From lead singer of the iconic Gap Band to revered solo artist in his own right, with four decades of hard work and success in the music game under his belt R&B legend Charlie Wilson still knows exactly how to get the people going. His latest album, Love, Charlie, was released at the top of the year but it is his constant touring and collaborations with contemporary hit-makers that keep him at the forefront; his recent live TV performances with Kanye West serving undeniable reminders of Wilson’s ever-impressive, soulful showmanship, in case you forgot.
In our recent interview, Charlie Wilson discusses staying relevant and inspired, working with Kanye, his admiration for Rihanna and Beyonce, and battling prostate cancer. Watch below.
“I remain so relevant because of some of my famous nephews – such as Snoop Dogg, Justin Timberlake, Pharrell Williams, Jay Z, Kanye West – I’ve been on some of the most incredible projects in the world of music,” he told SoulCulture this summer. “I had to stay who I am – because I had to show everybody in America that you can still do R&B music and still be relevant.”
“I had to work really hard – still have to work really hard – get up and do things that lot of other superstars that we know with really, really big names, they just don’t really care to do. Me, on the other hand, I’m the little engine that could,” he explains, laughing. “So I get up early, 4 o’clock in the morning, and do radio interviews. While they’re sleeping, I’m gaining momentum.”
Charlie’s current momentum alongside Kanye West shows no signs of slowing, crediting the Chicago superstar as, “one of the greatest producer/rappers that we have today.”
“He knows how to get it done any time that he wants to – and he can flip a switch in any way that he wants. His records are just incredible,” he enthuses of West’s creative process, having most recently worked together on “Bound 2” from Kanye’s Yeezus album. “He’s a trendsetter. That’s what he’s really about, and he wants to remain that… I think he’s an incredible guy… Wonderful, very kind, one of my greatest nephews.”
Kanye aside, Wilson also admires a host of contemporary singers including Rihanna, Beyonce, Trey Songz and Miguel – explaining, “They’re young and they understand how to take care of the genre that they’re in.”
We personally witnessed Charlie tearing down the stage with a vibrant, high-energy set at New Orleans’ Essence Festival last year and evidently he admires the same qualities in others; “Rihanna’s a beast and so is Beyonce – a beast at their craft. I take my hat off to both them women. I love seeing them live.”
While substance is key, style is just as important to Charlie, who always looks rather dapper. “I always talk to some of the male artists, the younger ones, and I try to keep making them wear suits, quit sagging so much… put a suit and tie on,” he says. “Women in the audience, if they’re looking at a young guy in his 20s and he’s handsome, they don’t wanna see half his ass showing. Wear a suit and tie, be luxurious…”
“Plus you’re putting on a show, it just makes the show better. Rappers – not all of them but most of them – sag out and some crazy stuff,” he adds. “That’s a different kind of swag. But R&B, or pop singers, wear a suit and tie and stand up like a man…”
Once his attention to the craft and presentation has brought people to the party, as a prostate cancer survivor and spokesperson for the Prostate Cancer Foundation Wilson often utilises his position in the spotlight to educate men on an everyday but often overlooked health issue.
“Any time I get a chance to talk to men over 30 or 40 years old, I think it’s important for me – because I’m a prostate cancer survivor right now – to share a little knowledge since I have them right there,” he tells us.
“Whether they’re drunk or high or just having a good time, I just let them understand this is something you need to take care of – and tell your nephews. When they’re 20 they think this conversation doesn’t belong to them, but it does – just like you’re 20, if you live to be 40 you gon’ be 40 – so you need to have this understanding and knowledge so when you get a little bit older you can know what you’re getting ready to deal with…
“That’s all, I’m just trying to kick that knowledge.”