Charles Hamilton: Sonically Inclined

Dubbed one of the leaders of the new school, Harlem’s own Charles Hamilton has been receiving industry attention and critical-acclaim since first coming onto the scene in 2007. Known as a triple threat with credits including rapping, producing and occasionally singing, the 20 year-old Interscope Records signee has been compared to mega-artists such as, Kanye West and quickly become known for his love of all things Sonic The Hedgehog related. Releasing a variety of mixtapes, including Charles Hamilton: Outside Looking In hosted by DJ Green Lantern and Crash Landed hosted by DJ Skee, Charles is back with his latest EP, via DJ Skee, It’s Charles Hamilton, a mixtape available for free to the masses. Embarking on a three-month online tour known as, “The Hamiltonization Process,” the releases are an effort to reach close to two million unique listeners, as opposed to conventional touring.Sitting in the fully equipped recording studio of the Fredrick Douglass Academy in Harlem, we spoke with Charles Hamilton for some real talk on music, the industry, hate, spirituality and of course, Sonic.AllHipHop.com: You’ve said some of your past influences have been rock inspired, how’d you get started off becoming an MC?Charles Hamilton: I don’t remember how I got started, honestly. I just been really doin’ music my whole life. I started off playing the piano when I was young. My mother can tell you a story about me playing the piano, but I’ve always been into music. There was never a starting point. There wasn’t a day when I said, “I’m gonna grow up and be a musician.” I always looked at myself as a musician and whatever career I was gonna be in – I was still gonna be a musician. It’s just the older I got, the more I developed an ear or an appreciation for not just music, but sound, in general.I think I was twelve or thirteen, when I first got started trying to write serious raps. I was writing poetry and writing girls love notes and making them rhyme. They’d be like, “Oh, that’s cute,” and throw the s**t out. But after I heard Em[inem’s] first album, I was like, “Yo!,” cause I had a lot that I was going through, I was like, “I could really say some s**t. I could be less vulgar.” I ain’t gonna lie, I had a whole notebook full of just some pretty f**ked up s**t. But I felt like that was a way I could articulate what I had to say and kind of be accepted too. I was always like the gothic kid, not the goth, but the outcast kid. I always listened to more rock than Hip-Hop, anyway. So, I was the kid that was coming to school with like Powerman 5000 and Marilyn Manson in my walkman. Everybody else was listening to Hov and I respected them for what they did, but their music didn’t speak to me as much as Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson, Powerman, Nirvana. But when I heard Em, I was like, “Oh, I can bridge the gap.” Then I started looking at where I was at, in terms of my social situation. Then I started to be able to appreciate what Jay was saying. What X was sayin’. AllHipHop.com: What made you start producing your beats?Charles Hamilton: I don’t know. I really don’t. The keyboard here and the MP – I started off. Well, not just in school. I started off with a Yamaha PSR225 back home and I used to have to play the whole beat out. The entire beat I had to play and afteraI while I just thought there has to be a better way to do this. So, then I got [into] the MPC [and] I started making 4-bar loops and playing the keys over it. Cause I wasn’t trying to make beats for rapping, I was always trying to make beats for other musicians to jump into. Then when I started writing, I was like, “Ok, I like that melody in that song from 1968. How can I make it my own? Matter of fact, I like the title of that song and I like what they were sayin’. Let me take some words from that.” I was always a fan more of sample beats than like original beats, cause there’s a certain soul to it. That’s when I started digging into crates and finding the craziest samples. Then, cause I was always on my Sonic sh*t, this is not a new thing, I was like, “Yo, if I had all the sounds to Sonic The Hedgehog – it’ll be over.” Cause I identify with it so much, it’s like I had to be able to do something with this. Then I went into Fruity Loops on the computer, so I could [get] MP3’s legally and do my thing with it. It was just natural progression. AllHipHop.com: At one point you were homeless and slept in this studio that we’re currently in at Fredrick Douglass Academy?Charles Hamilton: Yea, F.D.A. – That couch in there, [points to couch] that couch was my bed and this chair…like I used to… I don’t want to say sleep, but go into trances. I would be mixing a record and I won’t remember how I mixed it until the next day and I’ll go, “Oh, yea, I did mix this record. Now let me mix it again cause I was half asleep.” This was home. But let me also make this clear—because somebody approached me about it the other day—being homeless meant I did not have a steady location. Somebody came to me and said, “Well, you was dating my daughter and you was sleeping on my couch.” I’m like, “Ok, right. So, thank you for that. I don’t know what you expect me to say.” Because at the same time, I got put out of there because her boyfriend didn’t like me being there. So, at the end of the day I still really had nowhere to go. At the end of the day, a lesson that I learned through the whole thing, is that people do things and it’s wack. They