Charlie Wilson is a busy man. The Grammy-nominated, legendary vocalist, who is set to receive the BET Lifetime Achievement Award later this month, is still promoting his no. 1 R&B album Love, Charlie. Indeed, Wilson, who has influenced a legion of singers over the years (from Guy’s Aaron Hall to Justin Timberlake) both as a member of the Gap Band and on his solo run, is featured on Kanye West’s much-buzzed-about release Yeezus. A frequent collaborator of the newly christened father, Wilson has long been an in-demand talent sharing the recording booth with the likes of Snoop Dogg, Bun B, and Pharrell. Now the endearing talent, who has survived drug addiction, cancer and a changing musical landscape, sits down with VIBE to discuss his feature on ‘Ye’s latest hell-raising work, his BET honor, and conquering Europe. —Keith Murphy (@murphdogg29)
VIBE: You're featured on Kanye West’s Yeezus album on the track “Bound 2.” Can you explain how that collaboration came together?
Charlie Wilson: ‘Ye, man… first he was trying to get me to do some G.O.O.D. Friday stuff in Hawaii, but the day that they called me I was just waking up from anesthesia from having back surgery. At that time, Hawaii really sounded good to me [laughs]. I wanted to get out of there. My people even asked, “What do you want me to tell Kanye’s people…do you want to go?” And I’m like, “Yeah right… I can’t even get to the door with this walker.” So we missed that session. I later asked my manager if Kanye and them ever called us back, then a few months later ‘Ye hits me up and says they were in Paris and wanted me to come there. This was for his new album [Yeezus].
Kanye is an artist that knows what he wants. What type of direction did he give you for “Bound 2”?
Being in the room with 'Ye, he’s very particular about what he wants you to do in the studio. Yes, he listens to me and gets off on the stuff that I’m doing, but he’s very particular about what he wants you to do. But when you come up with some new lyrics or he comes up with a new adlib he is going to beat that up and keep beating it up until that thing makes sense to him. But it’s a lot of fun working with him and seeing him jump around when things are coming to life.
It sounds like a party, huh?
When I came in for ‘Ye’s session, the first thing I did was pick him up and he’s like, “What’s up family?” I just found out that he and [Kim Kardashian] were expecting a baby and I picked him up so high that 'Ye was like, “Man…you happier than me!” [Laughs] When I started singing someone told me that a new life came into the session. One of the people in the house said, “Mr. Wilson, before you got here the sessions were kind of dead. You brought so much life…everything started changing in the house.” They even told me that Kanye was smiling more [laughs]. I was like, “Wow.” So bringing some happiness to a situation is something I do. I’m not the guy coming into the studio with my face all frowned up like I’m so hard that I can’t say hi.
On June 30th, you are set to receive the 2013 BET Lifetime Achievement Award. What does this honor mean for you as someone that has been in the music business for over 40 years and has gone through so many ups and downs?
It’s sweet, man. It’s kind of hard to explain. Sometimes I get too emotional trying to explain it because I’ve been through so much. When I was a lot younger, I didn’t get a chance to achieve the things I wanted to achieve because of certain people or the label I was with at the time. So I’ve worked real hard…I’m clean and sober now. The devil is tricky, man. He will put a short film of your past and just have it on rewind to where all you see is your past going—the bad part of your past. After I got the chance to unplug that and forgive certain people it took a long time just to get up and get cleaned up. But it’s great… this bunch around me knows what’s going on around me every single day. They know how hard it’s been to get me where I am today.
Do you wake up some days and think: I have one of the greatest voices all time in R&B?
I’m not that arrogant [laughs]. I’ll joke around and say that I must be the greatest, but there’s been so many great people and musicians in this world who are a lot older than me that can still do it. It’s like, “Oh my God…how can they still sing like that?” I asked God for one thing in my darkest hours: If I ever get a chance to do this again, I just want to be able to inspire people. So I guess he granted me that.
You are set to go on a European tour starting on July 10 in France. What can fans overseas expect from Charlie Wilson?
A lot of the fans in Europe are going to see me for the first time and wonder who in the hell is this? I remember when I went to London with my full band. The lady that booked the place was like, “Oh, my God!” When she saw my show she was like, “I was totally in the dark about the man.” We are going to do some music festivals I’ve never been on. Europe calls me America’s favorite uncle. So now I have to show them what we do over here.
Charlie Wilson’s European Tour Schedule
July 10, 2013 Montpellier, France La Grande-Mott Casino
July 12, 2013 London, UK UK Shepherd’s Bush Empire
July 14, 2013 Rotterdam, Netherlands Netherlands North Sea Jazz Festival
July 15, 2013 Paris, France Trianon
July 17, 2013 Basel, Switzerland Metro Grand Casino Basel
July 19, 2013 London, UK Lovebox Music Festival