to the book?
“Shook One” is of course an ode to Mobb Deep. The song is such a great one for our culture, but back in the day, being shook was the last thing you were supposed to be. Showing your vulnerability and fears meant you were pussy. If you were pussy, then you were food. It’s me embracing it saying, “We all are shook ones and afraid of something.” The subtitle, “Anxiety Playing Tricks on Me” is an ode to the Geto Boys‘ “Mind Playing Tricks on Me.” That’s the greatest hip-hop song ever written about anxiety — one of the greatest songs period ever written about anxiety. If you listen to that [“Mind Playing Tricks on Me”] now, you’re like, “Oh shit, they were going through anxiety.” That’s why I got Scarface to do the foreword for the book. I also have a whole chapter breaking down “Mind Playing Tricks On Me” and how it was an anxiety-driven record.
What are some other tracks you hear now that largely relate to mental health?
[Jay-Z‘s] “Streets Is Watching.” Beanie Sigel’s “Feel It in the Air.” Both of those are about anxiety. “Streets Is Watching” is such a dope record to me because when you grow up in the street, there is a sense of paranoia that comes with that. It’s because you know the lifestyle you’re living. You know you could possibly die today, maybe go to jail or get in a fight. A lot of us, we just chalk it up to the lifestyle. What if you’re dealing with anxiety and living that lifestyle? Now, you’re triple-paranoid. PTSD from the streets, having guns pulled on you, that shit doesn’t go away.
What mental health issues do you recognize in younger artists you’ve interviewed?
A lot of anxiety. With young kids from the hood, I see a lot of PTSD. Social media brings another whole level of anxiety that we’re all dealing with. I just thank God that I didn’t have to grow up with social media in my formative years. I don’t think I would’ve made it, to be honest with you. I talk about the fear of missing out in the book, and that’s what social media does to you. I think social media is painting an unattainable picture of perfection. Social media is literally everyone’s highlight reel. You don’t see any mistakes, flaws, or struggle. The problem with that virtual reality is we’re trying to bring that into our real world.
You can get in trouble now for talking about things you did back in the day. You can get in trouble for the way you used to think back in the day, and that’s not fair. Every story I’ve enjoyed, is one of growth and evolution. I think The Autobiography of Malcolm X is the greatest story of evolution ever. I think Jay-Z going from Jay-Z to Shawn Carter is a great story of growth. We saw the flaws of these people, but nowadays, you’re not allowed to do that. Imagine being 14-years-old and going on social media to see everyone living this fake perfect life, and then in real life nobody’s talking about their mistakes. So when that 14-year-old does make a mistake, he might feel inferior and kill himself. Let kids grow and evolve.
What do you think about artists really embracing mental health? Like when you see Chance The Rapper pledging one-million dollars toward Chicago’s mental health services?
I love it because it feels like the universe is conspiring for us to have this conversation. Our whole life we’ve been told everything is mental. Everything starts with a thought and thoughts become things. What you conceive, you can achieve. I always tell people the things they want to happen in life, they should constantly think about. That’s why anxiety is so tricky. When you’re thinking about the worst things happening, you hold onto those thoughts. When I see Taraji P. Henson with her foundation or Chance The Rapper pledging one-million dollars or even me with this book, I didn’t know the universe was going to do that. It’s conspiring for us to win. I want to elevate a conversation by letting people know it’s okay to go figure out what’s going on upstairs. Now there’s a bunch of us on this mountain seeing each other going through the same things.
What do you think about Kanye West meeting with Donald Trump at the Oval Office and the public’s harsh reaction to it?
Number one, I don’t see why we still get up in arms over Kanye’s antics. Kanye has been telling us he loves Trump for two years now, so why are we surprised he’s at the White House? I don’t have any problem with him engaging with Donald Trump. If he chooses to engage because he feels he can really get things done for himself and the poor and disenfranchised communities — even though I feel a lot of it is self-serving — do your thing. But when you’re in there, my brother, be in there on your feet, not on your knees. All that bootlicking, you’re Kanye West at the end of the day! I don’t want to see you bowing down to a white man like Trump, who is the symbol of white supremacy in America. That Make America Great Again hat is like the new Confederate flag.
A lot of things Kanye said in that meeting with Trump were in the right ball park. People didn’t even take those clips when he spoke on the schools being boring and needing a more creative curriculum to keep kids intrigued, Chicago not needing stop-and-frisk but bringing jobs back to America, a Yeezy factory in Chicago to people can actually work. Now, with Larry Hoover, I’m not all in on Larry Hoover because I don’t know what he was all in on. What Kanye said about having someone like him in the ecosystem is accurate. When you have an OG like that in the streets, he could bring structure to the hood. All that crime calms down just a bit.