do things just so they can get that little bit of recognition from you. Like, “Yea, I gave Charles five dollars. Hey, Charles, remember that five dollars I gave you? Now you got X amount of dollars from the deal… Can I get 500?” Are you serious? Like I really owe you that? And sometimes people tell you when you’re in a bad position, “Oh, don’t worry about it. Its nothin’.” I did it out of love. And then when you’re in a position to pay them back – even if I wanted to give my ex’s mom a $1000, just out of appreciation, just the fact that you threw that in my face without a congratulations. It was, “Hey, I read this article and you said this.” I can’t really get a congratulations? I can’t exactly show you how much I appreciate that? I did appreciate the fact that I was able to stay there. It’s crazy, Man. AllHipHop.com: Before signing to Interscope there was a bidding war between some labels, like Def Jam, that wanted to sign you. How did that process go down after shopping around your demo?Charles Hamilton: Well, the funny thing is, I never really had a demo, like a set [of] songs we’d take to labels. I always had completed projects and my lawyer—shout-out to my lawyer, shout-out to The Hamilton Administration—they all were like, “This kid has finished products, he just needs to get into a big studio so he can mix the record over and needs to sound able for the mainstream consumers sonically.” So, a lot of labels were interested. But at the same time, they also were like, “Well, how are we going to work with this kid and market him?” This, that and the third. So, everybody was so busy pulling their hair out trying to figure out what they were going to do. And we’re all like, “Put him a in a position where he can does what he needs to do musically and he’ll be fine.” And while everybody was trying to package it, the only person that seemed to get it was Jimmy [Iovine]. Jimmy was like, “Is that what you do? You just do music? Cool, here’s the resources.” And I appreciate that because he understands that all I want to do is make music. And as much as I love this room and this studio, Chung King [Studios] has some awesome equipment. So, being able to work in Chung King with a 64-track mixing board and a professional, Grammy award-winning engineer, or going to Record Plant in LA, I learn a lot of stuff. It’s a learning process and it’s also helping the music grow stronger.  Whereas, people can hear something the first time and say, “Oh, that’s going to be a hit,” I’d rather something you listened to, something you not be sure [of] and then you listen to it again, and then listen to it again and ask your friend, “How you feel about this song?” In the meantime, you just listened to it fifteen times, before you went to that person.  The art of good music. Honestly, when you heard [Michael Jackson’s] Off The Wall, you wanted to vibe with it, you just wasn’t sure. Like, “What is this? This album is great.” And people already loved Michael, but it was like, “What is this? This is new.” So, they had to listen to it over and over again to the point where it was just stuck. It was just the perfect music and that’s really what I want to focus on—making the perfect music. So that if my first album is just straight Hip-Hop, no singing on the hooks or nothin’, just straight up like DJ Premier  sounding’ beats, my next album could be a completely different genre of music. And that would be respected. Jimmy understands that and respects that, so I have a lot of faith from big people and that helped me get faith in myself. So, that bidding war helped me like myself a little bit more. AllHipHop.com: Who do you consider to be your fanbase?Charles Hamilton: Music lovers. People that are into experimental stuff. My ideal fanbase would be people that like listen to Beck and Radiohead. Fans of music music. Not just like, “Yea, the lyrics are great, the beats are great.” The overall sound of something. So, anybody that can appreciate the entire sound, I think would be the fanbase. AllHipHop.com: It’s safe to say that you’re not just the average Sega Genesis Sonic The Hedgehog fan and have a spiritual perspective on the concept. Can you elaborate on that?Charles Hamilton: Aight, before I touch on that – Let’s just say, the way Jewish people get tight when people laugh at Judaism, the way Christians get tight, the way Buddhists get tight, I get tight when people make jokes on…I call it Super Sonic Philosophy. Cause this is literally how I been living my life. So with that said—I just put this on my blog too—with the song, “HI, Hater” and people embracing hate, nah. Because I would never ever ever make a bagel joke about a Jewish person or make a Nazi joke, so you shouldn’t really laugh at my beliefs in something. You can call me crazy if you want, but I’m not worshipping a video game. I’m just living my life a certain way. Now, Sonic means sound and hedgehogs bury themselves underground. I’m Sonic The Hedgehog because I bury myself in the sound. As you can see, I lived here [in the studio]. I believe that God is a woman and pink is the color of life. Pink because pink is the color of the inside of a woman’s womb.  