Fresh off his spirited studio sessions with Kanye West, legendary former Gap Band vocalist Charlie Wilson spills the beans on his work with hip-hop’s most unpredictable visionary and his much-anticipated album, Dark Twisted Fantasy
“I received a phone call from the label that said Kanye West wanted to work with Uncle Charlie for his new album. Truthfully, I was like, ‘Yeah right…’ Because once I sang on a Kanye West’s Graduation, but during the sessions he wasn’t even in the studio. He had two or three sessions going on. So we set up some recording dates and I came out to L.A. to the A&M Records studio lot. First, let me just say that I’m a guy who is always punctual. I’m usually a half and hour early. So I get there and I turn my back to talk to the engineer and someone taps me on the shoulder and it’s Kanye! He was already there—and on time! A rapper on time? That was news [laughs]. But Kanye is a true businessman. He’s not that fashionably late guy. He takes care of his business.
We hugged and talked a little bit. Kanye started to play some of his new songs and we were only supposed to do one track, but we ended up doing three that day. We started tripling the vocals, but I told him, ‘This is just day one; I don’t know if I’m finished… we should do more.’ That’s when Kanye told me to come to New York to do some more recording at Electric Ladyland. One of the songs we recorded was ‘See Me Now,’ featuring Beyoncé. That whole experience was incredible. If you are ever in the studio with Kanye West, to see him work is amazing. He just bounces from room to room because he has a lot of sessions going on and he’s finishing song after song after song. It was awesome to hear the finished song with him and Beyoncé on it. That line where he says Kanye, Beyoncé and Charlie are the Black elite. I was on the floor! He was speaking that from his heart.
Kanye West is a genius. Just listen to a song like ‘Monster.’ I had no clue that he was going to keep me for the tail end of that track. I was in that session and I was like, ‘I don’t know where I’m going on this song.’ So Kanye told me to do some adlibs… to just be myself. When I listened to the finished record, I was like, ‘Okay… they must have took me off the song.’ But then I heard my voice at the end of ‘Monster’ and I was totally shocked! When my voice came in the mood suddenly went deep. Kanye is great producer, man. He will take you left sometimes. We ended up doing 10 songs together. A lot of those records will be for other artists as well. I love Kanye West. He touched my heart and my career.”—As told to Keith Murphy