Sunday, July 30, 2017

Book Review: "Black Privilege" by Charlamagne Tha God

He used to intimidate me! His truth scared me. I unfollowed him from Twitter back in the day, I'd refuse to watch his commentary when it got offensive and raw, and I brushed him off as a loud-mouthed know-it-all who was just looking for attention.

Surely, I'm not the first person to express my dislike for Charlamagne Tha God. He is, by design, a controversial figure. He's brutally honest. He's silenced by few, and has a huge platform to communicate his views which in today's social world = power.

Purchasing his book "#BlackPrivilege: Opportunity Comes to Those Who Create It" was automatic for me, however. Because between fearing his Twitter rants, and being addicted to YouTube videos of his morning show The Breakfast Club on New York's Power 105.1...I became a fan of his. A huge fan. In fact, somehow over the years I started to respect Charlamagne. Like, really respect him...and the things that I respected him for were the very things that I disliked him for previously. I had grown into his rhetoric, and appreciated his views. I looked forward to his opinions and interviews.

Many of us watch Breakfast Club interviews online. Some are fortunate to get to tune in live-to-air (but not us in Toronto who have to scramble for a decent radio signal to get our morning fix of urban culture). I feel like Charlamagne, DJ Envy, and Angela Yee are my go-to media outlet for celebrity interviews, perspectives, and to "catch up" on what's hot.

As much as I rate these guys, however, I never really dug deeper until now. I never looked into their personal stories, individual journeys, or career paths. My reference points really didn't go beyond the morning show. Partially because I'm not THAT much of a hip hop head...and partially because, I never saw the relevance.

But I can safely say now--having read Charlamagne's full life story--that I am genuinely moved and inspired by his journey. I am better off having read this book. I read a LOT of biographies (which I am finally admitting is my preferred genre of down-time reading)...but this one was special. Yes. Charlamagne's story was very special. I learned a lot, and reinforced a lot.

Everyone loves a good coming of age story, and seeing a small town hustler make it big in the Big City. It's the story of many of our favourite rappers, actors, tech experts, and activists. We love to see someone defy the odds against them, make a name for themselves, follow their passions, and create a lifestyle that they love, and use this to motivate and inspire others.

Personally, I love to read stories about artists. Musicians. Writers. Actors. People who enter an unstable field of work to begin with, driven by passion and creativity alone...and somehow find a way to make it work. I am driven by this, needless to say...as an artist/writer/dreamer myself.

So Charlamagne's journey from a young thug and troublemaker in South Carolina, to a radio personality finding his way through the industry, and ending up on one of the most popular syndicated programs in America is a great story! I've read biographies that dragged and bored through the "wonder years," but I can honestly say that every step of his journey was interesting, filled with great lessons, and a genuinely entertaining read.

He is a great storyteller. Just listening to him on air, you can see he has a way with words, and is actually a lot funnier than I realized. He's painfully aware of his strengths, and super-duper aware of his flaws...which is definitely something I like about the brother. From his bleaching rumours, penis size, getting beat up on camera, and confessions of infidelity, there really isn't anything that Charlamagne left out. Literally, an open book.

Hearing his version of some of the best Charlamagne rumours was definitely interesting, but then also reading about the lessons he extracted from a lot of those experiences were even better. A few new characteristics came to mind when I finally finished the book, and had a moment to reflect. Newfound acknowledgement of his personal strength, courage, and self-awareness in particular. Lessons in patience, and trusting God also came to light, which is definitely not something I expected to take away from this reading.

I highlighted this story like a textbook, not wanting to forget some of the passages and anecdotes that he shared. A few gems I liked were:

-In order to change your life for the better, you must first change your lifestyle.
-Always live your truth.
-Design yourself. Construct your own dream.
-Don't try to grab someone else's gift.
-A true winner values their integrity, no matter what the fallout.
-You can never hurt yourself by helping others.
-Faith plus hard work can change any circumstance.

I really, really loved how much of an avid reader he was growing up, and his love for books. The way his parents shaped his mind. Growing up in an isolated small town, and eventually learning about Tupac's LA, and Biggie's NYC just through reading, and lyrics, reminded me of the power of telling your own story and documenting the here and now. Sharing your experience. Learning through example. So powerful.

From a small town self-professed "nerd" to one of the most prominent voices in media and pop culture, I think it's fabulous that he has evolved, and reached successes, and opened so many doors for himself from writing, to television, to radio...and yet he didn't seem to compromise himself. You can see and hear the growth by watching him over the years...but Charlamagne is still pretty much the same Charlamagne he always was. A real dude.

I admire him. For his honesty especially, and for reminding me that you don't have to change or conform or follow any set paths or methods of behaviour in order to achieve what is meant for you. He was true to himself first and foremost, and everything else fell into place as a result. He didn't compromise his personal values. He didn't censor himself or suck up to people in positions of influence to gain respect. The #BlackPrivilege is a reminder that everyone is in a position to influence the direction of their own life: "opportunity comes to those who create it."

He just called it like it was, and still does. And for that, the same reason that I was afraid to read his simple Tweets, I will gladly recommend this book to anyone who asks. Charlamagne is the truth.

Well done, brother.




Written by Stacey Marie Robinson for Kya Publishing's "Urban Toronto Tales" blog.

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