Uncle Charlie Talks New Album, His Respect For Hip-Hop And Why Kanye West Is The Best

Charlie Wilson is in high-demand. Which is news to the 57-year-old singer-songwriter who was a platinum star as a member of the late ‘70s and early 80’s R&B-funk trio The Gap Band. Three plus decades later, Wilson has enjoyed an artistic and commercial rebirth following collaborations with Snoop Dogg (“Beautiful”), Snoop and Justine Timberlake (“Signs”) and R. Kelly (“Charlie, Last Name Wilson”). Now after experiencing Billboard chart success with his comeback albums Charlie, Last Name Wilson (2005) and Uncle Charlie (2009), the heavily influential vocalist is again making his presence felt in the hip-hop world, appearing on Kanye West’s upcoming work Dark Twisted Fantasy. VIBE talked to the re-energized Uncle Wilson about his thoughts on his unlikely reinvention, his early connection with the rap world, the recent death of his Gap Band brother and why Kanye is the best producer on the planet. —Keith Murphy



VIBE: You are set to release a new single (“You Are”) going into nearly 40 years in the music business both as a member of the Gap Band and as a solo artist? Are you amazed that a new generation of hip-hop artists and R&B fans have embraced you?

Charlie Wilson: It’s been amazing to know that I’m still wanted. I’ve been in the studio with everyone from Snoop Dogg to Kanye West. This particular single, “You Are,” is basically about a strong man who has the support of a stronger woman. It’s going to be the wedding song of the millennium. When we were writing that song I was thinking about Michelle Obama and how she stuck by her man from their college days all the way to the Senate and all the way to the White House. She’s just a strong woman. I feel the same way about my wife. She’s the one who told me when we got married 15 years ago, “Hey, I’m going to show you that we are going back to the top.” She did not let up on me when I didn’t have the belief in myself to [make a comeback.] She’s my anchor. Sometimes she tells me what licks to sing on my songs. She’s all in my damn business [laughs]. You want to have someone like that in your corner.

Your brother Robert recently passed away. People are finally starting to acknowledge his influence as a songwriter and a bassist. What did he mean to the legacy of the Gap Band?

When you listen to all those Gap Band hits like “Burn Rubber” and “Outstanding” you hear that bottom. He was the anchor of all those songs. My brother was a true showman. I had to duck his bass just about every live show we did because he was so energetic; he would spin on you in a minute. He was the other frontman who was just as powerful. My brother used to tune his four-string bass down so low and go deep on the songs. You can hear it on “Yearning For Your Love.” Everybody was trying to figure out how he played those low notes, but he played his bass like it was a guitar with a lot of vibrato. To lose a brother is just crazy. I watched the Jacksons lose Michael a year ago and I was one of millions of people witnessing that tragic loss. But now I can understand what Janet, Randy, Tito and all those guys were going through. Before my brother passed, we were talking about doing a Gap Band reunion. It’s still hard for me to talk about. My brother was incredible.

During the height of the Gap Band in the early 80s, rap groups were starting to tour with R&B and funk acts. Did you guys share the perception of the majority of your peers that hip-hop was just a fad?

I remember going on the road with Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick. Let me tell you something about Doug…when they released [“The Show”], it was a wrap after that! But we had a good time with those guys. They actually picked up a lot from being on the road with Gap, Zapp, and Parliament. Doug just took it all in and absorbed all the things we were doing onstage. They learned how to take hold of a crowd and not just use the song to entertain.

A lot of the R&B bands back then were dismissive of hip-hop acts because they didn’t play instruments. How shocking was it to see these young rap artists show up onstage with just a pair of turntables and a microphone?

[Laughs] Actually that’s what a lot of the guys around me used to point out… that the rappers didn’t play instruments. But I never used those words. I didn’t care that they were using turntables because when I saw hip-hop first come in, I would just watch those guys do their thing. It was a new form of expression and that’s how they came in the game. I respected that. Some of them even started getting bands to back them up. They were advancing hip-hop. 

You talked briefly about your staying power. Why do you think the hip-hop world has gravitated towards Charlie Wilson?

Wow. I really don’t know the answer to that. But I think it may be because I can still sing [laughs]. I have to blow my whistle a little bit. These young artists trust in what it is I’m going to deliver. The generation is getting younger. I just got finished doing a song with The New Boyz. Uncle Charlie with the New Boyz?! That’s crazy. Those guys were not even alive when we were releasing the third Gap Band album. It’s just been incredible. The stars are aligning for me. I’m truly blessed. I was just in New York for a week with Kanye.

One of the new Kanye West songs you appear on is “See Me Now.” How did that collaboration come about?

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Rikers Island Inmate Dies From Complications Of COVID-19

An inmate at Rikers Island awaiting a parole hearing has died from COVID-19 complications, reports several news outlets, including New York Times.

Michael Tyson, 53, had been jailed on Rikers Island since Feb.28. On March 26, Tyson had been moved from the Anna M. Kross Center on Rikers Island to Bellevue Hospital, where he died from COVID-19. Tyson’s name was among the 100 detainees from The Bronx held on parole violations for whom the Legal Aid Society has been seeking immediate release, via a lawsuit filed in Bronx Supreme Court on April 3.

