R&B isn't a young man's game and Charlie Wilson knows it.
"R&B kind of went away for many years, because of hip-hop," Wilson says. "Hip-hop was strong and it took over, and R&B took a backseat. But when I came back in the game, we changed it for R&B. ... People were saying that R&B was working."
For some fans, "R&B" refers to music that existed prior the neosoul popularized by Frank Ocean, Miguel and the Weekend. For some, it's the oldies defined by 1950s and '60s New Orleans R&B, but for Wilson, the heyday of R&B was in the 1970s and early '80s, when together with brothers Robert and Ronnie Wilson, the Gap Band put out a series of No. 1 R&B albums, including the self-titled Gap Band III, IV and VI and the hits "Early in the Morning" and "You Dropped a Bomb on Me."
Wilson, who turned 61 this year, was dubbed "Uncle Charlie" by Snoop Dogg (aka Snoop Lion, aka Snoopzilla), but collaborations with hip-hop stars including Kanye West, R. Kelly and Will.i.am have kept him as busy as ever. Besides performing, Wilson has always been connected behind the scenes, producing music for everyone from Tupac Shakur to Justin Timberlake.
A new generation of listeners tapped into Wilson through his appearance on West's old-school Yeezus highlight "Bound 2." Wilson's room-filling vocal lifted the chorus into the heavens and confirmed that the singer hasn't lost his mojo.
Although Wilson went broke and struggled with alcohol abuse in the 1990s, he's back in the music world and isn't taking a backseat to the younger stars with whom he works. He didn't hesitate to drop a candid soundbite in an interview earlier this year with HipHollywood, saying, "When [Kanye West] does something wrong, I'm the first one to tell him that he's wrong."
But Wilson and West don't appear to have big differences. It was with West that Wilson last appeared in New Orleans, providing supporting vocals on West's operatic Yeezus tour at the Smoothie King Center in December 2013.
Wilson is becoming a familiar face in New Orleans. He performed at Essence Music Festival in 2013 and will return to its lineup in 2014. The visits have afforded him the chance to explore the city.
"The music scene is incredible," Wilson said. "There are a lot of musicians [in New Orleans]. You can walk from place to place, club to club, and see some of the greatest musicians in the world."
Wilson has been touring heavily since the release of Love, Charlie last year. The album is a collection of amorous slow-burners. Looking forward, he's open to newer R&B and hip-hop sounds.
"At my age, it seems like you have to prove something," Wilson says. "Everyone's looking at me like, 'Man, you gotta sit down. You [have] got to retire.' I'm not through making music, I'm not through setting off the shows, I'm not through turning it out."