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Charles Hamilton On His Search For Redemption

Charles Hamilton speaks on wanting to work with Drake, his role on 'Empire' and forthcoming LP.

Any given week, hungry MCs flood the streets with new music. Enter Charles Hamilton, who put the mixtape game in a chokehold by dropping a ton of free projects during his brief rap career.

Back in 2008, the Harlem native coined the phrase "Hamiltonization Process." For three months, the rapper went H.A.M. by dropping a free project every other week. His tireless work ethic, and potent, lyrical and self-reflective raps garnered him a lucrative record deal with Interscope Records, where he was well on his way to becoming hip-hop’s next superstar along his then-up-and-coming contemporaries Wale, Kid Cudi, Asher Roth and B.o.B.

However, as soon as Hamilton’s career went air-bound, the 27-year-old spitter had an undiagnosed bipolar disease that exposed his erratic behavior. The Pink Lavalamp MC seemed to be obsessed with pretty girl Rihanna, even dedicating his Well, Isn’t This Awkward mixtape to an imaginary relationship with the R&B singer.

The strange behavior didn’t stop there, though. Depression set in, resulting in Hamilton's suicide attempts by trying to overdose on lithium; he served eight months in jail for felony assault on a police officer; he was sent to a mental institution after being misdiagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. Then, in 2009, Hamilton was dropped by Interscope. And if that wasn’t enough, the rapper was embarrassingly punched in the face by his ex-girlfriend during a freestyle battle.

Now, with the demons behind him, a fresh, feel-good collab called "New York Raining" with Rita Ora and a new deal with Republic Records, Hamilton is seeking redemption. VIBE hit up Hamilton on the phone to talk about his yet-to-be-titled album, wanting to work with Drake, his bipolar disorder, Empire and much more.

VIBE: “New York Raining” is a good look. How did that come about?
Charles Hamilton: It was a jam session with the Invisible Men. They had the drums, played the piano over it. They already had a hook ready so I just asked if Rita could be part of it and they said, 'Yeah.'

What’s it like working with Rita?
She’s really dope. I like performing with her. She has a very commanding voice so it requires me to bring my energy level up when we hit the stage.

Had you done any acting prior to your role on Empire?
I was acting a little bit when I was younger, so I was a lot more familiar on how to behave on set.

Did Empire portray bipolar disorder accurately?
Yes, it was pretty accurate. They accurately described the disorder in my eyes. When you work too hard, it does get the best of you. You kind of lose sight of everything else when you put your job first.

Can you say the same about Empire's take on the music industry?
Empire is pretty accurate. It shows a side of the game that people don’t necessarily know about nor want to talk about. It’s a pretty strong show.

Who are you listening to these days?
I listen to a lot of Drake. He’s really dope. "Think Good Thoughts" is my favorite track by him. It’s him on the old school boom-bap kind of beat so it kind of required him to open up a little bit and spit from an underground theme.

I know you’re working on an album. Will you drop a mixtape prior and can we look forward to a Drake collab?
I hope we can get a collab going. We’re working on trying to get Drake on a song. As of right now, there are no plans for a mixtape. We’re trying to get the album out by September. You can expect a more musical album. This album is a lot more instrumental than my previous work. You can expect us to pretty much jam on this album, but we’re not finished so you never know what may come up.

Going back to your bipolar disease, how have you been coping with it?
I’m still working on what it means to be bipolar. I’m not necessarily sure on what triggers it. I just know that I need sufficient amount of rest. I can’t work hard as I usually would because I stay up really late so they’re monitoring my sleep.

It doesn’t seem to be affecting your music, though.
It doesn’t really affect me. I have to learn how to turn it on and off. When it’s time to get in grind mode in the studio, I give it all I got. When the studio session ends, it’s time to get more rest.

What advice do you offer for someone with bipolar?
You have to know yourself very well if you’re going to get into this business because it’s very easy to get caught up in the image that people want you to portray. Priming myself is part of the reason of why I disappeared. I wasn’t really clear on who I was. I didn’t like the image that I had to uphold. Now, I’m more comfortable with myself so I’m able to take on the world.

