From a desk in his then-Frankford apartment in 2009, an unemployed Kevin Ceasar launched his radio career, with a cup of coffee and a cigarette in hand, and a Radio Shack microphone at the ready. When the mic cut on, Ceasar transformed into Mutha Knows — a brash, unapologetically gay, spiller of tea.
A decade later, Ceasar wakes up thousands across the city as his alter ego: Mutha Knows. Every day from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m., Mutha dishes out The Tea, a radio segment on WUSL-Power 99-FM that serves the latest celebrity gossip in a whip-smart way.
But despite a successful radio career, Mutha has decided to return to college. At 43, he will be the first in his family to graduate from a school of higher education when he receives a degree in mass communications from the Community College of Philadelphia in May.
“Sometimes people think you just landed here on Plymouth Rock. And it doesn’t happen like that,” Mutha said. “I worked hard to get through these doors. You will not believe, I have war stories. I have war marks. … But thank God I made it.”
On his Rise & Grind Morning Show feature, Mutha sounds like your spunky, gossip-addicted best friend who’s always in-the-know and rushes to spill what he just heard, then give his two cents. He is quick-witted and unafraid to go toe-to-toe with celebrities in interviews and online, which at times has led to spats that got him blocked on Twitter by celebrities such as Gabrielle Union and Tyrese.
Mutha is one of the few black, openly queer voices in local urban radio, a platform that historically hasn’t always accepted queer voices. His household pseudonym, “Mutha Knows,” is an ode to his in-the-know personality and the LGBTQ ballroom subculture in which a house is run by a Mutha or Muva. Even his segment name — The Tea — is an ode to black drag culture that means spilling secrets.
Mutha’s melodious, Brooklyn-accented voice has been on Power 99 since 2010. He co-hosts the highly rated Rise & Grind Morning Show alongside Mikey Dredd and Roxy Romeo. It’s one of the top five morning radio shows in Philadelphia in the 18-to-34, 18-to-49, and 25-to-54 demographic groups, according to Nielsen. “It’s top three with women in those demographics, and Mutha is a core piece of that,” said Derrick Corbett, director of urban programming at iHeartMedia Philadelphia. (Dredd and Romeo did not return requests for interview.)
“There are too few voices like his on the radio,” said Loraine Ballard Morrill, director of news and community affairs for iHeartMedia in the Philadelphia region. “He brings a sensibility to the radio, but it’s not like ‘Oh, wow, we have a person of color who is LGBT. It’s ‘Wow, we have a creative, amazing personality who also is a LGBTQ man of color,’ and I think that’s what is wonderful, that it’s not like a big deal. Even though it is a big deal.”
“I’ve been accepted well,” Mutha said. “I know that people love me. And I know that there’s some people out there that hate me. But at the end of the day, the love outweighs the hate."
Though they haven’t always had visibility, “black queer people have always existed,” in media, said Timothy Welbeck, an adjunct professor in Temple’s department of Africology and African American studies. "As with most forms of black media, they have been present almost from the inception, but oftentimes have had to suppress the fullness of their identity for the sake of their career advancement,” Welbeck said.
But part of what makes Mutha Mutha is the bold way he embraces his queerness. “A lot of men are in the closet,” Mutha said. “They’re afraid, you know? And then they feel like these opportunities won’t be afforded to them. I’ve never been afraid. I’ve always been fearless.”
Getting on ‘the horn’
Mutha’s journey into radio began an abrupt end: getting fired from a collection agency shortly before 2009.
Without a college degree, and no way to land an internship, he had to find a way to build his own brand. “I have the heart, I have the passion. I got the Tea, I got everything, but it was more than that. I didn’t have the paperwork,” Mutha said.
Mutha decided to launch his own platform, The Mutha Knows Show, a three-hour nightly online radio show syndicated from his desktop on BlogTalkRadio.com.
"I booked all my guests. I was responsible for the music. I did everything when it came to the show. I've had people from Teena Marie to Ledisi to Stephanie Mills to Montell Jordan on the show," he said. "Everything was done from the muscle."
“Some nights, I didn’t even know what I was talking about, but I would just crack that mic and be me," he said.
His show caught the ears of local radio personality Jonesy, who invited him to call in each day to give “the Tea.”
“I knew that once I got my feet through the door, great things would happen, so I kept calling," Mutha said. "I would call in every day from the gas station, from Dunkin’ Donuts, from the bathroom at work. But I was on that horn to give Jonesy the tea.”
Morrill said Mutha’s personality captivated the station’s decision-makers and “allowed him to be seen as someone who could be on the air.”
“He’s just got boatloads of personality,” she said. “He is who he is.”
But when the day is over, he’s swift to draw a line between Mutha and Kevin. “Some of the stuff I say on air I probably wouldn't say off air,” he said, adding that he’s avoided testy Twitter interactions in recent years.
Back to school
Ceasar’s professors at the Community College of Philadelphia have zero clue about his morning job. At CCP, he’s quiet and low-key — the true Kevin.
“To be honest, I don’t want nobody to know that I’m Mutha Knows. I’m there as a regular student, just trying to get my degree," he said.
The balancing act was fierce, he said (“Just call me Wonder Woman”), juggling such classes as geometry and English with a full-time radio gig.
His return to class was rusty, he said, “I needed some oil, just call me the Tin Man.”
“Getting back in the swing of things, it was a whole new world,” he said. “I’ve been out of school for 20-plus years. Last time I was in school, Bill Clinton was the president. It was like a kid learning how to walk and start all over again.”
As he moves closer to his his degree, Mutha said he is "going to be one happy kid walking across that stage,” in May. Not because the degree was for a job, or money, but “for me, myself, and I.”