Even when he brought out the Make America Great hats, that’s something I’ve been telling him. America has never been great for minorities, women, and the LGBTQ community. It’s only been great for white men. So when he made Trump wear it, I was like, “That was cool.” Those four points gets flushed out among the bullshit.
I felt the same thing happened to your great interview with him in May. Kanye went up to TMZ Live the same day your discussion was released, which ended up stealing all of the headlines.
That was the universe conspiring for this mental health talk. We did that interview in April and it came out May 1, which is the first day of Mental Health Awareness Month. Even when he was talking about mental health with Trump, that all gets lost. In my interview, he was talking about being bipolar and off his meds, but all that got lost. Telling Harvey Levin he was off his meds, Harvey just breezed by that. That’s why I wanted to sit down and have a conversation with Kanye.
What have your private conversations with Kanye been like recently?
Contrary to popular belief, I don’t talk to Kanye all the time. When he is in his phone spell, I would talk to him all the time. He doesn’t always have a phone though. He gets a phone, he’s on your line. FaceTime, call or whatever to just have conversation. We’ve had those conversations about [mental health]. It’s uncomfortable for me to talk dealing with my mental health issues. I didn’t even know anxiety was a mental health issue, but you come to find out it’s the number one mental health issue people are facing in America. I don’t know if he’s all the way in on talking about it.
It’s been another great year at The Breakfast Club. What have been some of your favorite moments and interviews in 2018?
It really has been. You got moments and actual conversations. For moments, Desus and Mero was a good moment. It made for the funny meme with DJ Envy leaving his chair. Nipsey Hussle was definitely one of my favorites, he’s got the album of the year with Victory Lap. A lot of the others aren’t even artists. Jess Hilarious was another, she’s on Lil Rel’s show. Comedian Miss Pat was really good.
I’ll throw 6ix9ine in there. I liked that interview. I thought it was one of 6ix9ine’s first real conversations with people and gave some more insight. I thought Angie Martinez’s interview was better with him. We just did another with Jonah Hill that I’d put in my top five of the year. The illest thing about The Breakfast Club is that its become a staple in the culture. An institution for conversation and I’m always shocked by who listens. There’s so many people who have seen some type of The Breakfast Club interview.
Why can’t we get an interview between you and Drake?
[Laughs] I think the conversation would be much different that it would have been four years ago. Five years ago, I didn’t give a fuck about Drake. No disrespect, but I still don’t give a fuck about Drake. I respect him. He’s actually a great hip-hop case study because he should’ve been fell off. If you look at history, when you’re somebody like Drake and you get that much radio play, most of the stars like that fall off. Think about Ja Rule, Nelly, 50 Cent or DMX at their height. They got tired of them. All of those guys had a run.
Hip-hop wasn’t embraced yet, where it’s now the most consumed genre of music. You can’t deny hip-hop anymore, but I think you could’ve 15 years ago.
50 Cent sold 10 million records. Nelly went diamond a couple times. These guys were superstars. Jay-Z said the only people selling units is, “Em, Pimp Juice and us.” Jay is a little different because he didn’t start off red-hot. It’s hard to start off red-hot and still remain where you’re at. It’s been a decade for Drake and that’s kind of unprecedented in hip-hop. I can’t do nothing but salute him. I went to his tour concert in New York and I understood it, just hits after hits. I’ve never seen a run like his. I got more respect for him.
With you turning 40 this year, what goals do you have set for the decade?
To be as mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually fit as possible. Professionally, I’m doing it. I’m getting into the scripted side of the game with shows and film. I’m executive producing N.O.R.E.‘s On The Run Eating food show. We’re taking that to a network soon. I got another project you’re going to see in a few weeks. We’re still working on the creative side for the HBO show. Those big networks are a little tougher to navigate. That’s going to be a series of specials. I’ll do one a quarter.
How about seeing your tweet regarding the Migos being bigger than The Beatles going viral during the 2018 AMAs? I saw a few blogs run with that headline.
That’s actually an old troll from Desus [Nice]. He started that like four years ago. I interviewed the Migos talking about being bigger than The Beatles way back before they got to where they’re at now. It’s an old troll we used to do to piss off white people on social media. I did it last week, thinking that people would remember that, but it got articles picked up about it and everything. Now, I’m just like alright fuck it, Quavo is better than John Lennon. It’s just a troll.
The @Migos winning best pop rock group or duo is the final evidence needed to prove to all white people that they are better than the Beatles.
— Charlamagne Tha God (@cthagod) October 10, 2018