What image were you being told to uphold?
They weren’t very clear on what they wanted me to be so I was just being myself and it kept getting me into trouble. I just had to gracefully bow out. It could’ve been more gracefully than the way that I stepped away but I had to step back, figure out who I was and what I was trying to say to the people, even though I was clear with who I was and what I was trying to do.

Who is Charles Hamilton now?
I learned that I’m very clear with myself when it’s time to talk, in a sense that I’m clear on everything that I say in my raps and I can back it up in my conversation. I never really had a problem with clarifying myself but now, I’m able to articulate how I feel outside of music and translate it to stronger music.

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J Stone Talks Touring, Nipsey Hussle, New Music And More

It was all good just two weeks ago. On Thursday (March 12), I headed downtown to meet with West Coast rapper J Stone, who was set to make a comeback performance at the legendary SOB’s. Little did we know, COVID-19 was on the cusp of shutting the entire country down, let alone the city that never sleeps. Earlier that day, New York City Governor Andrew Cuomo announced his decision to ban gatherings of 500 people or more.

I enter the doors of the popular music venue a little after 6 pm and see J Stone on stage for soundcheck. Twenty minutes later, he greets me with a hug and we head downstairs to the green room. He asks me if I want anything to drink and I reply, “Vodka with a splash of cranberry, please.” He kindly comes back with drinks in hand and our interview begins.

I curiously ask him if the Coronavirus has affected his #LoyaltyOverRoyalty Tour and he immediately responds, “Not until today. It’s starting to affect me today. They’re telling me only a certain amount of people can come into buildings.

"They already canceled one of my L.A. meet-and-greets," he adds. "Yeah, it’s serious.” We continued our conversation talking about The Marathon Continues (TMC) and Puma collaboration, Nipsey Hussle, new music and much more.

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Afro Nation

Women Of Afro Nation On Evolving Dancehall and Afro-Pop Connections

Last summer, thousands of music lovers of African descent gathered on the sands of Portimao, Portugal, waved their beloved countries’ flags and witnessed performances from the best in afro-pop, reggae, and hip-hop at Afro Nation, the premier traveling beach festival unifying music of the African diaspora. This was a euphoric scene for acts who had never performed for a large Black festival crowd, Afro Nation co-founder and U.K. music industry veteran Obi Asika tells VIBE. Nigerian promoter Adesegun Adeosun Jr., aka SMADE, and business partner Asika saw a need for a space to celebrate African music in Europe and created a globetrotting festival as the answer. Most of the featured acts have been from Nigeria, where the music industry is rapidly growing, the U.K., and Jamaica. As the festival evolves, Afro Nation will feature more artists of African descent from Europe, Central Africa, Latin America, and more.

“I want this event to be reflective of all African people,” Afro Nation co-founder and U.K. music industry veteran Obi Asika tells VIBE. “I also want it to pay homage to the countries that the events are in,” he adds. Afro Nation is expanding to reach fans of the diaspora in more regions. In December 2019, the festival was held in Accra, Ghana. In March, Afro Nation was scheduled for San Juan, Puerto Rico, but was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The four-day line-up would have featured 30 artists representing afro-pop, dancehall, soca, and hip-hop. Afro Nation still has festivals scheduled in Portimao, Portugal, in July, and Baja California, Mexico, in September. There are plans for at least one more location in the future, Osika says.

Afro Nation’s platform thus far reflects a global moment in which musicians across the African diaspora are blending sounds in new ways that are changing popular music. Connections between Afro-pop and Jamaican dancehall are especially evolving according to artists on Afro Nation’s line-ups, such as Jamaican dancehall artist Shenseesa, South African rapper Sho Madjozi, and Nigerian pop artist Teni the Entertainer. “Afro Nation is major for the continent, the culture, and the commonality that we share no matter how far we have all drifted into different parts of the world,” Teni, who performed at previous Afro Nation events, wrote in an email.

For Women’s History Month, VIBE spoke to the three sensations about their latest music, why Afro Nation is a game-changing platform, the evolving musical connections between Jamaican and African artists, and their women inspirations in music.

SHENSEEA

Shenseea, a versatile singjay, deejay, rapper, and singer, grew up in Jamaica’s capital city Kingston. The 23-year-old broke out as dancehall’s most promising star in 2016 with the flirty “Loodi” featuring Vybez Kartel. Since then, she has released a steady stream of energetic records, showering each riddim with conviction and lyrics of self-reliance that speak to women and girls like “Shen Yeng Anthem,” “Trending Gyal” and “Blessed.” Shenseea is inspired by fellow Jamaican dancehall artist Spice, Nicki Minaj, and Rihanna, who she calls “a complete boss.”

