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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Kentucky Catholic School Faces Backlash After Students Berate Indigenous Peoples March Protesters

Representatives from Kentucky's Covington Catholic High School have confirmed plans to look into their student body after several of their students appeared in a viral video harassing and mocking protesters at an Indigenous Peoples March.

The viral video above spread around the web Saturday (Jan. 19) a day after the protest that took place in Washington, D.C. Teens in the video were rocking "Make America Great Again" to support President Donald Trump and the anti-abortion March for Life demonstration that was also taking place on Indigenous Peoples Day.

The Cincinnati Enquirer reports  Laura Keener, the communications director with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Covington, released a statement about the video: "We are just now learning about this incident and regret it took place. We are looking into it."

In the video below, Indigenous elder Nathan Phillips of the Omaha tribe was reportedly performing a song meant to calm down the crowd when the large group of teens surrounded him, with one eye to eye as he and another elder chanted.

In tears, Phillips recalled the incident, calling for an apology and that the teens would "put that energy into making this country really great." The teens also got their messages mixed up when they also screamed "build that wall" toward him.

"I heard them saying 'build the wall, build that wall,'" he said.  "This is indigenous land. We’re not supposed to have walls here. Before anyone came here there were no walls, we never even had prisons. We always took care of our elders, we took care of our children. We taught them right from wrong."


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#ipmdc #ipmdc19 #indigenousunited #indigenouspeoplesmarch #indigenouspeoplesmarch2019

A post shared by KC🇬🇺🌴🌴 (@ka_ya11) on Jan 18, 2019 at 4:42pm PST

Speaking to The Enquirer Vincent Schilling shared how Phillips has been attacked in the past for standing up for indigenous peoples. Schilling, who is a member of the Mohawk tribe, said Phillips was pelted with trash just a few years ago by Eastern Michigan University students who hosted a Native American-themed party.

"As a Native American journalist, I find this to be one of the most egregious displays of naïve – I can’t even say naïve. It’s racism. It’s blatant racism," Schilling said.

"The guy has just been through a lot. To see Mr. Phillips treated this way is an incalculable amount of disrespect, and it's absolutely unacceptable in Native culture. As a Native man, I’ve got it countless times myself I’ve been mocked, I’ve been teased, my culture has been ridiculed. This is just another brick in the wall. I wanted so bad to walk up to those kids and say, 'You know this is a Vietnam veteran, right?'"

Director Ava DuVernay slammed the teens for their behavior as well as a number of indigenous social justice figures.

Thank you to @VinceSchilling of @IndianCountry and many others who identified the proud Native man who is being harassed. He is Mr. Nathan Phillips. I’m reposting this video from “ka_ya11” on IG. This man’s words pierce my heart. The grace. The wisdom. The hope.

— Ava DuVernay (@ava) January 19, 2019

Thank you for the kind shout-out @Ava

Nathan Phillips and I have shared in a sacred pipe ceremony to honor Native American veterans.

He is a Vietnam veteran, such behavior is terrible.

Again, thank you for your support.

— Vincent Schilling (@VinceSchilling) January 19, 2019

The teens in the video haven't been identified.

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Man Exonerated After Serving 45 Years Forced To Sell Prison Artwork For Money

A Detroit man who served 45 years behind bars for a crime that he didn’t commit, is forced to sell his personal collection of artwork that he made in prison. Richard Phillips, 72, doesn’t have steady income at the moment, and his lawyer is currently battling the state of Michigan to get him compensated for the wrongful conviction that stole his freedom.

"I don't have an income right now," said Phillips while showing off his paintings to Fox 2 Detroit. "This is my income."

In the early 1970s, Phillips was wrongfully convicted for the murder of Gregory Harris. He was sentenced to life in prison but always maintained his innocence. “I would rather died in prison than admit to a crime I didn’t do,” Philips said.

Phillips was convicted through an eyewitness account implicating him and a second man, Richard Palombo. In 2010, Palombo admitted that Phillips had no involvement in the murder and that he didn’t even know him. A new investigation was launched in 2014, nearly 20 years later Phillips appealed his murder conviction.

Last March, Wayne County Prosecutors Kym Worthy dropped all charges against Phillips, officially freeing him from prison. “There’s nothing that I can say to bring back 40 years of his life. The system failed him. There’s no question about it,” Worthy said at the time. “This is a true exoneration. Justice is indeed being done today, but there’s nothing that we can do ... to bring back those years of his life.”

Art played a big part in helping maintain his sanity through the sentence. Though he remained optimistic, Phillips admitted that he never truly believed he would be released. To pass the time, he began painting. He pulled inspiration from everywhere: his favorite artists, photos and even tapped into some of the loneliness that he felt in prison. "It was created in a harsh environment. But it goes to show you that beauty can come from something ugly."

Last year, Detroit's Demond Ricks was awarded $1 million for spending 25 years in prison on a wrongful conviction. As it stands, Phillips is the longest-serving wrongfully convicted former prisoner in U.S. history.

Phillips' artwork will be on display at Michigan's Ferndale's Level One gallery beginning Jan. 18.

See more on his artwork in the video below.

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Gladys Knight Defends Decision To Perform National Anthem At Super Bowl Amid Criticism

Glad Knight says she wants to “give the National Anthem back its voice.” The music legend released a new statement defending her decision to sing  the National Anthem at the Super Bowl in Atlanta, next month, amid criticism from fans.

Several artists turned down offers to perform at the Super Bowl in protest of the league’s treatment of Colin Kaepernick. Knight clarified that her choice to sing has nothing to do with Kaepernick, and she doesn't exactly agree with the anthem being "dragged into the debate."

"I understand that Mr. Kaepernick is protesting two things and they are police violence and injustice,” Knight said in a statement to Variety. “It is unfortunate that our National Anthem has been dragged into this debate when the distinctive senses of the National Anthem and fighting for justice should each stand alone.”

The 74-year-old singer also noted that she has been on the forefront of social justice issues for much of her career. "I am here today and on Sunday, Feb. 3 to give the Anthem back its voice, to stand for that historic choice of words,” Knight said. “The way it unites us when we hear it and to free it from the same prejudices and struggles I have fought long and hard for all my life, from walking back hallways, from marching with our social leaders, from using my voice for good.

"No matter who chooses to deflect with this narrative and continue to mix these two in the same message, it is not so and cannot be made so by anyone speaking it,” she continued. “I pray that this National Anthem will bring us all together in a way never before witnessed and we can move forward and untangle these truths which mean so much to all of us."

Knight isn’t alone in catching heat for joining the Super Bowl lineup. Travis Scott and Big Boi, both of whom will perform with Maroon 5 at halftime, received backlash as well.

Earlier in the week, reports surfaced claiming Scott had a meeting with Kaepernick that ended with “mutual respect” and “understanding.” Kaepernick’s girlfriend and Hot 97 DJ, Nessa Diab, denied the report tweeting, “There is NO mutual respect and there is NO understanding for anyone working against @Kaepernick7 PERIOD. #stoplying.”

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