Nick Cannon was born on October 8, 1980 in San Diego, California. Growing up in Southeast San Diego, he became involved in local gangs during his youth. But Cannon ultimately walked away from gang life, partly in reaction to the deaths of “a lot of friends to senseless gang violence,” and partly because of his passionate desire to pursue a career in the entertainment industry. In a 2014 interview, Cannon reflected on the environment in which he had been raised:
“It was a Blood set, but it was one of those things where that’s the area that I grew up in. I mean, even if you think of Southeast San Diego, the majority of the people from down there are from different Blood sets. So, it was one of those things where I never even tried to glorify that because I felt like I got out of that unscathed. I mean, I lost a lot of friends to senseless gang violence. A lot of people still locked up right now. So, I always try to downplay it and be like that cat that was allowed to get away from it.”
Cannon first experienced the thrill of performing in public at age 11, when he did a stand-up comedy routine on his father’s cable-television access channel.
As a student at Monte Vista High School in Spring Valley, California, Cannon led the African Student Coalition on campus.
Cannon first appeared on Nickelodeon’s All That in the mid-1990s, and in 1998 he became a regular cast member on the program. He subsequently hosted The Nick Cannon Show, also on Nickelodeon, from 2002-03. And he launched a musical career when he signed a record contract in the early 2000s. In 2003 he released a debut rap album titled Nick Cannon, featuring the single “Gigolo,” a collaboration with the singer and record producer R. Kelly.
As a young adult, Cannon managed to gain recognition as an actor as well, partly thanks to the help of his friend and mentor, film star Will Smith, who cast him in a small role in the 2002 movie Men in Black II.
Cannon subsequently proceeded to appear in numerous television shows, movies, and music videos. Among other things, he became a host for TV programs such as Wild ’N Out, (2005-present, first on MTV and later on VH1); America’s Got Talent (2009-16, NBC); and The Masked Singer (2019-present, Fox Television).
Citing racism as a factor that limits the opportunities for African Americans to gain a foothold in the entertainment industry, Cannon attributes his success to his own personal work ethic and resourcefulness. He once told Latino Review: “Because there is a lack of roles in Hollywood for young black men, especially positive roles, different from gang banging shoot ’em up movies, you have to create your own.”
When Cannon released his second rap album, White People Party Music, in 2014, he made a number of public appearances in “whiteface” to promote the album. In response to those who criticized his use of “whiteface,” Cannon said: “They’re using this term ‘whiteface,’ like I don’t even know what that is. I know ‘blackface’ was a term that was created in 1869 to describe offensive minstrel shows. ‘Whiteface,’ if you look it up and Google it, it’s a ski slope in upstate New York. I was doing a character impression. Blackface is about oppression.” “There’s a big difference between humor and hatred,” he added.
In April 2014, Cannon released a standup comedy video in which he made the following remarks:
In that same 2014 video, Cannon, referencing the infamous 2012 incident where a black teenager named Trayvon Martin had been shot and killed in an altercation with a white Hispanic man in Florida, said: “White people, you guys are scared of young black men in black hoods. I’m scared of old white men in white hoods! KKK, that shit is real.”
Cannon has long been a strong supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement. In early July 2016 – shortly after two black men, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, had been killed in altercations with police officers in Louisiana and Minnesota, respectively — Cannon took to the streets of New York City to join protesters in denouncing those incidents. On July 11, Cannon released a spoken-word poem titled “Black Lives Matter,” accompanied by a video featuring footage from the NYC protest along with clips of various police officers. The poem read as follows:
When I say Black Lives matter
That don’t mean yours don’t
When we say Black lives matter
That don’t mean your kids won’t
They will… They gonna say it with us, because they get us.
When I say Black lives matter that don’t mean yours don’t
When I say Black lives matter
Don’t mean white folks can’t get on the boat
So it’s like when I say save the whales
That don’t mean the other fish can’t float
It just means that the whales are endangered
Just like my species
It don’t matter who’s doing the killing
As long as we end up extinct, see
This Is the thesis in these secret meetings
They having about me and the rest of my community
They say well when they shooting each other
They don’t care about unity
Well brutally Let me be the one to say, they right!
But there ain’t no such thing as black on black violence
It’s crime against you and me!
Intolerance of people
See Gentrification and Genocide
It’s the Same thing in my eyes
So we gotta reprogram these social lies
And take back our streets
And we gonna keep screaming, fighting, marching and cussing
Until we abolish injustice
And our internal royalty is realized and reached
That’s why I’m out here now
Practicing what I preach
So all you tweeting at me with all that Social chatter
When they kill me
Make sure they put on my tombstone
Black Lives Matter
Over the years, Cannon has garnered a great deal of publicity as a result of his celebrity relationships, most notably with ex-girlfriend Kim Kardashian (2005-06) and ex-wife Mariah Carey (m. 2008-14).
From 2011-2022, Cannon fathered eleven children with six different women. In defense of his lifestyle, he told Men’s Health magazine in a June 2022 interview: “I’ve seen where people believe a traditional household works, and [yet] there’s a lot of toxicity in that setting….It’s not about what society deems is right. It’s like, what makes it right for you? What brings your happiness? What allows you to have joy and how you define family? We all define family in so many different ways.” Then, in late 2022, Cannon announced that singer Alyssa Scott was pregnant with his 12th child.
