Given our College’s pastoral situation, the kinds of acts that can make it here for concerts are somewhat limited, usually falling into one of two categories: either recently signed acts that are relatively unknown to the campus, or established artists who, though faded from the limelight, appeal to nostalgia. Last Friday, we got both. Charles Hamilton, a 20-year old rapper from Harlem and recent addition to Interscope’s roster, opened up for Rhymefest, a Chicago emcee largely known for his friendship and collaboration with Kanye West.
Hamilton, though not honoring the holiday himself, was greeted enthusiastically by a legion of costumed concertgoers on Halloween night. His 45-minute performance was comprised of a number of selections from both his recent mixtapes and upcoming album, including the recent single “November 10th.”
I’ve long been of the opinion that hip-hop is incredibly hard to pull off in concert, a belief only reinforced by Hamilton’s set. While in the studio, Hamilton’s delivery is crisp and his self-produced beats are well-mastered. His flow has garnered flattering comparisons to rappers ranging from Tupac to Eminem. On stage, however, his beats were too bass heavy and his overenthusiastic hypemen muddled the rhythm of his lyrics. That said, they weren’t bad entertainers and did a good job of riling up the crowd, many of whom were acquainted with his music, surprising even Hamilton.
Among the cadre of artists who have excelled at using the Internet for self-promotion, Hamilton had his entourage film the entire set, presumably for use on his Web site, iamnotcharleshamilton.com. The gimmick got to be a bit much during one song, in which the hook literally included the address of his blog. The track works as something funny to put up on the Internet – it samples the sounds of Windows booting up and mouse clicks – but live it came off as pretty corny.
During several interviews Hamilton has been self-deprecating, referring to himself as an inexplicably talented nerd and a loser obsessed with Sega Genesis; after hearing him shout “Charles Hamilton dot Blogspot dot com” over a beat made of Windows sounds, I’m hesitant to disagree.
Though he certainly can’t boast hype on Hamilton’s level, Rhymefest demonstrated his pedigree during his performance. He played several familiar crowd pleasers, including “Bullet,” which samples Citizen Cope’s dated but admittedly catchy “Bullet and a Target.”
Like Hamilton, Rhymefest is currently somewhat of a hip-hop outsider, but where Hamilton is a product of home studios and the information age, it is Rhymefest’s insistence on the “realness” of his particular style of hip-hop that has left him excluded from popular hip-hop’s chart crossover. During his set he delivered both a spoken word piece and a rant against the rampancy of auto-tune (the vocal effect popularized by T-Pain) in hip-hop charts these days.
The climax of the night came after Rhymefest invited a handful of kids to freestyle and beatbox on stage. Hamilton started to join the cypher, but accused one beatboxer of “not doing it right.” Rhymefest offered the beatboxer redemption in the form of a chance to battle Hamilton, which Hamilton turned around and used as an excuse to challenge Rhymefest.
As a battler, Hamilton’s lyrics exposed both youth and hubris; though insisting that the battle was all in fun, he consistently hit below the belt, mercilessly mocking Rhymefest’s commercial failure. Not one to be trifled with, Rhymefest came back with a vicious retort, mocking Hamilton’s Internet pseudo-celebrity and youth that was greeted by overwhelming cheers and applause from the crowd. Without giving Hamilton a chance to respond, Rhymefest walked off stage, telling Hamilton’s entourage to “put that up on Youtube” on his way out.
I caught up with Hamilton after the show and talked with him for a bit about the night’s performance and his upcoming album. He made it quite clear that he thought another round of freestyling would have ended in his favor, and after seeing videos of him holding his own in cyphers with the likes of Kanye West and the Game, I’m honestly inclined to believe him. Yet if Charles Hamilton has something to overcome before he is taken as a serious hip-hop artist, it is his immature and quirky personality.
Before departing for some “me time with the Ipod,” Hamilton explained that his new album explored how his personal philosophy, based on envisioning himself as Sonic the Hedgehog and fighting the forces of Dr. Robotnik, manifests itself in the everyday. Whether this entails blue hair dye and an amphetamine addiction, an affinity for running around in circles really fast, or kleptomania in the presence of golden rings is yet to be seen.