Thus far, Shenseea has collaborated with dancehall veterans like Sean Paul, and internationally with Trinidadian soca star Nailah Blackman and American rappers Swae Lee and Tyga. American hip-hop and Jamaican dancehall artists are common cross-cultural link-ups. But now Shenseea says there are more musical connections between popular Jamaican dancehall artists and African-based artists too. “I feel like it has been going on, but more so between the reggae artists,” she says. “Now it's evolving more between dancehall artists and African artists.”

Here is a quick history. Popular music in the Americas, including Jamaica’s biggest musical export reggae, is rooted in West African music. Reggae has several influences including Jamaican folk music mento and American R&B, and its predecessors ska and rocksteady. During the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, enslaved West Africans brought their rhythms to Jamaica and subsequent generations reimagined the sounds that circled back to Africa. Late reggae legend Bob Marley, a Pan-Africanist, and The Wailers toured the continent in the late 1970s and early 1980s. During this era, artists like Ivorian musician Alpha Blondy created a marriage of their traditional sounds and stories of home with the socially-conscious riddims birthing African reggae.

As technology digitized music production, dancehall music evolved out of reggae and dub music and  defined a younger generation in Jamaica. It would also inspire African artists, too. In the 2000s and 2010s, dancehall influenced “Afro-dancehall” artists Shatta Wale and AK Songstress of Ghana, and Patoranking and Wizkid of Nigeria. Ghanaian hiplife’s soft synths and dancehall’s percussion are said to have influenced the popular Nigerian sound “pon pon,” in 2017, according to OkayAfrica. DaVido’s inescapable “If,” is the most commercially successful “pon pon” track. Mr Eazi’s “Banku” style also borrows from Nigerian and Ghanaian pop and dancehall. With this has come more collaborations across the genres. Like Jamaican dancehall hitmaker Popcaan enlisting DaVido for “Dun Rich” in 2018, and Burna Boy collaborating with Serani and Jeremih on “Secret” in 2019.

The marriage between these sounds is impacting how Black fans experience music worldwide, which is especially pushed by second and third generations of people who migrated from Africa and the Caribbean to the Americas and Europe. In major cities, you’ll find Afro-Caribbean parties, where DJs play music across the diaspora. Afro Nation takes it to the next level by bringing these artists together on a bill.

The innovation of this sound is a diaspora-wide project. In the mid-to-late 2010s, UK, British artists J Hus and Afro B popularized the fusion of Afro-pop, dancehall, American and British hip-hop, and R&B music, in new genres known as “afro bashment” or “afroswing.” In 2019, Jamaican-American DJ Walshy Fire’s 2019 Abeng brought together afro-pop, with soca, and dancehall artists. Shenseea has some diaspora link-ups on the horizon. She already worked with Shatta Wale, the African dancehall king, on “The Way I Move” in 2018. Recently, she recorded an unreleased track with Mr Eazi and is in talks to work with Patoranking and Davido, she tells Vibe.

TENI THE ENTERTAINER

Teni is also tuned into these evolving connections between the Caribbean and Africa. “You can hear it in the drums and melodies,” the 27-year-old singer and songwriter says. “We love to have fun and dance and that extends into our music.” In 2019, the New York Times dubbed Teni a member of the new guard of Nigerian musicians. In October, she released her Billionaire EP which showcases her afrobeat fusion. The title was inspired by her time in Los Angeles. "I saw all these great cars and I just imagined a world where we can all afford things we like no matter the price," she says. On the Pheelz-produced afrobeat, she croons her wealthy ambitions. On the earnest “Complain” she singraps over JaySynths' afroswing beat.

Teni’s entertainment career began with her comedic viral videos. Her breakout hit was the 2017 “Fargin,” which spoke out about the harms of rape culture. Teni admires African music legends Brenda Fassi, Angelique Kidjo, and Mariam Makeba. Them "using the power of their music to influence governments and shape economies is beyond incredible,” she says.

