From Snoop Dogg to Kanye West: Charlie Wilson Tells His Hip-Hop Stories
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 after the jump.
‘Snoops Upside Ya Head,’ Snoop Dogg feat. Charlie Wilson (1996)
“I remember talking to Snoop and DJ Pooh. They were going through records in the studio and when they got to the Gap Band’s ‘I Don’t Believe You Want to Get Up and Dance (Oops Upside Ya Head!)’ Snoop was like, ‘Man, If I could get somebody to cut that … ‘ And I told him, ‘I can cut that right now. Just give me a Moog bass and let’s go.’ They kind of looked at me funny, but told everybody what parts to play. I hummed the guitar, keyboard and drum parts. Me and DJ Pooh cut that track right there and we rocked it. When I finished recording the song, Snoop came in singing, ‘Snoops Upside Ya Head … ‘ [laughs] Snoop is such an old head. He is so old school, man. He respects the music. And he loves The Gap Band. It was a crazy, funny session.
When it came time to do the video I was supposed to be one of the jail inmates at the table because the video took place in prison. But when they were picking out the clothes for people to wear, my wife was like, ‘No, my husband is not wearing any inmate clothes [laughs]. He’s either going to be a guard or he won’t be in it at all!’ So I wore the prison guard uniform. My wife is s trip! And I got some special face time in that clip.”
‘Ghetto Fabulous,’ Mystikal feat. Snoop and Charlie Wilson (1998)
“I remember Snoop calling me to come to Baton Rogue, Louisiana. My wife and I went down there to visit him because we are just like family. Sometimes we even go out on vacations together with him and his wife and me and my wife. So when No Limit found out that I was in Snoop’s house, the cars were pulling up every 10 minutes [laughs]. Snoop was telling them, ‘Hey, don’t come up in here like that. Uncle Charlie didn’t come for this bull.’ But they were like, ‘Snoop … let me just get a couple of bars from him … can get 16 bars???’
First it was Mia X who I redid ‘Yearning for Your Love’ with and we also did a video together. After that, Snoop was like, ‘This is going to get out of hand. Uncle, you okay with this?’ But I didn’t care as long as it wasn’t disrespecting Snoop’s time.’ So everybody from Silkk The Shocker to C-Murder came through the door. Mystikal was the last one. He was so excited to have me on his record (‘Ghetto Fabulous’). I saw him a couple years after we did the song and he kept telling me, ‘I owe you one, Uncle Charlie.’ I owe you one.”
‘Beautiful,’ Snoop Dogg feat. Pharrell and 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.”
‘Signs,’ Snoop Dogg feat. Justin Timberlake and 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.”
‘Quit Hatin’ the South’ and ‘How Long Can It Last,’ UGK feat. Charlie Wilson (2007)
“I had never met Pimp C and Bun B before. I was in the studio when they called for me. I did the session and I was just about to leave when somebody came through the door and said, ‘Yo Uncle Charlie … What’s up, pimp?’ I had never seen this guy’s face. So I’m like, ‘Who are you?’ And he says, ‘This is Pimp C, baby!’ He told me he had a surprise for me. So when I finished the track, all of a sudden Lil Jon walks through the door! He’s screaming out my name. Pimp C was a really nice dude. I enjoyed that session that day. And Bun B was cool as well. They even asked me to do a couple more tracks with them. Every time someone asks me to do one track I end up doing three or four.”
The ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’ sessions, Kanye West feat. Charlie Wilson on backing vocals (2010)
“To me, Kanye West is one of the most talented producers and rappers I’ve ever worked with. He takes a lot of chances with his music. He is serious when it comes to his art. We had two sessions in Los Angeles and New York where we recorded a lot of songs. He told me about an idea he had. He wanted to produce a record (‘See Me Now’) featuring me, him and Beyonce. I didn’t know what to think because in this business people tell you a lot of things [laughs]. But when I heard her voice on that track I knew Kanye wasn’t playing around.
Then we did another song called [‘Monster.’] Now on this one, it was all about the way Kanye presented the section to me. He was like, ‘Let go on this specific part … be Uncle Charlie to the 10th power.’ I didn’t hear the other parts of the record, but I remember the part that I was singing on. But to tell you the truth, I had no clue where he was going to put me on the song. In fact, I thought he took me off that track when I first heard it until I heard the ending. And man, that was just powerful. It takes you to another place.
It was during the New York session when I met Mos Def. When they told him I was going to sing on [‘Lord, Lord, Lord’] he was like, ‘Whoa! I’m about to work with Uncle Charlie?!!!’ He had already written the ‘Lord, Lord’ chorus. I heard [Mos Def’s] flavor and how he was singing on the song. That guy is so talented. I just told myself I was going to make the words mine. I understood how to say Lord. My father was a preacher. I knew how to take it to the gospel world. I did my best to take it there. Really, what more can I say? I would work with Kanye anytime. He is all about excellence.”