Charlamagne Tha God, New York Times bestselling author of Black Privilege and always provocative cohost of Power 105.1’s The Breakfast Club, reveals his blueprint for breaking free from your fears and anxieties.
Fear is holding you back. It’s time to turn the tables and channel your fears to actually fuel your success.
Being “shook” is more than a rap lyric for Charlamagne, it’s his mission to overcome. While it may seem like he's ahead of the game, he is actually plagued by anxieties, such as the fear of losing his roots, the fear of being a bad dad, and the fear of being a terrible husband. Shook One chronicles his journey to beat those fears and shows a path that you too can take to overcome the anxieties that may be holding you back.
Ironically, Charlamagne's fear of failure—of falling into the life of stagnation or crime that caught up so many of his friends and family in his hometown of Moncks Corner—has been the fuel that has propelled him to success. However, even after achieving national prominence as a radio personality, Charlamagne still found himself paralyzed by anxiety and distrust. Now, in Shook One, he is working through these problems—many of which he traces back to cultural PTSD—with help from mentors, friends, and therapy. Being anxious doesn’t serve the same purpose anymore. Through therapy, he’s figuring out how to get over the irrational fears that won’t take him anywhere positive.
Charlamange hopes Shook One can be a call to action: Getting help is your right. Therapy and showing weakness are not always easy subjects, but if you go to the gym three or four times a week, why can’t you put that same effort and energy into getting mentally strong?
“I know bad things are still going to happen to me. Struggles that I can’t even conceive of today are still going to trip me up from time to time down the road. Cops are still going to pull me over for no reason. I’m still going to worry about my kids. The anxieties are never fully going to go away. In the past, my focus was always on the things that cause stress. Moving forward, its’ going to be on the things that bless.”
“I am not at peace. I simply am a damaged human swimming in a pool of emotions every day of my life. There’s a ragin violent storm inside of my heart at all times. Idk what peace feels like. Idk how to relax. My anxiety and depression have ruled my life for as long as I can remember.” —Kid Cudi
“Damn, I’m about to OD on weed, and my wife hates me for not making her squirt.”
That’s all I could think about lying in my bed at the SLS, my favorite hotel in Los Angeles.
Now before you jump to conclusions, I’m not one of these new niggas that partakes in every type of drug under the sun. Nope, I’ve never sniffed coke. (I did smoke it once in a blunt by accident. Best high of my life, don’t let anybody tell you other-wise. If I wasn’t officially an oldhead, I would do it again by accident.) Just like I’ve never sipped lean or popped a Perc. (Except for the one time when I was in a car accident and had them legitimately. I was literally having sex all day. That right there is a key factor as to why so many dudes use them.) Nope, hard drugs just aren’t my thing. My tastes run more to cognac and weed.
All I’d done that night was sit with my wife on our hotel room’s back patio and smoke a joint. It had some nut-ass name like Blue Dream, White Widow, or Green Crack. Granted, I haven’t smoked much since being put on probation for a fire-arm charge back in high school. But one joint, even if it was LA chronic (whoever named it the City of Angels has never smoked a high grade of sativa because that shit ain’t nothing but the devil), shouldn’t have had me curled up in the fetal position like Smokey in the chicken coop in Friday.
But that’s exactly where I found myself.
Before I go any further, let me explain why I was in LA in the first place. I was promoting my debut book, Black Privilege, which had been on the New York Times bestseller list for close to a month. I’d spent the previous weeks traveling around the country appearing before absolutely insane crowds at book-stores. Seven hundred people in Houston. Five hundred in Charlotte. Another five hundred at one bookstore in Atlanta, then another four hundred at another bookstore a few miles away the same day.
I don’t know about you, but I’m not used to seeing that many Negroes in a bookstore. People were lined up to buy my book the way black folks usually line up to buy Jordans or Yeezys. I should have been the happiest man in the world, right?
Just the opposite.
I wasn’t happy. OK, let me rephrase that: I was happy, but with a side of worry. With that worry came appetizers called nervousness. Oh, and for dessert they brought out some unease. Yes, for years I’d dreamed about becoming a bestselling author.
I’d grown up loving books and had always wanted to see my own words inspiring and motivating people. But now that I’d achieved that goal, I was finding that being a successful author is served with a full course of ANXIETY.
