What's Happenin': Charles Hamilton
Once chalked up as a waste of his considerable talent, Charles Hamilton is back with a new label deal and a fresh approach.
Words Dan Rys
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of XXL Magazine. Don't miss our cover stories on Meek Mill and Rick Ross right here.

For a minute there, it seemed like Charles Hamilton disappeared. The Harlem rhymer, still just 27 years old, enjoyed a meteoric splash on the hip-hop scene in 2008 with a staggeringly rapid mixtape output and above-average lyricism that landed him a record deal with Interscope Records and a spot on XXL’s 2009 Freshmen Class. But a slew of bad press and worse decisions found him in and out of jail and psychiatric hospitals in 2010 and 2011.

Dropped from Interscope and entering a dark period, Hamilton was nearly forgotten until an October 2014 blog post announced his return to music. By February, he had signed a new deal with Republic Records and is now officially hard at work on his still-unreleased debut album. XXL caught up with Hamilton to find out what fans can expect after such a long time out of the spotlight.

XXL: Why did you sign with another major label?
Charles Hamilton: Well, I felt like I had fought the good fight long enough. I had put out a lot of free music and I had discussed topics that no one was talking about. So I figured, I’ve pretty much put myself on the line for the people, why don’t I try to do something for myself?

How did the deal with Republic come together?
I don’t want to say it was a bidding war, but my management had been talking to a few labels and I liked what Republic had to say. They reminded me of songs that I had forgotten about. So I was honored that they had listened to my music and they understood my perspective. And when they listened to the new music, they were very excited.

When you first got back in the studio, did it feel different for you?
It allowed me to get reacquainted with big studios. I had been recording in a private studio and after a while I said, “You know what? There’s a certain sound that the people have been getting and that they’re used to. Why don’t I try something different?” So I’ve been working with different producers just trying to come up with an innovative yet musical style that would be accepted by the masses. Not so much pop, but my sound has been very underground, so this sound is more polished and pristine.

What can we expect out of the new music that you're releasing?
Grade-A lyricism and a lot of progressive instrumentals. These beats are truly a testament to my musicianship. It’s truly refreshing. It’s not as bleak as my older beats; it’s not as dark. But making that adjustment has led to some really great records. I think hip-hop could use a reprieve from the very electric sound that it’s gone into.

You've had a journey with the major label system but now you're back. Is there anything you've changed this time around?
Well the first time I was very paranoid. I wasn’t really clear on who did what and I was trying to stay loyal to my people back home. But now that I’m in more of a familial environment, I’m able to relax more and focus on the music. It leads to a better kind of relationship with the people you do business with.

Are you nervous at all about the reception to your new music?
When it comes to the general public, especially when you’re trying to be a revolutionary, you can never guarantee success. But yeah, I’m just nervous about getting back on the scene. I don’t know what’s changed. All I know is that I’m still me. I’m still growing. I’ve grown a lot from 2008, I’ve grown a lot from last year and I can’t wait for people to hear the growth. Hopefully, I can inspire the same kids who I steered away from suicide and drug abuse to pick up an instrument.

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