Charles Hamilton: “This Perfect Life”

charles_frontcover“Y’all know my name (Charles Hamilton)” said Mr. Hamilton at the beginning of his than breakout hit “Brooklyn Girls”, a statement that wasn’t quite true, although he was very well on his way to becoming ubiquitous. He was featured prominently on the XXL “Freshman Class of ’09” issue, and the placement of “Brooklyn Girls” in an episode of Entourage only helped to fuel the flames of the “Hamiltonization Process”, a seemingly never ending assault of mix tapes in collaboration with DJ Skee, with one truly memorable tape (‘Outside Looking’ the one with “Girls”) hosted by DJ Green Lantern.

In the age of the internet, this all seems like a very long time ago; and it’s easy to forget how different things were less than a year ago: Charles Hamilton was the oddball underdog who had just landed a deal at Interscope, and Asher Roth was the white boy with skills, poised to “blow up” at any moment. Yet in the current hip-hop landscape heading into a new decade the entire “class of 09” have been vastly overtaken by the (for a while) constantly underrated actor-turned rapper Drake, Asher Roth is doing just O.K. with the rest of the “class”, and Charles Hamilton has been dropped from Interscope amidst a flurry of bad decisions and awful luck in quick succession, his debut shelved indefinitely.

Despite the fact that his big record deal seemed a bit premature in the first place, the situation Charles Hamilton has landed himself in may actually be a blessing in disguise, because it doesn’t take long to realize that there is really no place for him in the mainstream, although that is no reflection on his talents. Truth be told Charles Hamilton is one of the most unique and talented hip-hop artists to emerge since Kanye West, and he’s a young enough man with a large enough following that if he doesn’t let this whole fiasco get him down too much, he will have a pretty healthy career ahead of him.

As for now, it should come as no surprise that his debut album has quickly found it’s way to the internet, and after a couple listens it’s easy to see why Interscope lost their faith in Mr. Hamilton: he was never going to play by anybody’s rules but his own. Now a lot of rappers talk this talk, but few truly walk the walk. It’s easy(er) to create your own lane when that lane is long overdue, but what about when your a young man who practically worships Sonic the Hedgehog and literally says whatever the fuck he wants at any time, isn’t afraid to battle anyone anywhere, and puts so much of his soul into his music it’s practically embarrassing? Add this to the fact that even his most ardent supporters probably just didn’t care enough to listen to the ridiculous amount of music he was putting out for a while. By the time it was ready for the album to be released there seemed to be an underlying consensus of: what else can he say?

Well for those who are still paying attention, and those who quit, “This Perfect Life” is on the internet in all it’s glory (although it does sound like it didn’t get mixed quite good enough before Interscope gave up) and as someone who suffered from major Hamilton Fatigue I can confidently say: I’ve been playing it pretty much nonstop, and it’s one of the best hip-hop releases of the year.

Many people are probably going to write it off the second they see the album cover, although I suspect if it was an MF DOOM album they would be praising it as a bold statement on the perception of black culture by the mainstream white media despite their astounding achievements, or something like that. Anyway, the album as a whole is pretty much how Charles himself explained it: “Everything you’ve come to love and hate about Charles Hamilton”.

At eleven songs and clocking it at under an hour, it’s a tightly structured album with no weak spots, truly stellar and wholly original production (almost exclusively by Charles himself), and it’s lyrically one of the better albums this year. Every song has a clear purpose, and although there is no real concept to speak of, the fact that the album starts and ends with a “coin collected” sound effect and the “SEGA” theme respectively is a playful nod to his “Sonic the Hamilton” persona.

A lot of people seem to be annoyed with Hamilton’s flow, and throughout his litany of mixtapes he did seem to often employ a lazy, nearly falling asleep kind of flow that could easily get taxing. That style is implemented on “This Perfect Life” frequently, but his lyrics and flow always match the tone of the song, and as a whole his rapping is extremely focused; the most simple example of this would be the purpose behind Lil Wayne’s voice on Tha Carter III compared to his lazy drawl on most of his mixtape material.

Most of the beats on the album employ masterfully chopped samples, and yes, he sings most of his own choruses. This is something you’re either a fan of that or your not, but as someone who fell somewhere in between I can honestly say none of the choruses were anywhere near grating, and some are just damn memorable.

The song topics range from racism to depression to fucking and everything in between. Towards the end of “Reminder” he is practically screaming at us to “leave me alone! Just go away, I just want it to stop, just go away…” which leaves me with the impression that it may be a good thing for him to never see true stardom. Yet the very next song is ‘Tears of Fire’ with Crooked I, one of the only two features on the album along with Show Tufli on the very next song, the Regina Spektor sampling and truly beautiful ‘Long Socks’. The former is one of the hardest tracks of the year, the latter a perfectly sampled epic.

I could go through all eleven tracks in detail but that would be redundant; Charles is a true artist and one that deserves to be heard, despite all the bullshit that pushed him from the front of the class to the very back. In all honestly if you’ve ever enjoyed a few Charles Hamilton songs you owe it to yourself and the artists to give “This Perfect Life” a listen. As there is no way to physically show your support for it just “obtain” it however you can. Go into it with an open mind, and I can almost guarantee you won’t be disappointed, in fact, you’ll probably be pleasantly surprised. I know I was.

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~ by rozco on October 7, 2009.

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