This sort of anxiety attack always happens whenever I reach a new level of success. I start overthinking about the new devils that come with the new levels. Great things can be happening all around me and my mind gets stuck playing a loop of the worst-possible scenarios.
So it was no surprise that by the time I got to LA, I’d become obsessed with the idea that the tour was going to fall apart. Just because six hundred people showed up to hear me speak in Washington, DC, didn’t mean six hundred people would show in LA. Or even if they did, maybe it would be on the day that the Big One, that apocalyptic earthquake we’ve been hearing about all these years, would finally happen. “What do I do during an earthquake?” I was spiraling. “Am I supposed to stand in the middle of the doorway? Do I stop, drop, and roll? Or is it “stop, drop, shut ’em down, open up shop”? Should I yell out ‘That’s how Ruff Ryders roll’?”
If the Big One didn’t get me, then I even convinced myself that a white supremacist was going to decide they want to make a political statement and let the mayonnaise fly by shooting up the Black Privilege book tour stop in Burbank.
LOOK, I DON’T KNOW WHY MY BRAIN WORKS THIS WAY, BUT IT DOES.
When I shared my stresses with some of my LA friends, they assured me that weed would lessen my anxiety. Now, what they failed to tell me is that weed isn’t like what I was smoking back in the day in Moncks Corner, South Carolina. Back home, I only knew of two types: good weed and wack weed. One got you high, and the other didn’t. Nowadays it’s all types of flavors and grades, uppers and downers, sativa and indica. Indica is the one that is supposed to make you relax, and is probably what I should have been smoking. Unfortunately, I didn’t know that until after the fact. In the moment, I chose the other strain.
It wasn’t a problem until my wife and I started fooling around. I’ve been with my woman since 1998, and we’ve been married for four of those twenty years, and I definitely still care about things like making her orgasm. But never in our time together do I remember us having sex with high-grade weed in our systems.
At first everything was cool, but then I decided to go down on her. I swear I was doing a decent job, but after what felt like an eternity, my weed-triggered brain went from “Damn she’s taking a long time to cum,” to “Oh, shit, I can’t make my woman cum anymore! My tongue is broke!” Never mind the fact she’s been squirting in my face for the last eighteen years and I’ve been taking it like a champ.
In that moment though, all my prior good work seemed to be lost. What purpose would I serve my woman sexually if I couldn’t make her cum? My jaw and neck were starting to hurt, but thankfully she changed the energy of the room and had me stop so she could return the favor. I’d say I only lasted twenty-seven seconds tops until I busted off.
Now, my wife knows me; I’m “one and done,” especially now that I’m in the 40/40 Club (all that “nut and then get hard again” shit is out the window).
My wife didn’t trip, all she said was, “You owe me.” But the weed and anxiety translated that to “We are getting a divorce because you can no longer please me sexually. IT’S OVER, NIGGA” in my mind.
That’s how I ended up on my back, looking like a cockroach trying to scramble onto its feet, legs all flying in the air. I was Milly Rocking between twelve-hundred-thread-count sheets. When I say Milly Rocking, what I really mean is shaking uncontrollably like Rocky at the beginning of Rocky V when he was sitting in the locker room after fighting the Russian. Like Muhammad Ali holding the torch at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.
Seeing me Harlem Shake against my will, my wife started laughing. It was only because she was high, but my paranoid mind raced to the million-dollar life-insurance policy we’d just taken out. She was trying to kill me to collect the money! That made my heart start beating like crazy. “I’m going to die of a heart attack!” my mind screamed. “I’m nowhere near famous enough to OD in a LA hotel room!” Every time I would almost fall asleep, I would see black shadowy hands trying to pull me somewhere, causing me to literally jump out of the bed and scream. At one point my wife said to me, “You aren’t going to run out of here naked, are you?” I considered it, then I thought of Martin Lawrence talking about running down the streets of LA naked and high as hell in his stand-up special Runteldat. The last thing I needed was that on my résumé, so I put my clothes on just in case and laid back down to sleep. My heart was beating so loud, so hard, and so fast that I just knew a heart attack was inevitable. I started counting down from ten, and it felt like when I struck one my heart was going to explode and I was going to die of a sativa overdose. Not to mention a bro-ken heart courtesy of my broken tongue causing my wife not to orgasm.