In a January 2017 appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Cannon explained that he regularly wore a turban on his head as a means of fostering “cultural understanding” and reminding people to “embrace differences.”
Cannon greatly admires former NFL quarterback turned-leftwing activist Colin Kaepernick. In September 2018, Cannon took to Instagram to note how he had been inspired by Kaepernick’s presence in the Nike Corporation’s new advertisements celebrating the 30th anniversary of the company’s famous “Just Do It” campaign. Wrote Cannon: “Drove pass [sic] Nike store and felt compelled to buy all the [black] socks in the store and donate them to the homeless.”
Soon after the infamous death of George Floyd in a May 2020 altercation with a white police officer in Minneapolis, Cannon stated that police officers in general “perpetuate fear.” He also said in an interview with Insider.com:
“My children fear police. I try to teach fearlessness. I try to teach, ‘You have a power within you that you need to fear nothing.’ But when they see the energy of law enforcement [it’s like], ‘Uh oh, here comes the police.’ So that mindset of, ‘Sit up straight and don’t talk, keep your hands where they can see them’ — these are things that I’m talking to a 3-year-old about [and] 9-year-olds about; they bring those questions to me. It’s something that’s hurtful to have those conversations with your children, but you want to protect them at the end of the day.”
Cannon attended a May 2020 demonstration in George Floyd’s hometown of Minneapolis, to protest what he viewed as the systemic white racism pervading American culture. Then, in a May 31 article which he wrote for Variety magazine, Cannon continued to lament and denounce what he characterized as America’s fatal, irremediable flaw:
During a July 2020 airing of his podcast, Cannon’s Class, Cannon interviewed the former hip-hop artist Richard “Professor Griff” Griffin. In the course of their discussion, Cannon cited anti-Jewish conspiracy theories and made reference to “going as deep as the Rothschilds, centralized banking, the 13 families, the bloodlines that control everything even outside of America.” He also warned of “giving too much power to the ‘they’” – i.e., the “illuminati, the Zionists, the Rothschilds.” And he praised Nation of Islam leader, Louis Farrakhan, a notorious Jew-hater. When Griffin said that Semitic language and people “have absolutely nothing to do with any white people,” Cannon replied in agreement that “the Semitic people are black people.” And after the pair accused Jews of leveraging charges of anti-Semitism in order to sow “division” among various demographic groups, Cannon claimed that he himself could not legitimately be accused of anti-Semitism because blacks were the original Semites/Hebrews: “It’s never hate speech, you can’t be anti-Semitic when we are the Semitic people. When we are the same people who they want to be. That’s our birthright. We are the true Hebrews.”
In that same July 2020 podcast, Cannon stated that “melanated people” – i.e., those who possess larger amounts of melanin in their skin – were superior to whites in many important ways. “Melanin is so power[ful],” he said, “and it connects us in a way, that the reason why they fear black … is because the lack that they have of it.” “When you have a person that has the lack of pigment, the lack of melanin, that they know that they will be annihilated,” Cannon continued. “So, therefore, however they got the power, they have the lack of compassion. Melanin comes with compassion, melanin comes with soul. We call it soul. Soul brothers and sisters. That’s the melanin that connects us. So the people that don’t have it, and I’m going to say this carefully, are a little less.”
Also in that July 2020 podcast, Cannon stated that because melanin imbues nonwhites with an ability to withstand the physical effects of the blazing sun in a way that white people cannot, whites tend to feel insecure as a result. Thus, he explained, whites routinely seek to brutalize darker-skinned people as a way of masking, and compensating for, what they perceive to be their own deficiencies: “When they [whites] didn’t have the power of the sun, the sun then started to deteriorate them, so then they’re acting out of fear, they’re acting out of low self-esteem, they’re acting out of a deficiency. So, therefore, the only way that they can act is evil. They have to rob, steal, rape, kill … in order to survive.” Cannon even went so far as to characterize white people as “savages” akin to beasts and barbarians. “They had to be savages, they had to be barbaric, because they’re in these Nordic mountains, they’re in these rough … environments, so they’re acting as animals,” he said. “So they’re the ones that are actually closer to animals; they’re the ones that are actually the true savages.”
In July 2020, shortly after the aforementioned podcast had aired, Cannon was fired from ViacomCBS, a company with which he had maintained a working relationship since his days as an actor on Nickelodeon in the 1990s. Said ViacomCBS in a statement:
“ViacomCBS condemns bigotry of any kind and we categorically denounce all forms of anti-Semitism. We have spoken with Nick Cannon about an episode of his podcast ‘Cannon’s Class’ on YouTube, which promoted hateful speech and spread anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. While we support ongoing education and dialogue in the fight against bigotry, we are deeply troubled that Nick has failed to acknowledge or apologize for perpetuating anti-Semitism, and we are terminating our relationship with him. We are committed to doing better in our response to incidents of anti-Semitism, racism, and bigotry. ViacomCBS will have further announcements on our efforts to combat hate of all kinds.”
The rift between Cannon and ViacomCBS was relatively short-lived, however. As Deadline.com reported on February 4, 2021: “Nick Cannon and ViacomCBS have re-united after the longtime host of Wild ‘N Out was fired last summer for what the company called ‘hateful speech and…anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.’ […] ViacomCBS says that Cannon has apologized, taken responsibility for his comments, partnered with Jewish leaders to educate himself and has become an anti-hate advocate.”
As of December 2022, Cannon had accumulated an estimated net worth of approximately $20 million.