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2015 ESSENCE Festival performer, Charlie Wilson chats with us about his tour, his muse and hot new collaborations.
2015 ESSENCE Fest performer and festival fan favorite, Charlie Wilson is STILL on top of his game! With an incredibly successful arena tour now under his belt, many may wonder what he can conquer next. Well, everyone’s favorite uncle wants you to know that this is just the beginning and you’ll never be able to predict his next move. He took a few moments before performing at Barclays Center in Brooklyn to chat with us about his Forever Charlie Tour, his amazing longevity, this year’s #EssenceFest and future collaborations.
ESSENCE: I want to ask you about longevity in this business. You’ve been in this business a very long time and you’ve made some classic records. You continue to make hit after hit. To what do you attribute your longevity?
First, I’ve got to say the fans. They’re absorbing everything that I give. Of course, I have to thank God for all he’s done for me and all He’s doing for me. It’s just a sure passion that I have for music. I’m going to go hard every time for my real hardcore fans. I don’t try to go in just for radio records. However, I won’t say I won’t one day do that and just show the world this ain’t nothing for me to do. I’ve stayed so humble to my core fans and to adult contemporary. I know I’m grown. I’m a grown man. All these years I’ve tried to watch what I say on the records and it’s not the fact that I can’t do any other records or do a world record—I just stay focused on that. I definitely have family around me that keeps me grounded on certain things. We’ve always talked about how we are going to make a world record next time. I’m just trying to figure it all out and make sure we are right about it, whatever it is.
ESSENCE: Speaking of your wife, I read somewhere that you described her as, “an angel sent from God.” Would you also describe her as your muse?
Absolutely. Anytime I get ready to do something and I’m singing, she’ll tip in the studio and say, “Um, can you sing that better than that?” I’ll say, “I’m just getting warmed up!” And she’s like, “But you don’t have any feeling!” Then I’ve got to start all over because she says that. She’s helping pick the records like, “This is what you should say to the women, this is what you should say in this.” It’s always a good thing to have somebody like that.
ESSENCE: Because she knows what we want to hear, right? [Laughs]
Of course. She doesn’t pick them all but she definitely says, this is a good record. I think you should sing it. There will be a lot of records I want to leave behind and she’s like, “No, you ought to record this record and fix the runs up a little bit more!” I’m here, still, celebrating women and I think that’s the reason why the women love the records because it’s just what I’m saying to them on the record.
ESSENCE: Speak to how the genre of R&B has evolved over the years. Right now it’s kind of influx because you have a lot of misogynistic records in R&B now and that never used to happen. How do you feel about the current state of R&B?
I think it’s coming back around to what it should be and I’m one of the leaders for this. For me to be leading the way, R&B is going to be in a very good state. It’s just, usually the person that makes the runway doesn’t get all of the credit. It’s everybody else that lands on the runway and get out in their mink furs. That’s who they take the pictures of and not of the guy who actually dug the runway out to pave the way. Now everybody, even rappers, is making R&B records. That’s why a lot of rappers ask me to come and sing because it just brings that R&B flavor to what it is that they are saying. They’re out here trying to sing the records themselves but it would probably sound better for that generation if they ask me to come sing. I think R&B is going to be good. It’s in a state where again, urban R&B would like to be what hip hop is and this is where the confusion comes in. With Urban R&B and adult contemporary R&B, they don’t want to play the likes of me at the radio but they’ll play the urban R&B. See that, pisses me off. Oh, I’m not good enough for this particular radio station but it’s okay for young kids to be on the station where I’m at? So, we have to listen to that. Now, I’m not saying that their music is not right. I’m just saying…let’s do this the right way. But, it’s all good. I’m just going to continue to make good music until everybody is just like, “Man, this dude won’t stop.”
ESSENCE: How has the tour been going so far? I know that this is different for you because you usually play more intimate venues. Why did you choose to do an arena tour?
My manager and I talked a couple years ago about doing arenas and he said, “I don’t think it’s time yet.” I said ok. So, last year we had another conversation and he’s like, “Ok, we can talk about that now.” I was like we need to go big or go home. He said,”Ok, but this is the other side of the coin. If we miss, we are going to look like a bunch of a—holes,” because everyone was saying I couldn’t do it. He said, “But if we do it and make it, then we are going to look like geniuses.” Now, everywhere I’ve been has been a sellout just about. The weather— everywhere I’ve been, the last 11 shows has had some issues to it. Snowing and sleeting everywhere I’ve been. Still, it was just about every seat in the place has been sold out. I think that me going big or going home is paying off. I think that it would just be more people seeing Uncle Charlie at one time. We did the Tristate, we did Philly, now Brooklyn and Jersey and DC. I think next time we will just have to come in the city and play the Garden with one or two shows. We will see how that works. You have to go big or go home. You have to [take a risk] and you have to embrace failure. I’ve had so many failures and setbacks in my life, now it’s time to get the reward.
ESSENCE: When you talk about failures and setbacks, that’s something that anybody can relate to. What have those things taught you and how do you apply that to life now?
It taught me to be strong and never give up on yourself. Love and to trust in God. It taught me to step out on faith but you have to work as well. You can’t jus think this golden chicken is going to fall out the sky and you’ll get golden nuggets and go cash it in. If you step out on faith you have to have works with it. If you take one step, God will take two for you. That’s what I believe you have to do. Never give up on yourself. It’s never too late to ever be what you want to be in life. It doesn’t matter what you look like; whether you are black or white, fat or skinny, you have to go believe in yourself and something greater than yourself. Then, you could make any way out of no way.
ESSENCE: Now, you’re a staple at ESSENCE Fest. You come back year after year and give the crowd exactly what they want. What is it that keeps bringing you back to ESSENCE Fest?
They keep asking for me! [Laughs] You know, I’m not going to turn them down. Everybody knows, the ESSENCE family knows what they are going to get when they ask for me. Now, once other people find out I’m on these shows, then everybody else gets nervous. They’re like, “Don’t put him before me, don’t put him on my night!” So that’s when all of the confusion starts because don’t nobody really want to follow the Uncle! It’s all good. I don’t want to pull punches. It doesn’t matter! [Laughs] I’m not holding back just because you are here. I’m here because of the fans who’ve loved me and respect what I do. I’m going to leave it all out on the floor every single time I’m on the stage. I’m not holding back.
ESSENCE: I know you’ve worked with some of the new school’s finest—from Snoop to Pharrell and we can keep naming people. Are there any newer artists that you want to collaborate with that you haven’t yet?
Well, there are a couple of names but I really don’t want to say it right now. I’ve just been in the studio and playing around with some of them guys, the really hot ones right now. I just better leave that one alone for right now… because when we do work, I don’t want everybody to expect it. If me and Snoop and Pharrell do a record, it’s almost like they expect that. Some of the other people I’m having fun with right now, nobody will expect at all. You won’t even have a clue. With music, when you have giants and those giants move together, you can do big things. If some giant is looking at another giant and not giving him his props then you’re saying that you think you are a bigger giant than him. But when real giants, real players, get together and do something, the move is big. So, I’m going to keep that zipped up. When they see one clip, they are going to be like, “Oh my gosh, this is great!”
Don’t miss Charlie Wilson at this year’s ESSENCE Fest! Click here to buy your weekend passes! Check out the rest of the Festival line-up here. Stay tuned to ESSENCE Festival for all things #EssenceFest! Join the #EssenceFest community by following us on Twitter @EssenceFest and Facebook.
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