In the future, Teni wants to experiment with more Caribbean artists. “I have gotten into the studio with Kranium and I'd like to still do a lot [more] with him,” she said of the Jamaican singjay who fuses dancehall and R&B. “I'd love to do something with Koffee. Her music is amazing,” she added.

SHO MADJOZI

Koffee, a Jamaican reggae artist who won over the world with “Toast” last year, and is the first woman to win a Grammy for best reggae album, is on South African rapper Sho Madjozi’s wishlist too. For generations, South African artists like Lucky Dube and NC Dread have embraced reggae and dancehall. The 27-year-old wants to contribute to this tradition by recording with Koffee and rising reggae singer Lila Ike. "The song would be about the fact that our joy does not come from having no problems,” she wrote via email. “It comes despite going through tough things.” Bringing her pain to the studio has proven to be viable for Madjozi.

On her biggest hit, the viral “John Cena,” named after her favorite WWE wrestler, she raps over a hard-hitting gqom beat, the popular South African electronic dance music, about heartbreak. On her 2018 debut album Limpopo Champions League, which is dedicated to the northern province she hails from in South Africa, you can hear more of her sonic influences which include the high-energy gqom on "Wakanda Forever," trap on “Wa Penga Na?” and R&B samples on “Going Down.”

Although Sho Madjozi and fellow artists are fusing the diaspora sounds in their music, she sees the Afro Nation platform as a necessary space for people of African descent to share these cultures in person. In these moments, “we notice how strong we really are" and "how powerful this gift of culture is,” she says. Hip-hop queen Lauryn Hill is her icon and inspired her to stand firm in her truth. Madjozi’s realness shapes her assertive lyrics and her vibrant style. She performs in “xibelani” skirts to pay homage to her Tsonga heritage, a group of people native to Mozambique and South Africa. She adorns her hair with her signature colorful Fulani braids. “My whole statement is to be free,” she says. “I hope it shows Black girls everywhere to not be shy or small. This world is ours as much as anyone else’s.”

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Courtesy of Universal Music Latin Entertainment

Karol G On The Magic Of "Tusa," Working With Nicki Minaj And New Album

Karol G's devoted intentions have kept her ahead of the history books.

As Women's History Month comes to a close, the reggaeton titan solidified her position just weeks prior on Internation Women's Day as Spotify included her in their list of the Top 10 Most-Streamed Female Artists. Others included were Billie Eilish, Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande in addition to iconic women of color like Nicki Minaj. But Karol's presence on the list proves just how she's been able to bridge the gap between Latin and pop music as the only woman on the list who primarily performs in Spanish.

It's something Karol, born Carolina Giraldo Navarro, has done since coming up in the male-dominated reggaeton scene. While plenty of her hits over the years have earned a coveted spot in the hearts of millions, it was her recent recording with Nicki Minaj that reminded everyone of her power.

"I grew up listening to her and we were sitting at the table across from each other," Karol says of "Tusa" and its insanely popular video that has 669 million views and counting on YouTube. "That was an iconic moment for me."

The song's title is Colombian slang for heartache after a breakup. On the regal reggaeton bop, Karol has Minaj rapping in Spanish as they promise to one another to eliminate those feels on the dance floor. The Tusa-terminators made history in late 2019 with the release as the song is the first collaboration by women to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Latin Songs chart.

On the all-genre Hot 100 chart, "Tusa" impressively peaked at No. 42. Amid the coronavirus outbreak, self-quarantines in Panama were recently singing the song together from their balconies.

¿Cómo lleva el #ToqueDeQueda Panamá? Pues que más que con @karolg y #Tusa #COVIDー19 #PTY #QuedateEnCasa pic.twitter.com/jSNsEeaoUW

— errol (@erscr) March 23, 2020

For Karol, success like this has been over a decade in the making since signing her first contract in 2006 under her G stage name. At that time, reggaeton music was reigning over the globe thanks to Puerto Rican rapper Daddy Yankee's "Gasolina" setting the movement ablaze in 2004.

The música urbana genre was very much a man's world with a few women who were able to rise to the level of Yankee like Ivy Queen, someone Karol cites as an influence. "With the urbano music I wanted to do, there were not a lot of women," she says. "I love urbano rhythms. They've always fascinated me."

