Balancing being a reality TV star,, being an on-air personality on Chicago’s #1 radio station WGCI 107.5, graduating from Howard University and starting her own apron line, the multi-faceted entertainer describes her million jobs as her happy place — doing what she loves every single day.
Hailing from Louisiana but moving to Chi-Town at the age of 18 in 2012, the “Black Ink Crew Chicago” star is a ball of energy, bringing good vibes with her everywhere she goes.
Now, she stops through Los Angeles for an exclusive interview with AllHipHop discussing drama on the show and her thoughts on Jussie Smollett scandal — bringing Kat Tat along for the ride.
AllHipHop: Being from Louisiana, how does that play into your life & career?
Charmaine Johnson: It has a lot to do with my character, my energy, my personality. Louisiana is just a whole different place, a whole different vibe. It’s super fun. You can drink outside! Mardi Gras is really wild. Those experiences growing up definitely… I didn’t know you couldn’t do some of the things you do in Louisiana anywhere else! Like “oh that’s illegal here?That’s what we do normally at home!”
AllHipHop: How did you get into entertainment?
Charmaine Johnson: After I graduated from Howard University, I went and turned up in Miami for 6 months. My parents said “okay it’s time for you to get a job, we’re not gonna pay for this anymore!” My first job was selling radio in Chicago for CBS sports, then I started working for Groupon 1.5 years later. I was literally the person calling the restaurants like “hi this is Charmaine, Account Executive with Groupon, would you be interested in working with us? I want to do a $12 Groupon for $20 worth of food.” [laughs]
Sales was my thing! It was an easy job out of college where I could make good money. The Groupon environment was really crazy! There’s no dress code, you can call off work as much as you want. Most likely if you’re going to work hungover, then so was your manager. That allowed me to hang out at 9 Mag, this tattoo shop in Chicago. Every day, we’d turn up until 2 or 3am. Girl, I would rush there after work, speed race to the shop. We did that for 2 years and ended up getting a reality show.
AllHipHop: I wanna talk about Black Ink Crew. Shout out Kat!
Charmaine Johnson: Hey girl! [looks at Kat sitting on the piano] I’ll never forget, one night we were turning up. Ryan was like “you know, people keep calling me about a reality show.” I remember we all laughed about it and I never thought about it ever again.
One day, I was working at Groupon and get a phone call. They’re like “we’re this small production company, we want to do a pilot and the guys at the shop recommended you.”
We did it and still didn’t know it was Black Ink. They kept that a secret, but we figured “what other tattoo shows are there?”
AllHipHop: I was like, I don’t see your tats!
Charmaine Johnson: Girl yes! [pulls up sleeve] I love tattoos, I want to get more. I always book appointments with Katrina Jackson at Enigma Beverly Hills
Because I’m her friend for some reason, we never get around to it. I’m going to have to book one of her artists and make her jealous. [laughs] From the TV show, radio came. My super happy place. Radio is awesome.
Broadcasting is so funny because people always told me “this is what you should do.” It’s one in a million that you get to really get to be that b##ch doing it though! There’s only so many of us. It’s really crazy.
AllHipHop: What’s the best part of filming Black Ink Crew Chicago?
Charmaine Johnson: I don’t have a best part. It sucks! [laughs] No, let me not say it. Filming with some of the guys I guess. Right now, it’s really difficult. Let me not put up a front. It’s really hard right now, we’ve been filming year-round for 3 or 4 years. We’re in our 5th season. We haven’t gotten a break in years!
AllHipHop: That’s dope though, you hear of many shows going under.
Charmaine Johnson: Well it’s amazing. It’s a blessing, but reality TV is definitely not easy to do. It requires a lot of energy. We literally film every day and I have all these other jobs too. This is where everything started, but it’s focused around drama.
In real life, I don’t even associate with drama, but the TV show thrives off drama. It’s almost a point of insanity sometimes having to deal with what comes with reality TV.
I definitely appreciate the opportunity, but I’m going through a transitional phase right now. Katrina’s not on the show anymore. Danielle, my cousin, is not really on the show anymore. It’s me and the guys. We’re cool, but I don’t have my girls so it’s not as easy.
I used to leave filming and go sleep at Katrina’s house. We talk s##t, etc. I don’t have that anymore in any aspect.
AllHipHop: Why are they no longer on the show?
Charmaine Johnson: For their own personal reasons. Reality TV is not easy. Me — not to say they don’t really care about their fans — but I know how important the show is to my personal fanbase and I love my fans. That’s why I try to stick through and find my happy place with it.
AllHipHop: Have you gotten over Lily calling you the N-word?
Charmaine Johnson: No, I don’t think I’ll get over it. The thing is, I get it. It’s 2019, people say the N-word who aren’t black, from black descent. That’s not even my issue on it.
In my opinion (and other’s), she uses it out of context. For someone just throwing this word around that’s very derogatory — and yes, black people say it to each other, that’s a whole different conversation — she throws it around in the worst contexts and I literally cannot deal.
