Checking in With ‘The Breakfast Club’

Checking in With ‘The Breakfast Club’

The New York City morning crew bills themselves as "the world's most dangerous radio show." So what's behind their microphone magic?

Checking in With ‘The Breakfast Club’

Photo: Ron Specs

The World’s Most Dangerous Morning Show” is a brash yet telling promotional tagline for WWPR-FM Power 105’s The Breakfast Club (TBC), the New York City radiocast that has even the most established artists a bit anxious. A stark contrast to its innocent-sounding throwback-to-the-’80s name, the program is fortified by its hard-nosed hosts who, with the flicker of their purple “On Air” sign, can make or break a celebrity’s career. DJ Envy (Raashaun Casey), Angela Yee and Charlamagne Tha God (Lenard McKelvey) comprise the show’s unremitting trio. What’s scarier (for nervous guests) is that TBC’s reach extends to 63 stations in 40 markets. Boasting a weekly culmulative audience of nearly 4 million, TBC also saw an increase of 44 percent year over year audience growth in the 18-34 category. Also, it ranks in the top five with young adults across all media markets. And don’t forget about the streaming on Revolt TV, giving them a multi-platform outlet and making the show a required pit stop to reach the youth demographic. EBONY checked in with the gang to better understand their undeniable magnetism, and find out the secret to making morning show magic.



The Pre-Game

It’s 5:21 a.m., and the entire squad is in full-on prep mode at the station, gearing up for their 6 to 10 a.m. time slot. A small army of hair and makeup artists is priming Yee. Envy is toting a Louis Vuitton logo backpack while adjusting the laces on his Nike Air Jordan classic kicks and correcting an assistant about what yogurt he prefers. The third and characteristically most outspoken voice, Charlamagne, is busy wrestling with a fellow staffer, breaking up the shenanigans to inquire about a guest’s schedule. The interns are on task, too, frantically compiling news items for the producers to review and, of course, fulfilling snack-run requests.

Like a team gearing up for battle, everyone undergoes his or her rituals before reaching the field. And whatever they’re doing is succeeding. In the competitive world of morning radio, TBC stands on the brink of dominating urban radio, even tempering the command of New York City adversary and hip-hop stalwart WQHT Hot 97.1 FM. In theory, snatching the proverbial crown in the rap station sphere.

On the Air

Eerily, when casually asking for a glass of water, the trio’s voices, inflections and all, sound exactly the same as when they are introducing a segment or guest on the show. They reflect their radio personas, and their radio personas genuinely reflect them. That authenticity brings the biggest—and even the most elusive—stars to the show (with the exception of Drake, who has yet to appear on the show). And each adds something different to the allure. Yee is the level-headed one, a girl’s girl and grown-up-but-still-adorable-tomboy everyone crushes on. Envy is the cool guy; a skilled DJ and respected hip-hop impresario whose reputation alone is like kryptonite for naysayers and ill-intended visitors. Then there’s  Charlamagne Tha God, the resident trash talker. He’s typically the reason celebrities flee the scene or avoid the show like the plague.

The blending of all personalities and radio is a recipe for a hit. “We come together as a collective to do TBC, but we’re also individuals doing our own things,” says Charlamagne. “Everyone has a role. Like you see, we have Envy in the DJ booth, then Angela and I holding court beside him, and it just works.”

I’m Not a Businessman …But a Business, Man

The TBC was initially developed in 2010 to be a local morning show, with hopes of gaining popularity in the New York City metro area. Then the buzz kept building, and by April 2013, Premiere Networks (WWPR’s corporate cousin through owner Clear Channel Communications, now iHeartMedia, Inc.) launched a weekend version of the show, Weekends with the Breakfast Club, to function as a Top 20 countdown. Four months later, TBC entered national syndication. A year after that, it got the attention of Sean “Diddy” Combs, who, in March 2014, decided to bolster ratings of his then-new pop culture network Revolt by simulcasting the program to anyone with Internet access. This global reach allowed each member a direct path to minimoguldom.

