Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Book Review: "Shook One: Anxiety Playing Tricks on Me" by Charlamagne Tha God

Charlamagne has transitioned nicely from a radio host into the role of a best-selling author. With television and online messaging also a part of his professional equation, he has become the consummate communicator! Now also one of my favourite folks to read, I was quite pleased when I saw news about his latest book on Instagram back in August, and found myself counting down the days until the release of "Shook One." I was so impressed by his first book "Black Privilege" released last year--he is a voice of reason and expertise in many areas that I love and enjoy: media, Black culture, music, and now publishing as well! He is also a voice of honesty, with a story of determination and a really awesome perspective on social issues and cultural personalities.

Released by Simon and Schuster on October 23, "Shook One: Anxiety Playing Tricks on Me" is a reflection on Charlamagne's experiences with anxiety, and how he has met, survived, and persevered through these challenges throughout the course of his life. Already the co-host of the top hip hop radio program in the U.S. (and most popular hip hop radio program worldwide, I believe: The Breakfast Club on New York City's Power 105.1fm), Charlamagne has definitely earned his rank at the top of his game.

Not only is he now an author, he's also a social media influencer (as evidenced by his fabulously entertaining and informative Twitter and Instagram accounts), executive producer of his production company CThaGod World LLC, in addition to hosting his podcast The Brilliant Idiots. Over the years, he's become a familiar face on all media platforms, and seems to be on his way to becoming a multi-platform media mogul like Ryan Seacrest or Steve Harvey--listed as two of his role models in the industry.

To the rest of us, consuming media, social media, music, and all other forms of entertainment on a daily basis, Charlamagne is someone we can expect to keep it 100, with an objective-yet-informed perspective. He used to be someone easily heated, always controversial, and often provocative. We've all witnessed the dramatic celebrity interviews and even the hilarious conversations that have brought him to journalistic excellence as of late, and now he's taking his voice of leadership to another level. His voice continues to be informative, and now also very personal.

The book "Shook One" begins quite fittingly with some words of wisdom from Brad "Scarface" Jordan and the Geto Boys' song "Mind Playing Tricks on Me." Speaking about paranoia and anxiety through lyrics was an acceptable form of communication in the early 90s, used as a way to "open up the conversation" about issues of anxiety and related mental ailments. Charlamagne reflected on this track in his introduction, as one of the most important methods of talking about an otherwise taboo issue in the hip hop community. Also mentioned as effective: "Streets is Watching" from Jay-Z and "Feel it in the Air" from Beanie Sigel.

To continue the narrative of addressing paranoia, Charlamagne crafted this book as a tool to face and overcome fears and occurrences of anxiety "rather than being handcuffed by them." He wanted to be innovative in preaching the "masculinity" of taking care of your body, as well as your mind. He wanted to remove the restrictions, and let the subject be openly acknowledged. Even with Black men. Especially with Black men.

Perhaps a book like this could have been helpful in the days of the Geto Boys and throughout the development and growth of hip hop. Needless to say, rappers have always represented the collective voice of internal thoughts and shared experiences. Individuals find solace and comfort in the words of familiarity from rappers and their counterparts, using music to express passions and realities, as well as communicate fears.

"Anxiety and blackness seems to go hand in hand. It's like African-Americans have permanent PTSD that dates back to slavery," Charlamagne summarized. He calls this being "Blackanoid," and explained this "epigenetic inheritance" as passing trauma to a child and subsequent generations (i.e. the damages of slavery). He says that "over time the effects of racism have a corrosive effect on us" causing lasting and chronic damage in some cases.

You'd think that with all this "Blackanoia" and other effects of social trauma, that therapy would be a commonality amongst Black folk. Unfortunately, this is not the case. According to Charlamagne, "not a lot of black folks want to run to a white person with their problems. Especially when the majority of those problems stem from a system organized and run by white people." Fair enough. Of course not all therapists are white, but the majority in that field in the U.S. are, and the best therapy tends to happen between a client and professional with a shared understanding of cultural cues.

This discussion of anxiety and therapy, throughout the book, happens in the context of Charlamagne's life. From talking about his parenting, his daughters and wife, finding a work-life balance, and dealing with other common issues of adulthood, professionalism, and living in this disturbing social media laden Trump era, he also offers recommendations, clarifications, and plenty of justification for his readers to seek their own answers via a psychologist or mental health professional. Overall, he advocates for therapy and in-depth communication, suggesting that once personal issues are confronted that "the pain that used to feel so heavy suddenly begins to lift."

Where does a lot of that pain come from, aside from the past? Social media, of course! A good portion of this book is dedicated to analyzing something we all realize to be true: consuming the amount of deliberately manipulative information we do on a daily basis can lead to nothing good. While it serves its promotional and informational benefits, there is also a layer of deception and addiction that is plaguing us all.

We know this, every time we pick up the phone to passively view Instagram or pree Twitter. We know this, yet many of us are hooked. Including Charlamagne. He says: "I don't think social media represents our intellectual achievement. If anything, it's collectively making us dumber." He believes the evil forces of visual IG illusion to be a main contributor to anxiety that many suffer from in this day and age.

"Shook One" is a good read, full of gems and interesting anecdotes. The best part to me is how personal Charlamagne gets by telling intimate stories of his own fears and apprehensions, yet putting them in the greater context of his fabulous life and what he has learned along the way to becoming one of the top radio personalities of our time.

His hopes for this book are pure. He'd like to see more authenticity and folks being constructive. He'd like us to continue to seek information, to seek awareness of our roots, and to master the art of finding personal equilibrium. He also would like us to have clinical assessments, and has a psychiatrist named Dr. Ish provide summaries at the end of each chapter to put a medical and scientific conclusion to his own thoughts. Very informative!

The biggest lesson to be obtained from "Shook One" is that evolution is a beautiful thing. I admittedly wasn't a huge fan of Charlamagne initially: he made me uncomfortable. He knew this because I wasn't the only one. He noted that: "For a long time, that's how the world saw me. Cocky. Aggressive. Fearless." But despite occasionally getting a bad rap early out in his career, he acknowledged that we all need healing, and we all need help on some level. This is something that is constant: growth, and evolution over time. Just as important as it is for us to see images of people succeeding, living out their dreams, and following their goals, it is also important for us to witness growth and development. The tools to get us there are priceless, and necessary. This book can be classified as a very timely and relevant tool for self-improvement.

It has been inspirational to see, hear, and read the evolution of Charlamagne, and needless to say, I look forward to reading his next best-seller!

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

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