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.