Charlie Wilson knows his hip-hop. Indeed, this may be a surprising attribute to some of his throwback fans who were first introduced to the influential vocalist’s chops as the lead singer of the late ’70s/early ’80s R&B trio The Gap Band. Yet Wilson, who made a musical comeback with 2005’s gold release ‘Charlie, Last Name Wilson,’ 2009’s ‘Uncle Charlie’ and the new single ‘You Are,’ has long had a connection with the hip-hop generation.
From his mid-’80s days tapping Doug E. Fresh & Slick Rick as an opening show act for The Gap Band — a rarity for a funk-R&B act in those days given that rap was universally dismissed as a fad — to his work with Snoop Dogg and his recent studio time with current pop culture darling Kanye West on his magnificent ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,’ the man with the golden voice recalls his favorite hip-hop collaborations.
Snoop Dogg – Beautiful feat. Pharrell & Charlie Wilson (2003)
“When you hear that ‘Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh…’ at the beginning of the song, that’s my vocals and Pharrell’s mixed together. He sent the original version to Snoop and told him, ‘I want Uncle Charlie to be on this record.’ So Snoop was doing his rap part, and said, ‘Pharrell wants to put you on this song.’ I put my vocals on and they pulled Pharrell’s vocals off and sent it back to him. When he heard it he was like, ‘Man, this is a smash.’ But by Pharrell being the producer he pushed his vocals back up on it and it had a nice blend to it. Yet, I noticed I wasn’t in the video which was shot in Brazil. That was the record company that did that.
There was some Haterade drinking motherf—–s [laughs]. I know some of the executives didn’t want me in that video. Everybody had an excuse why I didn’t go to Brazil. Snoop was going crazy. He was pissed and he went ballistic on everybody because I wasn’t flown to the video set. But hey, I’m not going to start dropping any names on those executives because I’m hot as hell right now [laughs]. The whole experience was crazy. We won a Grammy for that song. It’s incredible to be among the best all the time. If you are with the best then you are the best. That’s how I look at it.”
Snoop Dogg – Signs feat. Justin Timberlake & Charlie Wilson (2005)
“Justin Timberlake is a darling guy to be around. As big of a superstar as he is, he wasn’t arrogant around me. He was always bowing in respect. That makes you feel good when people appreciate what you have done. When we saw each other during Snoop’s video for ‘Signs,’ Justin was like, ‘Oh my God … it’s Charlie Wilson!’ I didn’t even know he had a clue who I was. He was singing and doing all my licks. So I asked him when we were going to do our own record together and he was like, ‘I’m already writing it.’
Justin was actually working out the melodies and a beat in his head while we were on the set. It was just wonderful to be on a record like ‘Signs.’ It was another one of Pharrell’s fantastic ideas. He used my riff from the Gap Band’s ‘Early In The Morning.’ Pharrell is a true Uncle Charlie fan. You can’t say nothing bad about me to him [laughs]. The great thing is they told the label if I wasn’t in the video, scrap the damn song. Both Pharrell and Snoop said that. That’s true respect.”