I’ve mentioned it to her twice, years ago. If she wants to go on TV and act like that conversation never happened, that’s fine. But I know it happened in real life. I know I had the conversation with her when we were cool and said “you should stop doing this,” and she turned around and threw it all over social media both times.
I knew then she didn’t respect me or the word, she just didn’t get it. I dropped it and this video gets on social media, so I’m like “I’m gonna repost it and I’m pissed off! This is what I’m talking about.”
I’m definitely glad you asked me that. I want to be super clear that it’s not about a Mexican saying the N-word. It’s a race thing but I didn’t necessarily mean to make it such a race thing, because it was more about this particular person throws the word up constantly. “You’re obsessed with the word girl,” but whatever.
AllHipHop: What was your initial reaction?
Charmaine Johnson: You know what’s so funny? I’m such a nice person, it never feels good. I still be feeling bad sometimes because that’s such a harsh title to uphold. I hate to do this but VH1 edited it to totally say in my interview “oh, Lily being a racist.” If you could tell, there’s a hiccup there. They put that together. I never called a girl a “racist.” I do feel bad that’s what it is but at the end of the day, you just need to be smarter.
This is how I really feel. How is not acceptable to call a gay a person a ‘fag’, but you can just throw around the N-word? You can’t even call a boy that’s now a female, a boy. That’s disrespectful. But I can let this girl run around and say “n*gga” all day? And I’m supposed to do that?
AllHipHop: How do you deal with racism? Not even just on the show.
Charmaine Johnson: It’s hard. The hardest thing has always been being black in America. No one will ever understand that if you’re not black. No matter if you come from poverty and you’re discriminated against, until you have brown, black skin, nobody will ever understand. I live downtown Chicago and still have to worry about my boyfriend with his black dark skin, when he leaves to walk the dogs in his du-rag, if someone’s gonna think… you know? Anything. He might not make it back, and that’s crazy.
I grew up in the South. Racism is still very much alive. I’ve been called the N-word for real. I’ve had my face spit in before. Some white girl spit in my face on a school bus when I was little. Nothing is the same as the things we have to go through being black.
That’s why I chose to go to Howard University, I was never black and proud until I went to Howard. When I found out there’s a school out there that all these great black people went to, I’m like “if all these great black people go to this school and graduate from there, I’m going to graduate from there and be a great black person!”
My publicist Kiki, she went to Howard! She’s a great black person. There’s something about Howard! You go through that Howard channel and come out on the other side different.
AllHipHop: What did you study?
Charmaine Johnson: You’re not going to believe it, Speech Pathology and Audiology, with a minor in Psychology. If I wanted to go to grad school real quick and get my Masters, I could be your speech therapist or ear doctor.
AllHipHop: I have to ask, what are your thoughts on Jussie Smollett scandal?
Charmaine Johnson: Girllllll, it’s still really hard to believe. He comes from such a prestigious family. Acting family, his sister’s very famous. Jurnee Smollett, she did that movie Eve’s Bayou. I always knew of her, she’s beautiful. To find out “this is your younger brother, he’s on Empire, he’s a gay actor.” It’s such a breakout role. Now they’re saying he has up to 16 felony counts. Even the CPD has an internal investigation going on because there’s so much information being leaked, what is going on? Then the 2 African guys that got paid, Jussie said it was just for a workout? You know, I’m on the radio so I know all the tea. [chuckles]
AllHipHop: We talk about it in LA but being in Chicago, did you feel like you had to take a stance?
Charmaine Johnson: I want to wait and see what happens with Jussie. One thing I learned in life, when we point the finger too fast, we might regret it. I know that R. Kelly was on some weird s##t, so I can point the finger. Michael Jackson, we all know MJ was on some weird s##t.
This is definitely some weird s##t, but it’s just so not believable. I hope it’s not true because then he just ruined his whole career and it was not worth it.
AllHipHop: How did that affect your city?
Charmaine Johnson: The climate in Chicago is really weird right now. Obviously Trump is President, we got this big ole Trump Tower with Trump’s name really big. It’s like a posterboard. Outside of that, the Jussie Smollett thing, the R. Kelly thing… just to see R. Kelly get out of the car and go into the Daley Center for his child support thing and I know what the Daley Center is. I’m seeing the Peapod Truck pull down the street, can you imagine driving and seeing all these people like “what’s going on?”
It’s crazy. Everybody’s talking about it. If Jussie Smollett is lying, Chicago don’t appreciate him using the Chicago name for his lie. Everybody who’s from Chicago has a lot of pride in Chicago.
AllHipHop: I know they tried to restrict his studio hours to 9 to 5 and he couldn’t commit.
Charmaine Johnson: R Kelly allegedly had beds and everything in the studio. Maybe he was just taking a nap… weird.
AllHipHop: What else can we expect from you?
Charmaine Johnson: I have an app coming out, All Things Charmaine! It’s not really a twerk app, we just made it funny for TV. It’ll have a load of content. I don’t put the majority of my content on Youtube anymore, I’ve been saving it for my app!