Charles Hamilton - Normalcy

Posted January 6, 2010

Today we dropped our annual Best of the Booth Awards, and if Most Hated Rapper was a category,...

Normalcy Album Review

Today we dropped our annual Best of the Booth Awards, and if Most Hated Rapper was a category, Charles Hamilton would have won. Actually Kanye would probably walk away with that one, but Most Hated Rapper (Unsigned/Independent), that one Hamilton’s got on lock. Actually, truth be told, I’m not sure exactly what his current contract situation is, but that’s exactly the point. After months of making a name for himself on the underground circuit, gathering a cluster of lovers and haters of his fiercely creative, always autonomous, often egomaniacal style around him like bees to honey, or flies to s**t, depending on your feelings, Hamilton and Interscope Records’ relationship is on hold, allegedly because of Hamilton’s mental health issues. And just like that, the man that was once poised to take over the game was gone like a candle in the wind, or a fart in the wind, depending on your feelings.

After months of silence, Hamilton has emerged from his quasi-exile with his new mixtape, the self-knowingly titled Normalcy, a project that should instantly reignite the debate surrounding Hamilton’s true talents. Personally, and I know this is the last thing Hamilton detractors want to hear (and Hamilton’s enormous ego needs to hear), I feel like the man’s something like a genius, but a genius so overwhelmed by his talents he can sometimes barely function at the level of average emcees, kind of like the rap version of Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind. Geniuses either harness their talents and achieve greatness, or end up living in a van down by the river. Right now, as Normalcy proves, Hamilton’s right in the middle of those two extremes.

When I first heard Charles Hamilton is Back (a.k.a. New Music from Charles Hamilton), the first music we’d heard from the hedgehog in months, my first thought was, “damn, the dude’s finally figured it out.” First, while his rhymes are obviously at the forefront in the public’s mind, Hamilton’s also got some serious production skills. Back’s beat is a violently operatic affair, combining symphonic production with trap muzik sensibilities, and while his most ardent haters may find fault, I guarantee you that if Alchemist had done this beat we’d be loving it. Still, Hamilton’s rhymes will always be the center of discussion, and despite the occasional slip (who brags about being interviewed by Carson Daly?), his vocal work on Back is more than rewind-worthy. It’s a similar story on Baby Say I Want, where he drops one of the best Rocky references in hip-hop history, and while he goes overboard with the Indian vibe on Air Agains, focus solely on the flow and you’ll hear an extraordinary emcee: “I’m verbally the Jim Crow laws, only real ni**gers gonna get behind my bars.” Seriously, that’s a genius line.

Everything I just said, forget it. And that, in a nutshell, is Charles Hamilton. When the man’s focused on Normalcy we’re treated to, at the very least, some supremely original music, but when he’s unfocused, when he loses his ability to self-edit, we end up with hot messes like Workin In the Lab. I can see where he wanted to go with In the Lab, kind of a mad scientist concept, but he gets lost along the way to his destination, taking so many detours we all end up in the middle of nowhere. I could say the same thing for Loserville, a track that’s heavy on ideas but light on delivery, disintegrating into a tangle of disjointed production and manic depressive rhymes. I don’t know if I can even say that much about the terrible She’s Purtty, or Coodies, which sounds like he literally randomly combined completely a different beat, sample and flow and hoped for the best. The best did not happen; a sentence that pretty much sums up Normalcy.

Ultimately, we don’t really learn anything on Normalcy that we didn’t already know. Hamilton is a man of incredible potential, but until he learns how to channel his wandering mind, and stop using the “they don’t get my genius” excuse to brush off criticism, he’ll never realize that potential, and that’s not hate. Hate is hoping he falls apart, but real hip-hop fans? Real hip-hop fans hope we’re listening to the dope, and coherent, debut album of a supremely talented emcee very soon.

DJBooth Rating - 2.5 Spins

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Posted January 6, 2010
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