This summer heat calls for barbequing, and in the list of essentials, The Gap Band records come only after the homemade sauce. For well over 30 years, Charlie Wilson has kept the Gap Bands name moving, as well as crucial drops on Hip-Hop records like Snoops Upside Ya Head – but perhaps the best work is not in the rearview.
The R&B veterans sophomore solo album, First Name Charlie Last Name Wilson, drops in August, and just as the loud costumes his group was known for in the early 80s, Charlie is not entering quietly. The album showcases a strong writing and production presence of R.Kelly, as well as features from Justin Timberlake and Scott Storch. After being blackballed from the industry 15 years ago, nobody is happier to be given a second chance than Charlie.
Read into some lived-in wisdom from a true captain of funk as Charlie Wilson talks with AllHipHop.com Alternatives about his evolution as an artist, his rebound as a man, and even cites a poor sap that mused one of his biggest songs.
AllHipHop.com Alternatives: Without knowing that R. Kelly wrote and produced the song, I actually thought Here I Am echoed in a Chicago styled sound. Youre so known for that Los Angeles sort of sound. How was the transition?
Charlie Wilson: I just knew in my heart that R. Kelly knew exactly what he was doing. People been knowin my voice, and in my voice for so long. He knew exactly how to do me, because hes been doing me. It was easy for him to blaze me because hes been feeling me for all these years. I put my trust in that way.
AHHA: No Words is a song written from a female point-of-view in a relationship. That switching is not something we hear too often from any artist, regardless of gender. Are you still pushing new concepts despite 30 years of [songwriting]?
Charlie Wilson: First of all, No Words is from a womans perspective. Ive had many girlfriends before I got married. So I know exactly how we, or some of us as men, treat women. I know we as men, sometimes, tell a woman one thing and do another. We take a woman for granted, and we can leave them sitting around the house, while we always with the fellas. I knew exactly how the woman felt when I came home too. So, that was easy to write, because that still goes on today a lot. I never left the street, never left the game. I aint been nowhere. I been with Hip-Hop music and these kids for the longest time, 10 and 11 years. Everything changes and nothing stays the same, so Im about to recreate and come up with something new for myself.
AHHA: How do you think the R&B audience has changed, now that Hip-Hop has become so much at the forefront? I mean, Ive heard young men say to me that they think R&B is too soft these days.
Charlie Wilson: I know that Hip-Hop is a culture and a way of expression, man. Its not gonna go anywhere. I think that truly, a man that has the power of what gets played on the radio stations the programming, they are playing a big part of what [todays] generation hears. You may see them only knowing Hip-Hop music. They wont know nothing but Hip-Hop music. I think its partially [the Program Directors] fault for not giving these kids Soul music as well. I think they should broaden the spectrum as well. I met a fourteen year old the other saying he wanted to be a rapper, but didnt know what a vinyl album was.
AHHA: I have much of the Gap Band catalog on vinyl. I truly believe your era of music, for the most part, made better records. The CD has allowed singles to thrive in such a way that most of an album is filler. Would you agree?
Charlie Wilson: [laughs] When we were coming up, we were trying to make records from top to bottom. We was trying to kill everything on there. Like I said man, these kids is only gettin what they gettin, and we should feed them the other stuff. Thats the reason Im singing R&B. I just wanna make sure that the generation today is gettin something real.
AHHA: You said you love Hip-Hop. To be honest, a lot of todays generation probably knows of you more through Snoop Dogg than from The Gap Band. How do you feel about sampling, and living on through records by Snoop, Brand Nubian, and Paris?
Charlie Wilson: For the most part man, when they started hitting our records for samples, the early ones, they didnt know how to play instruments. They knew they was gettin meat and potatoes. It sounds good, feels good, and still does. They just grabbed it and pulled a piece of it off they just didnt know how to play it. But now, these newer producers, they got smart. Finally, these cats started to learn how to play keys or whatever. Its changin, man.
AHHA: Can you penetrate the Hip-Hop audience here? I know youve got Justin Timberlake for the Pop world
Charlie Wilson: I got Will.I.Am too [of Black Eyed Peas]. I got Scott Storch [and] KayGee from Naughty By Nature. My album is crazy, man. The stuff is incredible. I aint playin, man.
AHHA: The 80s were an era of decadence. After the singles tapered off, you got caught up some things. How do you look back at that now, and what would you say to the new talent getting caught up in decadence?
Charlie Wilson: You have to be careful about what you doin when you growin up. I know peer-pressure can get ya. You lookin at your friend gettin high, and you wanna know if its good. Actually, its not cool to do. Once you get started, its gonna be hard to stop. One thing leads to another and youll be doin all kinds of crazy stuff. I had my head screwed off. I was runnin around this jungle all by myself. To the youngsters, be comfortable with what you doin. Yeah, we all gonna try things its cool to try. But get up out of that. Thats what I did, I stayed too long at the party. I was up in there for years. I looked around me, and nobody was at the party but me. I lost everything, and didnt think that I could get it back. So I got on my knees and asked God to help me take the urge of drugs and alcohol away. Then, when I admitted I had a problem, thats when I started my life all over again. Ten, going on eleven years, Im clean and sober.
AHHA: So after that, how difficult was it to pick up the pieces of your career?
Charlie Wilson: When I was shopping labels, nobody was interested. It started to hurt my feelings because I know I can sing. I know Im not old. I know what I look like, I look good. So, when people was turnin me down, I knew this was crazy. Ike Turner told me one time, Charlie, you need to hurry up and do what you do. Dont wait til you too old then try to do something.
AHHA: Do you attribute some of the critically bashed Gap Band albums to those party years in the mid to late 80s?
Charlie Wilson: I can hear stuff that I did and say, Man, there was alcohol and drugs on that! I was a little hurt that nobody would even listen to had. But as soon as R.Kelly came to the table, those same people were knockin on my door like they aint never turned me down. My voice is stronger. I got more energy. Im not doing anything but drinking water, now.
AHHA: Before R.Kelly, how much did Snoop help in the late 90s? You were supposed to drop on Doggystyle Records when he was still signed to Death Row.
Charlie Wilson: Well, I never signed. We were doing it. But then Snoop came to me and said, Uncle Charlie, I dont know how to say this, but you too great. I dont believe that I can do this. I just think you deserve better. I understood where he was coming from. So I still rolled with him. He didnt wanna fail at it.
AHHA: It takes a big man to say that.
Charlie Wilson: Yeah, everybody else wouldve just get the chips and keep going and say, We missed. I stayed in the studio and cut vocals for him and whatever.
AHHA: What are you up to until the release of the album? Any summer plans?
Charlie Wilson: Im doing press and of course some Gap Band shows. My brothers and I been having fun together doing our stuff.
AHHA: Going out on a colorful note You Dropped Bomb On Me is my favorite song of yours. Describe to me the woman, or the circumstance that inspired that classic?
Charlie Wilson: It was about a young man, who basically got turned out by an older woman. His mind has been flipped. He didnt know what to say, how to say it. Just, Damn, she dropped a bomb on me. She turned me out, she turned me on, When we heard this actual guy saying this in a real story, we [wrote it]. He fell in love, and she just dropped him. All she wanted was the sex. [laughs] Its a story gone bad.
AHHA: So its not autobiographical?
Charlie Wilson: [laughs] Goodness, no.