A couple weeks ago, we all bore witness to something that the Hip-Hop audience collectively got a big kick out of. The Charles Hamilton and Serius Jones Battle Part II - if you want to call it that.
The first encounter with these two was a spirited battle with a pair of mid-level rappers on the way up. Held at SOB's - a major New York Hip-Hop hub - the first war of words ended with Serius serving CH, but everybody left feeling they had witness something special. It was more like a sports match.
At that time, Hamilton was still signed to Interscope Records. The young Harlem rapper hadn't been punched in the face by his ex-girlfriend. He wasn't embroiled in a war with the rap community of Detroit because he foolishly put the late J. Dilla as the EP of his album. He had not spent time in a psych ward with a seemingly unraveling mental health condition. At that time, Charles Hamilton was just another rapper that appeared to be going places far away with an eccentric personality, confounding affinity for Sonic the Hedgehog and an odd love for the color pink.
The recent battle was different than the first and more disturbing than anything Charles Hamilton has ever done. It appeared to be just another loss for Charles Hamilton, because there is no doubt he again was defeated by the cocky and cool Serius Jones.
The second time, CH rolled up on at a Harlem barbershop with somebody inside the place taping, an apparent attempt to redeem his previous loss to Serius Jones. What happened next was nothing shy of sorrowful.
CH looked disheveled. He looked fairly incoherent, even though his raps started off witty and sharp. Serius' jabs were merciless and he even suggests that Hamilton kill himself. While in any other rap battle, this would be funny, Charles is clearly a man in dire need.
He was institutionalized for about a week this past summer in New York area hospital for his mental instability, something he felt the need to do himself. African American people represent about 25% of mental health cases in the U.S., despite being about 12% of the overall population, says the CDC. Black folks are also much less likely to get proper care. Incidentally, CH said he was more comfortable in NY Presbyterian Mental Hospital than walking the streets.
"Basically my stay here is like identical to my stay in the [music] industry. As far as being the new guy in here having to deal with politics and people trying to control you. The critics would have to be the doctors and the rounds [medicine guys]," he said to Bossip.com. "So you can say this is like an experiment to see if the industry is really like an asylum or if I was the one bugging. Some say the Industry is like high school but it's just like a [mental hospital]."
Furthermore, there has been talk that Hamilton has been blogging about suicide. [Editor's note: these blogs were not available to this writer.] I'm not suggesting that Serius Jones is really encouraging his rival to "off himself," but he had to know something wasn't all there. To be frank, CH looked like the dudes that come in the barbershop and offer to sweep the floor or sell some socks for a bit of money. He didn't appear to be a rapper that once seemed on the cusp of superstardom.
Everybody got a huge laugh. I even laughed, because Serius may actually have a future in comedy. He's that funny on a regular. But since...I really haven't been able shake that video of CH. The hat. The oversize button-up with the brown jacket. The way he was ridiculed and rendered defenseless through insults fairly common in rap.
I once talked to Charles in the midst of the beef with Detroit over J. Dilla and I tried to get him to do some basic things to quell that situation. He essentially refused and fire raged into an inferno of controversy. For me, that was the first indication that he wasn't fully engaged with reality and that's not a statement of his mental health. He may have just been fiercely defiant. Since then, I have attempted to reach out to him, but not for a new interview. I just want to make sure this kid is OK, because I'm genuinely concerned. To this day, there have been no return calls and no reply to texts.
At the end of the day, I hate the way Hip-Hop has evolved in some ways. The comments are brutal under the video of Charles Hamilton and Serius Jones Battle Part II. Clearly, CH is low, but his life isn't over. Yet, Hip-Hop seems to be the only thing that he's bent on doing. Sadly, there will always be an audience to observe his plummet, should there be more to see. I wonder if anybody considered NOT battling him in order to prevent a tragedy.
CH isn't a tragedy yet.
Hopefully, he realizes that this industry is not worth sacrificing mental well-being just for a few youtube views or a momentary hit of publicity. I know the drug of music, Hip-Hop and fame is intoxicating, but just about everybody doing it is going to do some time in detox - like it or not.
I hope Charles Hamilton is already there until it is truly time to come back.
Until then, let him live.