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Some people might say that after notching eight No. 1 singles, 11 Grammy Award nominations, a best-selling memoir and ongoing sold-out, coast-to-coast arena tours, Charlie Wilson has proven his point….and he isn’t planning to slow down anytime soon.
“I’ve been in this game for many years,” reflects the Gap Band co-founder and solo star. “I’ve had some big hit records and sold a lot of records. But I need to still show people that I’m in it. It’s championship time.”
Wilson underscores that declaration with his latest album, In It to Win It (P Music Group/RCA, Feb. 17). The set boasts lead single “I’m Blessed” featuring T.I., currently top 10 Billboard and fastest rising top ten single this year on the Urban Adult Contemporary chart.
Coinciding with the new album’s arrival is Wilson’s In It to Win It national arena tour with Fantasia and Johnny Gill kicking off Feb. 8 in Norfolk, VA and will continue throughout the U.S. with 29 dates through the end of March.
“’I’m Blessed’ says exactly where I am in my life, blessed to still be making music that people want to hear,” says Wilson. "2016 was a tough year for so many people around the world, so I’m proud to release a song to remind us that we can all find some blessings in our lives. And having T.I. bring his flavor, sharing who he is and how his journey is filled with blessings, is an added bonus."
Breaking away from the tradition of using his name in the album title, Wilson also recruited an A-Team of guest features for his seventh solo album. Joining T.I. as first-timers in that circle: Pitbull, Wiz Khalifa, Robin Thicke and Lalah Hathaway. Wilson, who executive produced the 13-track album along with long time manager, Michael Paran, reunited once again with The Cartoons (Emile Ghantous, Steve Daly and Keith Hetrick), Gregg Pagani and Wirlie Morris on the creative side. New to the mix this time around: fellow songwriter/producers J.R. Rotem (Jason Derulo, Gwen Stefani, Empire), Eric Hudson (Kanye West, John Legend) and Rob Knox (Justin Timberlake, Rihanna, T.I.).
“In addition to working with our talented core of producers, one of our goals was to add some new talent to the team,” stated Paran. “I was excited to bring in J.R. Rotem, Eric Hudson and Rob Knox to the project as they added an adrenaline shot to the recording process and really inspired Charlie to cut all kinds of music. I can truly say Charlie had a lot of fun recording this album and you can hear that reflected in the music.”
Together, the team crafted a package that fully encompasses Wilson’s unlimited reach. He explores the synergy between pop and R&B with Thicke on the mid-tempo “Smile for Me” (“You can’t tell our vocals apart sometimes,” says Wilson). Then he and Pitbull double-down on the party track “Good Time.”
And who knew rapper Wiz Khalifa possesses an impressive singing voice, which he shows off on the noteworthy “Us Trust.” Another oh wow moment is the duet between Wilson and Lalah Hathaway on the scintillating “Made for Love.” Their what-took-so-long pairing calls to mind the magic conjured between Lalah’s late father/soul legend Donny Hathaway and Roberta Flack.
“She’s definitely got her own spirit but I could see Donny’s aura as well,” notes Wilson of working with Lalah. “It just makes you feel good inside when you hear her sing. She nailed it.”
Never one to shortchange his fans, Wilson unleashes his powerful tenor on the uplifting title track, the inspirational “Amazing God” and romance songs “Precious Love” and “New Addiction.” To round out In It to Win It, Wilson reunites with “nephew” Snoop Dog for the sexy romp “Gold Rush.”
“Love is a powerful word and as men we need to let our women know that we love and respect them,” stated Wilson. “So, when guys bring their ladies to my show or have this album playing during a romantic dinner, they know I am speaking for them.”
Before launching his solo career in 2000, Wilson racked up a string of hits in the late ‘70s and ‘80s as front man with the Gap Band. The pioneering R&B/funk group charted such frequently sampled classics as “Outstanding,” “Yearning for Your Love,” “Burn Rubber on Me,” “You Dropped a Bomb on Me” and “Early in the Morning.”
Wilson signed to Jive (now RCA) in 2004 after landing his first No. 1 Billboard Adult R&B hit in 2000, “Without You.” Since then, he’s released six solo albums and become a consistent chart presence. His tally of 19 hits boasts seven more Adult R&B No. 1s. Among them: “My Love Is All I Have,” “You Are” and “There Goes My Baby.” While garnering 11 Grammy nominations and other industry accolades, including BET’s 2013 Lifetime Achievement Award, Wilson has stayed busy on the road, as he is a major concert draw, claiming the crown for top winter tour of 2015 with his Forever Charlie arena, or in the studio.
In the years between the Gap Band’s heyday and his solo success, Wilson survived drug and alcohol addiction, homelessness and prostate cancer. He chronicled his odds-defying life and career in his 2015 best-selling autobiography, I Am Charlie Wilson. Sober now for 22 years, the singer says, “I wouldn’t have believed I’d be where I am right now. That’s why I shout every night because I thank God for allowing me to be here.”
“I’m looking forward to reaching a new swath of fans on this tour and with the release of my new album,” pledges Wilson. “And, I’m not stopping because I Am In It To Win It.”