Where has Charles Hamilton been? In 2008, the Harlem-bred rapper was making a name for himself with popular mixtapes like Sonic the Hamilton, but after losing his deal with Interscope Records in 2009, and getting locked up on an assault charge in late 2010, he's been largely absent from the spotlight. That was until this week when he hit the stage at SOBs in New York for a rare live performance, then filled in some of the gaps for MTV News.
For the "Charles Hamilton Experience," as he dubbed it, the Cleveland-born rapper treated fans to a three-hour set, DJing, rapping, singing and making new music from scratch right onstage. Hamilton told MTV News that the performance was intended to showcase the skills he's been fine-tuning over the past year. "I've been pretty much all over the United States trying to get a feel for the general public and what everybody's been asking for," he said, explaining his whereabouts after being released from jail in early 2011. "A lot of people been saying 'Charles needs to get it together,' but they don't know what together is for me, so I've been half taking advice and half rebelling against advice in general."
Hamilton says that he spent a few months cooped up in his home in Ohio, living off the money he'd earned from his music. When the cash ran out, he traveled from New Jersey to California and beyond, observing and recording music in a new state of mind.
"When I was incarcerated, my songs got a little more aggressive, but after I did some time and came back to NYC, I was a little upset at my fans because they were saying some pretty harsh things about me when I was locked up," Hamilton said, upset at being criticized despite releasing free music. "This is not how you should approach somebody who's been showing you guys free love."
The backlash against his music — post-incarceration — made Hamilton more reclusive. "[People] were blaming insanity ... because certain details didn't hit the surface, but it had nothing to do with drugs, it had nothing to do with alcohol, it was about me standing up for women, once again," he said. At the time of Hamilton's arrest, details were scarce, revealing only that he had responded aggressively to cops trying to subdue him at an Ohio bar, but he says there was something deeper happening.
"What was really going on at the time was the reason why I was yelling and screaming and I lashed out," he added, not able to fully explain details of the case. "It had to do with women's rights."
During the interview, Hamilton mentioned a few of the many projects he's released in the past year, including June's Ill Doesn't Meen Classic, adding that he's earned his stripes. "After a while you have to give it up for the underdog, because I'm in a climate where there aren't [many artists] who are ready to go song-to-song with me." But with his reputation for dipping in and out of the scene, fans are probably wondering how long he'll stick around for — and that's still unclear.
"I like being able to step in and out of the spotlight," he said, so "please don't mind if I'm scarce."
After leaving his deal with Interscope Records, Charles Hamilton says he's entertaining the option of signing another contract, but only under "very specific" terms after his previous experience.
"MC Lyte said it best — it was a fight to get me off Interscope. I put out more projects that the entire Interscope roster from 2008 to 2010, and it [took] Eminem to come out and trump that, as far as getting physical sales numbers," he said, detailing the split. "Interscope had to choose between traditional and the new wave, and I said 'this new wave costs ya'll less money and less compromise' but it took people on the inside to say to Interscope 'ya'll don't know what you're doing with this kid.' A lot of the inner workings weren't made clear to me, and I took it very personally. 'What is it about me that I've gotta get the ax?' "
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