One of the quickest ways for an aspiring rapper to make his name is through battling another rapper. Be it through freestyles or back-and-forth diss tracks, it’s a time-tested method and it’s launched the career of some of hip-hop’s biggest names. Cassidy rose to prominence by engaging in a now-legendary 18-minute freestyle battle with fellow Philadelphian Freeway. 50 Cent hit the mainstream by introducing the word "wanksta" to the modern lexicon when attaching the term to rival Ja Rule.
Harlem’s Charles Hamilton was clearly taking notes.
After dropping numerous mixtapes, Hamilton released his debut album, The Pink Lavalamp, on the heels of his then-burgeoning beef with hip-hop’s black sheep, Soulja Boy. While the content of that conflict is immaterial, Hamilton’s talent is far from.
Through producing much of his own music and incorporating myriad influences from rap, rock and R&B among others, Hamilton has created swirling, dynamic atmospheres that suit his clever bars to perfection.
“She’s So High” is one such sensory overload. A breezy electronic beat brims with activity; Hamilton’s love-at-first-sight narrative is paced perfectly with the gorgeous female vocals heard faintly in the background. In letting his intimate and psychedelic notions completely take over, he creates engrossing and textured songs that reward repeated listens. Hamilton acknowledges heavy drug use both throughout his life and as this album was recorded, and the vivid lyrical pictures he paints make it an obvious truth: "She keeps dancin’, keeps trying to figure out why I keep glancin’ / This is my chance, I don’t wanna miss it, eye contact, something feels different / Two new worlds, our galaxy is distant, I send my radiation she started drifting."
This is what Hamilton specializes in--a perfect marriage of rapping and production. It’s a reoccurring theme, and much of the reason that Lava flows so effortlessly. It’s not just that the transitions are seamless--it’s that every beat is a picture-perfect palate just waiting to be rapped on.
The smooth jazz stylings of “Brighter Days” exemplify the daring in production. The drum track is common enough, but it’s the story told by the saxophone that weaves brilliantly through the Hamilton’s raps that shines. For an album with a penchant for brooding, electronic atmospheres, “Brighter Days” serves as a nice change of pace and it’s just the pick-me-up that Hamilton needed to breathe additional life into the record. “Live Life to the Fullest” uses a funky '90s-style beat to backdrop Charles’ choppy rhyme pattern and former musical partner Yung Nate joins the track. It’s obvious the two have worked together; there’s a notable chemistry and back-and-forth that makes it one of the more solid tracks on the album.
Hamilton finishes up with “I’ll be Around,” sampled from the Spinners classic. It's a wrenching song that sees Charles wrestling with depression and the belief that he’s a disappointment in the eyes of his family (“This will be three months since I've seen my family, I can’t believe my family even still receives me / … / I’m a dropout, a junkie and a drunk, honestly is that the kind of company you want around your son?”) and the skepticism those close to him have for his musical career (“Gotta catalog of music and a wallet full of lint / I know my uncle smirkin’ like ‘Charles is full of shit'").
Charles’ honesty is refreshing but his propensity for hard drug use--though it fuels a lot of his creative spirit--is troubling and I hope he can find a way to convey his unbelievable talents without that crutch. The fact that he’s so passionate and creative with his music creates hope for even more and even better albums, I just hope he lasts long enough for us to find out.