How Charlie Wilson Has Remained Relevant For 40 Years And Counting

Since the Gap Band's '80s heyday, what it means to be soulful and funky often means emulating Charlie Wilson.

By taking inspiration from Stevie Wonder and the P-funk pioneers of the '70s, Charlie and his brothers Ronnie and Robert Wilson took popular funk music to new heights. And even that feels like an understatement. It would be more accurate to say that Wilson and The Gap Band made music that offered audiences the funk and r&b sound at its most accessible, its most danceable, and its most energetic.

That claim is supported by the fact that the Gap Band has been consistently sampled by popular artists since the '90s. Many of the songs that feature a Gap Band sample have gone on to have enormous impact on their own. In 2014, Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars' hit song "Uptown Funk" borrowed their main hook from the Gap Band's 1979 song "Oops Up Side Your Head." In 2017, Tyler, the Creator and Steve Lacey released the underground favorite "911 / Mr. Lonely" which is an interpolation of "Outstanding." In 2005, The Neptunes produced Snoop Dogg and Justin Timberlake track "Signs" featured lyrics interpolated from "Early In The Morning." In short, Wilson's rich vocals and memorable melodies are some of pop music's finest and in order to make more fine pop music, many artists turn to the Gap Band's goldmine discography for inspiration.

But what really keeps Charlie Wilson so effortlessly relevant is that he's the kind of icon that isn't simply an aid to devotion or a representative symbol of music. Wilson's representation of music refuses to be stationary. Not only does he have an impressive solo career, he's been collaborating with today's artists on new material for the past few decades. Wilson has been featured on multiple songs by Snoop Dogg, Kanye West, and Tyler, The Creator. Just last Sunday he was seen on the 2020 Grammys stage with Tyler, The Creator and Boyz II Men. And last night, he gave an impressive performance of his new song "Forever Valentine" on Jimmy Kimmel Live!

Who could forget the 2013 BET Awards tribute performance to the singer in which Wilson himself stole the show with his impeccable vocals and energetic stage presence? Only a handful of artists can get a crowd to get out of their seats just a minute into their performance.

It wasn't the idea or memory of Charlie Wilson that made that BET tribute performance so successful. It was Wilson himself - his voice and his presence - that made the create react so viscerally. Many acts from previous decades rely solely on nostalgia. Wilson's music, with and without The Gap Band, isn't just nostalgic. It's very much alive, a prime example of timeless music. And its pulse will carry on until there's no one left to feel it.

Photo: Getty Images

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