In the early steps of her career, Karol took advantage of the art of collaboration with Nicky Jam on 2013's "Amour de Dos," Ozuna on "Hello" in 2016 and a budding rapper by the name of Bad Bunny on 2017's "Ahora Me Llama." Her method was mindful and direct as she gained new fans in every pocket of reggaeton's wide-ranging cloth.

"They had a big audience and following," she says. "The way I got my opportunity as an artist and was able to be heard more was, in part, thanks to them." Later that year, Karol's debut album Unstoppable landed at No. 2 on the Top Latin Albums chart.

As she became the feature queen in her own right, Karol dropped "Mi Cama" in 2018 which led to her winning the gramophone for Best New Artist at the Latin Grammy Awards that year. "I love to sing in reggaeton, but it's not the only thing I do," she says about her diverse palette. The spirited 2019 release of Ocean showcased the vastness of her artistry with urbano, reggae, and pop influences.

With "Tusa" previewing her third album, VIBE VIVA spoke with Karol about her musical journey so far and what's coming next.

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VIBE: On physical copies of Unstoppable, there's the #GirlPower stamp. What inspired you to include it? 

Karol G: I have that tattooed on one of my arms as well because for me, it was a frustration that people in the media were telling me, "You're a woman. You don't have anything to do here. You can't enter here." There are women that can achieve things around the world. That's where my motivation comes from: to show that we, and myself as a woman, can do it. That was important for me to put on the album to show my support for this movement.

"Mi Cama" became one of your biggest hits without a featured artist. What's the story behind that song?

I loved that song because it has the attitude that I feel right now. It's a song about a woman talking to her ex-boyfriend who left her for someone else. It has the attitude to keep going, to keep dancing, or perrear (a twerk-like dance associated with reggaeton). In Mexico, I was in a press conference and a female reporter said, "I don't respect how you as a woman are singing about your bed making noise. You have to think about the children." I said, "This isn't music for children." It's a song that's exaggerated. I'm not swearing on it. I always tell that story at my shows and people love it.

How did you feel to win the Latin Grammy for Best New Artist?

That's one of the top five moments in my career. I dreamed of that moment since I was a little girl. When I was nominated, that was huge. I didn't think I was going to win. When I won, my mind went blank. I took my dad on stage with me because he's been supporting me since the beginning. After winning the grammy, my mindset has been what else I can do in my career that's even bigger.

You have recorded a lot of music with your fiancé Puerto Rican rapper Anuel AA. How do you like working with him?

We're a super team. We complement each other well. We understand each other well because we've enjoyed many great moments together. We've gotten to travel together. We did a tour together. It's a beautiful thing. We keep each other focused and motivated with our feet on the ground.

What do you think about the reaction and all the memes around "Tusa"?

I felt in my heart the song would be successful, but I never thought that it would be a global hit. It opened doors for me in markets where I've never had songs hit before. It's charting in countries that don't speak Spanish like France, Italy, and Sweden. Seeing all the memes from the people has been muy brutal (Puerto Rican slang for "beyond awesome"). It's been incredible to see so many men connecting with it. To see all the people dancing and singing to it has been a surprise. I hope my next single will be like that, but for now, it's nice to enjoy what's happening with "Tusa."

Speaking of men, many gay men been bumping "Tusa" too. I was wondering if you had a message for your fans in the LGBTQ+ community.

I love having part of my following from that community. I love people who can go out into the world and be fearless. I'm very proud of that because the world really lacks people like that: people with personality, attitude, and a strong will. That's something I admire very much from that community. They have a beautiful energy.

What are your plans for the rest of this year?

I'm happy because I'm working on a lot of music. I've gotten great invitations to work on projects with other artists. Right now I'm collaborating with artists in the Latin and Anglo markets. There are songs that are coming out very soon. It's a year for expanding and globalizing my name. We have a tour in Latin America and one in Europe again. We're going to end the second semester of the tour in the US with the release of my next album.

What do you see for the future of women in reggaeton music?

There's things I hope to evolve a little more, but I feel like we knocked over the door. That we've come through and people are hearing us. People are coming to our concerts. Artists are inviting us to their shows. We're here. I try to stick up for myself more as a human being. We're all talented in our own ways. I feel like women are demonstrating that. It's an era where women are taking chances and going for bigger things.

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