Of course it didn’t happen. I eventually fell asleep and then woke up at 2:00 a.m. LA time with my heart still intact to go tape my syndicated radio show The Breakfast Club for the East Coast. I did the book signing later that day, and it ended up being a success, without a member of Vanilla Isis in sight. That’s what anxiety does: scares the living shit out of us for absolutely no reason at all.
But even though I went on with my tour and the rest of my life, that LA freak-out really stuck with me. It made me begin to think: Just how much does anxiety affect us? I’ve literally felt anxious every day for as long as I can remember. How have I been functioning like that? Is it a poison that paralyzed me? Or a fuel that propels me to greatness?
Until recently I’ve always believed that my accomplishments have come from being fearless. Yet as I get older, and a little more self-conscious, I’ve come to believe that I’ve actually got-ten here because I was scared. The fear of ending up under a tree in Moncks Corner doing nothing, or back on the street, or of things not working out in radio and on TV has pushed me to succeed. But what I’ve also realized is that while fear has been a good motivator and it can be a good motivator for you, it doesn’t work forever. Anxiety had become too much for me to handle, and I knew if I wanted to keep going and keep growing I needed to deal with my shit. Fear had gotten me here, but it wasn’t going to get me any further. That’s why I started therapy.
And the more I opened up to people about my anxieties, it very quickly became evident that I am far from alone. From rappers to radio hosts to running backs to runway models, so many successful people I know admitted to me that they are filled with angst too.
Most of them are fellow hip-hop heads, part of a culture where fear is the last thing you’re ever supposed to admit to. In the culture, if you project anything less than fearless confidence, you’re seen as weak. Someone who is never going to make it.
That’s the myth we’re sold. The truth, I’ve come to learn, is that your favorite rapper is probably racked with as much fear as you are. Probably even more. He or she has just learned how to reckon with their fears as they continue to grow as an artist.
That’s the same skill I want to teach you through this book. Facing and overcoming your fears, rather than being hand-cuffed by them.
I’m going to undress all my fears in these pages so you can see that you aren’t alone in your anxieties. Not only the ones I’ve been aware of for years, but also the ones I’ve become more conscious of by going to therapy.
I’ve gone to therapy specifically to deal with anxiety and PTSD issues. That’s been my challenge. But I also know there are a host of additional mental health issues that other people face. I want to touch on some of those too, but the truth is I’m not an expert on anyone but myself.
In order to address that, I reached out to Dr. Ish Major who is a board-certified psychiatrist. Even better, he’s a black guy who got his degree from the University of South Carolina School of Medicine. After we connected, Dr. Ish agreed to write what we’re calling Clinical Correlations to provide a little more detail and mental health context. The hope is that through Dr. Ish’s analysis of what I’ve written, you’ll begin to get a sense of the type of information and feedback you might get yourself through therapy.
Just to be clear, Dr. Ish is not the therapist I’ve been seeing. Why? Because I’m selfish. I want my therapist all to myself. I’m not trying to share her with y’all. But Dr. Ish is here for all of us. And if something he says resonates with you, I’d suggest you reach out to him directly. I’ve found his contributions very accessible and insightful, and I hope you will too.
I’ve already mentioned one classic hip-hop song, but I want to conclude by saying that in many ways this book is a response to the Mobb Deep classic “Shook Ones.” Prodigy (RIP) is one of the greatest MCs of all time, and I grew up trying to live by the song’s hook:
’Cause ain’t no such things as halfway crooks Scared to death, scared to look, they shook. . . . Some get shot, locked down, and turn nuns Cowardly hearts and straight-up shook ones, shook ones.
However, today as a grown-ass man with a lot more experience under my belt, I have to say that way of looking at the world is bullshit.
We can be shook. In fact, we all should be shook. Because we’re never going to get past our fears until we face them.
Charlamagne Tha God is cohost of the nationally syndicated hip-hop iHeartRadio program The Breakfast Club and a television and media personality. He is also a social media influencer; an executive producer with his own production company, CThaGod World LLC; and cohost of the popular podcast Brilliant Idiots. Born and raised in a small town in South Carolina, Charlamagne quickly rose to become one of today’s most unique and compelling media personalities. His point of view and provocative celebrity interviews help drive the daily national conversation about issues related to hip-hop, race, society, and politics. He is the author of the New York Times bestseller Black Privilege and Shook One.