"He's our homeboy from around the block/He's regarded through the city as the Hip-Hop cop/Height about 6'6, weight about 290/Everywhere I go, Charlie Mack is right behind me..."
Charles Alston has been called "The Big Brother of Philadelphia." The man affectionately dubbed "Charlie Mack" has been a mainstay of the city as both folk hero and community leader for more than 40 years, and his longtime friendship with megastar Will Smith has made him one of the most intriguing "behind the scenes" personalities in popular culture.
“He actually basically jumped in front of a bullet for me before," Smith said in August. "He literally, like, ran toward a guy who was shooting.”
Mack has made a name for himself as one of the most impactful influencers in entertainment; and Will Smith has so much love for his old friend. The entertainment icon hired Mack as his security guard early in DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince's run, and Smith shared this past summer that Mack would eventually save the young rap star's life.
“In another country, I’d just be able to give him a goat and we’d be even," Smith jokingly said. "But for whatever reason here, I owe him my life.”
A young Charlie Mack would host house parties in West Philly in the late 1970s, and made such a name for himself as a promoter that he landed an A&R gig for April Records. But he was heavy in the streets throughout the early 1980s -- at least until he met a young up-and-coming Philly DJ named Jeff Townes who was making a name for himself as DJ Jazzy Jeff. Jeff remembers how he first connected with the legendary Charlie Mack.
"Charlie Mack has been at the epicenter of Philly Hip-Hop from the beginning," Jeff tells ROCK THE BELLS. "Even before Will, Charlie [booked] me for a show in Southwest Philly. I heard about Charlie and came and did it -- it was a great show. And we kinda established a friendship. When Will and I got together, and things started moving, I remember saying 'Yo, if we're going on the road, we need some security.' And i picked up the phone and called Charlie."
"He always tells this story: I was like 'Charlie, I can't promise you the money that you made in the street. But I can guarantee that you'll see the world.' At that time, Charlie had gotten into some trouble and was like 'Yeah, I'm done.' Our very first tour, Charlie was on those shows. And he's been with us ever since."
Jeff more than made good on his promise. As DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince grew from local sensation to bonafide stars on the success of their debut album Rock The House, Charlie Mack became the duo's head of security, and eventually evolved into executive assistant to the Grammy-winning pair. They gave their longtime friend a salute on their best-selling album He's The DJ, I'm The Rapper with the upbeat track "Charlie Mack (The First Out the Limo.)" The shoutout gave the world a glimpse of who Charlie is.
But his work with DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince was only the beginning.
As Will Smith transitioned from platinum-selling rapper to TV star and movie icon, Charlie Mack was right there. And as he got more connected in the entertainment industry, Mack began to carve out his own niche and built a staggering resume and enviable reputation. He worked with everyone from Smith's Fresh Prince Of Bel Air co-star Tatyana Ali to Atlanta rap superstar T.I. and actors like Oscar-winner Jamie Foxx. Mack was an executive producer on the Chris Robinson film ATL. In his hometown, Mack became one of the city's most successful promoters; he hosted 2Pac's final Philadelphia show, put Lil Kim and Foxy Brown on the same bill early in their careers, and worked as a consultant with Electric Factory Concerts, East Coast Express, Clear Channel and Live Nation.
Charlie Mack has done it all.
"Charlie had something to do with the discovery of Boyz II Men. Charlie had something to do with the discovery of Meek Mill," Jeff explains. "Charlie has always been in or around Philly Hip-Hop, he's Philadelphia's Forrest Gump. He has the greatest picture collection with almost anybody on the planet. Nothing ceases to amaze me when it comes down to Charlie."
Smith believes that his entire circle was focused on pushing forward, and Charlie came to embody that ethos.
"We were all about growth. You couldn't be down with us if you weren't growing. [Charlie] started out with us in security and evolved into road manager," Will said.
Along the way, Charlie Mack came to embody an up-from-the-streets hustler spirit as a Philadelphia success story. The leap from gun charges to red carpets is heady for anyone to make, Mack navigated it to tremendous returns. Everyone would eventually have a Charlie Mack story, as he became inextricably linked to so many movers and shakers through the strength of his tireless work ethic and engaging personality.
Charlie Mack and actor Bryshere Y. Gray are seen arriving at Jeremy Scott fashion show during Spring 2016 New York Fashion Week on September 14, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Gilbert Carrasquillo/FilmMagic)
Charlie Mack and actor Jamie Foxx attend a welcoming of the cast of "Law Abiding Citizen" at the Mayor's Reception Room in City Hall on January 23, 2009 in Philadelphia. (Photo by Gilbert Carrasquillo/FilmMagic)
And Charlie Mack's heart and soul have always belonged to Philadelphia.
He relocated back to Philly in the early 2000s and his roots have never been hard to see. He founded the Charlie Mack Cares Foundation and his Party 4 Peace charity event would attract celebrities every year. He's been a manager or a consultant for Philly-based stars like Meek Mill and Empire star Bryshere "Yazz" Gray. Following a promise from Jazzy Jeff has led Charlie Mack down his own remarkable road.
In August, during a YouTube interview with Jeff and Charlie, Will shared another anecdote about how he and Mack found themselves in a life-threatening dilemma.
“We were in a situation and a police officer went to pull his gun on Charlie, and I grabbed the gun,” Smith said. “And wouldn’t let it go.”
“He said 'let it go,' you said ‘I’m not letting it go unless you let that go,’” Mack confirmed.
“I would not let go, I was not gonna let him point it at my man, yeah that was bad luck, that was bad times,” Smith said. “That’s when you know that—you know I love you, right? That proved it, that was a terrible day.”
“Hey man, I love you back,” Mack replied.
That love between those friends is an extension of the love Charlie seems to get from all who have come into contact with him. According to Jazzy Jeff, the man's success isn't tethered to anyone else -- it's just Charlie's way of being Charlie.
"Once, he came to my house about 12:00 in the afternoon and we were talking and he says, 'I'm going to L.A. to the American Music Awards,'" Jeff recalls. "I was like 'Today?' And he says 'Yeah, I'm on my way now.' I said 'You got a ticket?' He looked at me with that Charlie Mack look, and said 'Don't play me, baby.'
"That night, when you looked at the front row; it was Michael Jackson...Eddie Murphy...and Charlie Mack. I had no idea how this man went out there with no ticket and was on the front row. That's Charlie."
*HEADER CREDIT: Charlie Mack attends the 2012 Budweiser Made In America Festival at Benjamin Franklin Parkway on September 2, 2012 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Johnny Nunez/WireImage)