It took God, a woman, to create man to enter a woman in order to create life and it comes full circle, like a Sonic The Hedgehog loop. As long as you stay in a positive zone, you can always beat the game. No matter what the game is—the game of life, this industry, the game of corporate whatever. Everything is a game as long as your having fun doing it. But there’s always little robots that are in your way. And they are robots, because that’s all your doing, just programmed to hurt me. And I’m Sonic, so I can either stand there and let you attack me or I can run from you and hit the spikes. [Or] I can run from you, hit the spikes and lose all that I have. I can fall into a pit and die or I can just go to the end of the zone and free minds.AllHipHop.com: You’ve received a large amount of support from your online fanbase. How do you address any of the negative responses online?Charles Hamilton: I’m learning how to… Ok, I just sent somebody an email from [REDACTED]. Ok, you put it out there so obviously you wanted people to know it. So here’s your ten minutes of fame. He said, “This dude is a total gimmick and his music can’t stand up, which is why he [has] his whole philosophy.” Listen, my music is mere conversation for me. I just played you a record. I felt that beat and felt like writing about it. Every song I do, I felt like doing it. I was never told to make a certain kind of song. I wasn’t told to do whatever with Sonic. I just put it all together.A lot of people just go online and… I don’t want to say my music is flawless, because I already know if I had even more resources, I could make flawless music. And that I stand by, but it’s unbelievable some of the stuff people say. It hurts cause I’m not bringing hate to nobody. I’m trying to come into the game with as least hate as possible. Because I could say some wack s**t about a whole whole laundry list of people. But I don’t do that. I have a blog for that, where I can state my opinions and its my blog. But when people go and post comments. The most ridiculous s**t… it makes me reevaluate how I approach people. I don’t understand why there’s hate coming in my direction. I be seeing some of the same names that hate on me [on sites] and then they’ll send me a message on Myspace like, “I love your music.” I accept their friend requests. What can I say? I’m in a better position then them and that’s not me being conceited. Went from homeless here, my ex-girlfriend’s crib, park benches, train stations to the Palazzo in L.A., to my own crib in New York.AllHipHop.com: Your website, IAmNotCharlesHamilton.com and blog have gotten a lot of attention. Did Interscope ever have any hesitations with you being candid with your fans? Charles Hamilton: The website is IAmNotCharlesHamilton.com and the blog is Shining Shadows/Electric Fire and I showed Jimmy the blog and other people at Interscope and they loved it. And I’m candid because what the f**k am I gonna talk about? My kicks? No, [I’ll show] how I got my wisdom tooth pulled out and it hurt. My face was numb and I recorded a freestyle a couple hours later. And that’s it. My life revolves around music, so here’s the my life part; my blog. Of course, there’s interviews and so forth, but I’d rather directly interact with my fans.AllHipHop.com: Then would you say having fans is one of best parts of being a 20 year old with a record deal?Charles Hamilton: I’d say the best part is that I got a bed I can sleep in and can shower and s**t. That’s the best of being a 20 year old with a record deal. Maybe I’m wrong for wanting to be everybody’s friend, who knows, but I want to just relax, just chill and do music. Have people buy the music, so that Interscope can say, “We like Charles Hamilton even more now. He’s generating revenue.” So that when the time comes; when I might go my own way or might stay at label, I could still be in a good rapport. If you want to support the real, support the real. Cause I really need the support to keep a good rapport at the label. Most artists are gonna say, “Cop my album, cop my album.” But they’re not gonna say what it really is. If you don’t cop an artist’s album, they in trouble with the label and everyone knows that. So don’t try to put up a front, because fans know. You not out here because you want to be our friend, you out here cause of this. Well, let me put it out there. I need to do this, but I’d rather just chill with y’all. That’s it.AllHipHop.com: Tell me about the online tour, “The Hamiltonization Process.”Charles Hamilton: Basically, different Hip-Hop sites are [getting] exclusive content, different themed mixtapes, maybe interviews, behind the scenes and each website gets something totally different. I plan on giving instrumentals away. Just hear it. You know what I mean? I got a mixtape where I listen to Donuts. Shouts to J. Dilla, rest in peace. And I reflipped some of his beats and the concept is like Dilla pretty much haunted me one night when I was high and said, “Dude, you gotta eat these Donuts and be a stronger dude.” Translation, you’ve  gotta make music better. It’s almost like my calling is from Dilla, but obviously it wasn’t. I got a mixtape, [with] my co-producer Sha-leik. We got a production team called The Faculty and I’m showing off The Faculty beats.I have a producer from LA named Woody. Shout-out to Woody. Pause. He has a joint called “Toy Story” on the new DJ Skee mixtape and he laced me with some retardation. Obviously, there’s the Sonic themed mixtape where there is no theme. I’m just destroying every Sonic beat I’ve made. I love the Sonic Zones and stuff and I have every Sonic Zone known to man and I’ve been getting requests for the joints. I been getting the Starlight Zone, people requesting me to do that — Casino Night. It’s gonna be fun. I can do this forever.

Related Stories