“This tragedy would have been entirely avoidable if only Governor Cuomo had directed [the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS)] to act decisively from the outset of this epidemic to release incarcerated New Yorkers who, like Mr. Tyson, were especially vulnerable to the virus,” Tina Luongo, the attorney-in-charge of the Criminal Defense Practice at the Legal Aid Society, said in a press statement.

Tyson was one the 100 inmates named in a lawsuit filed in the Bronx Supreme Court by the organization on April 3. The lawsuit claims that inmates are being held for non-criminal parole violations. Names of individuals in the lawsuit are either elders or have underlying health issues. Tyson was listed as among “the highest risk group” due to his age and unspecified health issues, according to a letter cited therein from Correctional Health Services.

“Our deepest condolences go out to the detainee’s family in their time of grief. The safety and well-being of those in our custody remains our number one priority,” Peter Thorne, a spokesperson for the Department of Corrections (DOC) said in a statement sent to TIME.

TIME also reports that a 273 inmates on Rikers Island have tested positive for the virus. Also, 321 jailers and 53 health professionals within NYC's jail system have tested positive for COVID-19, and four jailers have died.

During a press conference, Mayor Bill De Blasio said that 900 inmates have been released from NYC's jail system, with more releases in the works.

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Juelz Santana’s Wife Kimbella Petitions For His Prison Release Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

Across the United States, inmates and prison staff have been dealing with the spread of COVID-19 and receiving minimal attention from local governments. While releases for certain inmates are being granted, one famously being Tekashi 6ix9ine, others like Juelz Santana are petitioning for a similar release.

The “Mic Check” rapper’s wife Kimbella Vanderhee publicized a petition to have her spouse released to continue his sentencing under home confinement. Santana was sentenced to 27 months in prison for drugs and firearm violations.

Kimbella said Santana has been on lockdown for two weeks. “He has served 13 months at FCI Petersburg and should be allowed to serve the rest of his sentence on home confinement,” the petition’s statement reads. “BOP & Honorable Judge Chesler can make this happen for Laron. He is a good husband, father, son, brother, friend and has a positive media influence as a legendary rap artist.”

In 2018, Santana turned himself in to the authorities after a firearm and drugs were found in his luggage at Newark International Airport. He was brought up on charges of unlawful possession of a weapon and other drug-related offenses.

Similar to 6ix9ine, Kimbella is petitioning for Santana to serve out the rest of his sentence on home confinement. Earlier this week, 6ix9ine was granted release due to the novel coronavirus' spread and its affects on people with underlying health issues, like asthma which 6ix9ine has. Prison reform advocates have been calling on local governments to release those with non-criminal parole violations. Recently, New York City's Rikers Island recorded its first inmate date from the COVID-19 virus. TIME reports 273 inmates at Rikers have tested positive.

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Quibi Documentary Explores LeBron James' I Promise School

Quibi's launch of original content has revealed an in-depth look into LeBron James' I Promise school based in the athlete's hometown of Akron, Ohio.

The docuseries explores young scholars attending the school and the traumas they've faced in their very short lives. I Promised officially opened in 2018, taking in low-income students who reportedly were among the worst performers in Akron’s public schools.

Speaking to People, James explained how the school's mission isn't just to improve grades but to provide emotional support the children will take into adulthood.

“Hope is a very powerful thing. No matter the situation, if a kid knows someone truly believes in them, that changes their outlook on everything,” James said. “With our school, everything is built on giving kids the confidence that they can do anything. They know I believe in them, they know their teachers, the whole staff, and everyone we’ve put around them believes in them. It’s incredible what they can do when they feel that support.”

Each student was handpicked with some improvement at record speed. According to The New York Times, 216 of 240 I Promise students met or exceeded their expected growth at the mid-year mark. “At the I PROMISE School, our goal is to let every single kid know they are special,” James added. “That they can be whatever they want to be. And that starts with addressing everything they’re going through before they even step foot in a classroom.”

Before its opening, James ensured that the parents of the students would also have a chance to expand their education and job hunt. Students also receive breakfast, lunch and snacks with access to an in-house food bank.

In the Quibi doc, James' mother Gloria Marie James, also shared how her son struggled in school as a child and how the player used his own life experience to help improve the school's mission statement.

“You’ll hear from my mom in the documentary, who shares how much we both can relate to what these kids and their families are going through,” he said. “A lot of what we do at I Promise School is based on our experience and that’s what makes the connection so real. We have a mutual understanding of each other and what we’re going through, and I think that gives us all the drive we need to succeed for one another.”

Like many schools around the country, I Promise teachers are engaging with students on platforms like Zoom.


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Our family looks a little bit different on the computer screen than they do at school…🤔🤣 but there is truly nothing like family! #WeAreFamily

A post shared by I PROMISE School (@ipromiseschool) on Mar 26, 2020 at 1:04pm PDT

Quibi, a new streaming service from Jeffery Katzenberg, founder and CEO of Dreamworks, officially launched Monday with original content from the likes of Ariana Grande, Keke Palmer, Lena Waithe and more.

Luckily for T-Mobile customers, Quibi is on the house for a full year. T-Mobile customers with two or more voice lines at standard rates on Magenta and ONE plans with taxes and fees included — along with discounted First Responder, Military and Magenta Plus 55 plans — or small business customers with up to 12 lines, can get Quibi (regularly $4.99) added to their plan for free.

Customers can sign up between now and July 7 to get Quibi on Us by going to or the T-Mobile app for iOS or Android.

See the full list of shows on the platform here.

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