Charles Hamilton is a pioneer. Back in 2008, if you cared about hip-hop and the internet, then chances are Hamilton’s debut and opus The Pink Lavalamp meant something to you. As fellow DJBooth scribe Yoh Phillips so eloquently wrote in 2015: “He was just like us, an outcast with a bit of arrogance wanting nothing more than to create and be rewarded for pouring his soul into the craft. He put so much of himself into the music it was almost like hearing a pulse, the faintest heartbeat, a true representation of someone that had nothing else.”
At the least, the album has meant and continues to mean very much to Hamilton, who rereleased the project in April on vinyl to celebrate its 10th birthday. Though rereleases are already ceremonious in nature, there is an added layer of accomplishment and overcoming to finally putting Lavalamp to wax. Namely, this is the first time the album will be available to be purchased and in a physical form. “It was a goal, you know?” Charles emphasizes to me on the phone. “I worked towards the goal on every front, and I achieved a goal.”
“It’s wonderful; I love the album,” he continues. “When people say the album changed their lives, I’m happy to hear it… I knew what I was doing [laughs].” In 2008, as Charles attests, “The Pink Lavalamp [was] the first album within a genre of its own,” influencing today’s most beloved rappers from Childish Gambino’s earlier works to Earl Sweatshirt’s penmanship.
But what impression would the album make if it were released today, a new music Friday in 2018?
“I’m a musician, so musicians would check it out!” Charles says enthusiastically. “Man, musicians would feel it and my ideal crowd is still pretty much the same as when I was doing The Pink Lavalamp. But now I’ve expanded my horizon, so as I’ve expanded my horizon I further discovered the root of myself. I don’t think the listeners of today would immediately rush to the album, but that’s okay.”
All these years later, then, and Charles Hamilton still feels misunderstood, but not aimless. He attests that since 2012, he has been manifesting this new root of himself, having asked his inner child what it is he wants from himself. “It answered, and I haven’t looked back,” Charles assures. Though that answer is under lock and key, The Pink Lavalamp is still getting a new life in physical form, a life that it deserved 10 years ago, but a new life nonetheless.
DJBooth’s full interview with Charles Hamilton, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: First off, congratulations on the reissue of The Pink Lavalamp. How does it feel to have your opus available in physical form?
Charles Hamilton: It was a goal, you know? I worked towards the goal on every front, and I achieved a goal. I definitely am proud of The Pink Lavalamp, and it’s a good feeling to be able to see a goal accomplished.
When it dropped and in the years to follow, Lavalamp was labeled a classic. Did you know you had a classic on your hands 10 years ago?
The old me would say, “Yeah,” you know, but looking back, it didn’t really matter if it was a classic or not. There’s more to The Pink Lavalamp than just beats and bars. It’s really a time capsule if you will. I knew what I was doing, but I didn’t think the impact will be as great as it’s been.
At what point did you realize its impact?
I’m honored, humbled… It’s wonderful; I love the album. When people say the album changed their lives, I’m happy to hear it. I knew what I was doing, you know what I’m saying? There’s no other way to phrase it. I’m a musician, so saying I know what I’m doing kinda should go unsaid, but I knew I made a solid album. There were a couple tracks on there, obviously “I’ll Be Around,” we’ll never get this kind of moment again. You know, “Loser,” “She’s So High,” “Music,” that song means the world to me. “Voices,” you know, it’s totally different. I knew what I was doing [laughs]. What makes the album a bit different, for me at least, is the stories behind each track.
How does it feel to re-listen to a song like “Voices,” or even “Shinin’”?
The song “Voices,” strange how it’s gotten me in trouble. What I meant by the song and the subtle nuances have been grossly misinterpreted, and that misinterpretation represents my entire life. So that’s why the song “Shinin’” exists. Shit, it had to be a song I recorded two years after The Pink Lavalamp to bring me peace of mind over this misunderstanding, which is my existence. I listen to the song, I appreciate it.
The question, as posed on “Loser”: if you think these n****s listen when they play me… It could be downloaded 20 million times, the album could go Diamond, if you don’t understand it, you’ll just be twiddling your thumbs and smiling and catching whatever makes you feel good. I still think there’s a gross misunderstanding of who I am, what I doing, and what I’m about.
How do you think the album would have been understood if it dropped today?
I’m a musician, so musicians would check it out! Man, musicians would feel it and my ideal crowd is still pretty much the same as when I was doing The Pink Lavalamp. But now I’ve expanded my horizon, so as I’ve expanded my horizon I further discovered the root of myself. I don’t think the listeners of today would immediately rush to the album, but that’s okay. Because what they want outside of some new information, if you will, what they want isn’t what is easily… They get what they want, but what they need isn’t easily accessible. So I would be prepared to work extra hard to promote the album.
As far as what I have to say? I don’t think they’d care. Even Kanye has modernized his sound. He always said his music was like a time capsule. As time passes, things have become more programmed than composed, and I am a musician and I feel as though that makes me a rare breed.
So what is that new root you’ve discovered?
It’s been manifesting since 2012. I did my time, and I was blessed with a few opportunities and I did my reading, did my research, and then I asked my inner child: “What do you want to do?” It answered, and I haven’t looked back.
You were one of the first artists to understand the power of the internet and blogs. 10 years later, what power do you think blogs have?
It’s still a means of expression, but there’s a difference between tastemakers and bloggers. The blogs that were considerably mainstream when I was early in my career, they were tastemaker blogs. It wasn’t for the individual, it was for who wanted to know what was hot. They ended up having the name hypebeasts. As far as some of the original bloggers? A few of them passed away, and others expanded. They kept their blog, but now their blog is a dot com as opposed to a blog.
Do you feel like blogs are better now?
Everyone wants to buy something, so I don’t see how… I saw improvement, and then came the infection. You wanna make money or you want your freedom? There it is. Those are your options: make money or be free.
Have you ever had difficulty deciding between money and freedom?
It was a bar of mine. I feel like I’ve worked towards needing my freedom back. I was the most free… Here’s the thing, with me, freedom comes with circumstances. Yes, I was free during The Pink Lavalamp, but I wasn’t because I was making music that was accessible. Stuff you can listen to, nod along to, know the words… Speaking from my perspective, I was being very honest, but it was the other side of what people want.
I can be free, but there’s that moment in freedom where it’s like, “Hey, I could make something of myself,” and when you get to that point not only do you realize that nothing is free and the little bit of freedom that you had is going to be the cost for what you’re going to do in order to gain revenue… Now, what you wanna do is maintain your sanity. It’s not even about happiness. Happiness gets out the question. As un-American as it is, you can either make your money or make someone happy.
If you had to sum up the legacy of The Pink Lavalamp in a single sentence…
It’s the first album of a genre, of its own. There it is. The Pink Lavalamp is the first album within a genre of its own.