<i>It's Charles Hamilton</i> tries to usher in new generation of hip-hop

Hamilton is part of a new genre that combines unlikely samples on a mixtape.
Although this album will likely only ever be available online, it has some pretty neat artwork. 'Sonic' the Hedgehog: Get it? Courtesy of Charles Hamilton

If the Internet (and Charles Hamilton himself) knows what it's talking about, the future of hip-hop wears a pair of goofy pink headphones with a matching cap and a Sonic the Hedgehog T-shirt.

Hamilton is one of about a dozen emcees pegged as the next big thing in hip-hop. He belongs to a new generation of artists who seem to largely be linked only through an affinity for skate shoes, hats and mediocre alternative rock.

With only a couple of these guys actually having a proper album to their name, it seems sort of beside the point to rank their artistic merit. But though Charles might just miss out on the most interesting mixtape concept from this generation (See Wale's "The Mixtape About Nothing"), he gets the nod for most overambitious project. It's Charles Hamilton is actually part four in a series of eight mixtapes released over a span of four months (one every two weeks) in a project known as The Hamiltonization Process.

Although the first three installments of The Hamiltonization Process have each been more of an individual concept (the literal concept album, the J Dilla tribute and the whole crew album), It's Charles Hamilton feels like the first in the bunch to resemble what we have come to know as a hip-hop mixtape: one dude rapping a bunch of different styles over a decent amount of samples he can probably never actually get cleared.

The samples are absolutely the first thing you notice about Hamilton's music. Charles is mostly self-produced, and some of these sample productions are such a surprise they create these stylistically blurring moments of pure bliss.

"Starchasers," a sample of Lykke Li's "Little Bit," might be the most out of left-field sample in hip-hop this year. But Li's transformed chipmunk vocals sound so destined for that beat it seems unfair to even question it.

However, if this masterfully used Lykke Li sample represents the upside of Hamilton's eclectic music taste, Charles's sample of Hoobastank's "The Reason" on "Mr. Perfect" seems like the worst-case scenario of "When keeping it eclectic goes wrong." I like where his head's at, and not all of his rock samples go so awry.

For the most part, the production and sampling come to define this album with their ability to take unlikely samples and make them feel at home and fit in with the motifs. Hamilton's production also plays well with his vocal styles, a sort of laid back Lupe Fiasco-type flow that never does anything too out of the ordinary but seems to be steadily improving over time, and it has proved versatile enough to work over Dilla beats and Clash samples alike.

Outside of the production, the variety of subject matter is what makes It's Charles Hamilton worthwhile. Few artists of any genre could pull off consecutive songs about religious introspection, unrequited love and porn stars. But Hamilton's adaptability makes it work. The first-person perspective of "Wrong Side Of The Bed" makes it one of the most effective explorations of religion in a hip-hop song without the element of alienation. Next, aside from being the best use of a song that became a Swiffer jingle (Player's "Baby Come Back"), "The honeymoon's Over" captures an earnest take on the down-on-bended-knee plea for love after the easy part of a relationship is long gone. And then out of nowhere comes a mixed combo of grotesque/heartfelt come-ons to porn star "Lacey DuValle."

Although Charles might not quite be ready to change the game, his eclecticism and weird persona carry over well to provide the landscape for what promises to be a positively interesting debut album to come next year - as long as he doesn't sample Hinder or something.

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