The show’s first lady cut her teeth as a host on Sirius Satellite Radio’s Shade 45, which she later parlayed into countless paid club appearances. Now she stands as a brand ambassador for Hennessy and boasts endorsement deals with the likes of SheaMoisture (Sundial Brands), Match.com and MetroPCS. Currently, she’s investing her time and skill set into building up the Lip Service podcast, a sex- and-relationship chat show that targets a female audience because, “after a full morning working on TBC, I don’t feel like talking to any guys for a few hours,” notes the Brooklyn, N.Y.-born Wesleyan graduate who  is continuously building “brand Yee.”

Envy truly knows how to flip his fame into fortune. Because sleep is for mortals (“I left the club and came straight here,” he admits), and he knows there’s money to be made in nightclubs, he’s frequently in one spinning records. “I really want to show the youth how to make money and be successful independently,” he says. “That’s my biggest goal, because I wasn’t taught to do that. The thought was go to school, get a degree, work for 40 years and retire. That was the traditional way, but I’m learning a different route, and I’m trying to pass it on.” And that he does. Aside from his musical endeavors, the Queens, N.Y. native and Hampton graduate is in the works to open a juice shop with Yee (in connection with rapper Styles P’s Juices for Life). He’s also an ambassador for Effen Vodka and has a budding partnership with pure cane sugar soda line Top Pop.

Then, there’s Charlamagne, who took his Moncks Corner, S.C. talents to the big city after a chance meeting with Wendy Williams in 2005. She later hired him as a co-host on her then-radio show. He departed Williams’ program before her television show sprung then trekked over to Philadelphia’s 100.3 FM dial for a brief stint. The station, however, got skittish after he conducted a less than complimentary interview with rapper Beanie Sigel (one of the topics was Jay Z), and he was let go from his post. Fast forward a few years and unemployment checks later, and his cheeky interview style landed him at TBC. Charlamagne isn’t just your average radio personality:  He’s also a Remy Martin ambassador, host of the MTV2 show Uncommon Sense with Charlamagne Tha God and a cast member on the network’s comedy series Guy Code. But it’s not just about a check. He fancies himself as a philanthropist, recently donating to Steve Harvey’s Charity Ride, which raises awareness of fatherless youth across the country.

The Beefs

Charlamagne’s (@ctthagod) Twitter bio reads: “I am the Prince of pissing people off, the ruler of rubbing you the wrong way. The architect of aggravation. Thank you for being mad.” It’s his shtick, but it also accentuates a heightened version of his genuine thoughts and reactions. For instance, he’s been known to hurl swipes at Drake, referring to him as a “princess boy” and even a “pretty albino girl.” Drake later extended an olive branch (of sorts) on 2015’s “Back to Back” song, rhyming, “You gon’ make me buy bottles for Charlamagne.” The on-wax shoutout was accompanied by Drake gifting him with six bottles of Dom Pérignon and a note that read, “Let’s be friends.” Drake has yet to appear on the show.

Last April, there was the much-buzzed about walkout of producer and rapper Birdman. In the brief time he was at the station, he instructed the team to start putting “respek” [sic] on his name. Prior to that, in March 2016, R&B singer K. Michelle gave Yee a severe on-air tongue-lashing for not sticking up for her when rappers Maino and Uncle Murda distastefully discussed her feminine hygiene on a previous show. “K. Michelle was the worst guest for me,” Yee says. “I just tried to zone out.”

There are also the big wins. One standout was Kanye West’s visit in February 2015. “Kanye was a great interview. He was open and addressed any issues he was facing,” Charlamagne says. “Most A-list celebrities don’t do that; they’ll back down from things. But not him; he embraced his truth wholeheartedly. So he’ll always have our support.”

That’s a Wrap

By noon, the studio is slowly emptying and the day’s featured guest has departed. The crew members are moving on to their next engagements. “Beyond what I’m doing to earn a check, I need to provide service to others. If you can’t help nobody else, then what have you created? Absolutely nothing,” says Charlamagne.

Understanding that their influence is also being used for the greater good of the community is what wakes up the team every morning—and that’s the source of their true power.

 





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