The Troublemaker: Charles Hamilton

Photo by Matthew Salacuse
Phoebe Reilly WRITTEN BY
Phoebe Reilly

Usually when someone says, "Music should be as free as water," it's safe to assume they don't make music for a living (or pay for water). Charles Hamilton is one exception. Since he signed to Interscope nearly a year ago, the Harlem-bred, stylistically scattershot producer/MC/singer/blogger has put more than 70 tracks online gratis. Label honcho Jimmy Iovine even gave him his own imprint, Demevolist, on which to release The Pink Lavalamp, an oddball-soul album that Hamilton made when he was a heroin-abusing teenager.

"We have a mutual understanding, which is that I'm not here to do what your conventional artist does," says Hamilton, now a clean-cut 21-year-old who favors Sonic the Hedgehog T-shirts. Clarification: He's expected to release an album this year, it may involve Pharrell, and it will be sold -- for money.

When the new album does arrive, it will follow a busy year. First, there was "Windows Media Player," the groovy track featuring the twinkling sound of a PC booting (over which Hamilton raps his blogspot address). Then, in the three months before Lavalamp dropped in December, he released on various music sites seven mix tapes that sampled everyone from Björk to Staind. He dubbed his campaign "the Hamiltonization process."

"That was like an M. Night Shyamalan film -- even the slightest sneeze might mean something bigger later on," he explains. "You really need to pay attention to everything in order to fully understand me."

Or you could read his frequently updated website, where, for example, Hamilton chronicles how the songs on Lavalamp, a moody album heavy on '70s R&B samples, are about being depressed. "That was my dropped-out-of-high-school drug era," recalls Hamilton, who grew up in a strict Christian household (his mother wanted him to become a gospel musician or a minister). "It wasn't a very fun era."

His life, he says, is considerably more "monkish" at present: His days are almost entirely devoted to writing music in his Westchester, New York home, which he exactly? "I ain't a rapper," Hamilton says, "so I'm not spending my money on stupid shit."

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