Loud Minded: A mixtape a day keeps the label at bay
Music columnist William Schmitt on the career trajectories of prolific rappers
Rappers Charles Eddie-Lee Hamilton and Brandon McCartney have built their brands around what Will Smith would call a “relentless, sickening work ethic." Both men started releasing music regularly around 2005, and they slowly built followings based on the quality of their mixtapes until they reached larger audiences around 2009 or 2010. McCartney is much better known as Lil B or the "Based God" while Hamilton simply drops his middle name to perform as Charles Hamilton.
Hamilton seemed to have the easier path to success. He was signed to Interscope and was supposed to release the highly anticipated This Perfect Life after being named to XXL Magazine’s 2009 "Freshman Class" list. But a series of controversies and Hamilton’s slow descent into mental instability unfortunately ensued. He was dropped from Interscope, provoked the rage of the city of Detroit by listing local legend J Dilla as an executive producer, allegedly stole a beat from St. Louis musician Black Spade and eventually found himself releasing freestyles from a sanitarium.
Lil B, on the other hand, has embraced his unique mental perspective and started the based movement. The term “based” is open to some interpretation, although it always boils down to being yourself and living how you feel. It’s atypical, to say the least, for a rapper without much talent to lead a legion of like-minded folks who lap up every self-shot video of a freestyle he makes. His beat selection is questionable. He switches between absolutely amazing instrumentals like Clams Casino’s “I’m God” to a charmingly uncomfortable loop of the "Caillou" theme song.
The two artists have little in common in terms of style and musical composition. Their genius lies in how much music they make. Both rap and make their own beats with minimal outside help. Lil B is the more reliable of the two, partially due to his not being psychotic, and he adheres to something of a regular release schedule. He releases “rare," “based,” “oh my god” freestyles featuring him dressing in his own unique manner and informing the world about his swag. Hamilton, though, has always been on his own timetable, going months without a peep and then releasing 40 songs in one day.
It’s very difficult to pick favorites because each artist has such a frustrating volume of songs to hear. Lil B has his rare classics like “Wonton Soup” and “I’m God” and recently upped the ante with “Giving Up." The difference between "Giving Up" and his other “real” songs is that this one seems honestly genuine. The words and the message have been echoed by other rappers, and much more adeptly at that, but this song was the first time where I felt like I was listening to a real person and not just a strange alien figurehead with a grill and a pager.
Charles Hamilton has always had a soft spot for his own brand of love songs. He had one of his few charting singles five years ago with “Brooklyn Girls,” his ode to the women of New York. He’s run into trouble with sampling before, and he can’t sell a lot of his songs because he doesn’t have sample clearance, so corporate lawyers would sue his ass off.
On “Stutter,” he flips a Vince Guaraldi song best known from Charlie Brown and makes one of the catchiest beats I’ve ever heard. His lyrical tendencies are much more diverse than Lil B but often much more unsettling. Take “Niñol del Infierno (Hell Boys)." Again, the beat is phenomenal, as he takes part of “Straight To Hell," the same Clash song that M.I.A. used for “Paper Planes," and proceeds to tell one of the most sordid tales in hip-hop history. I won’t spoil it, but there are promiscuous intentions, kidnapping and an upside-down crucifix in store.
I don’t feel comfortable writing about these guys because the body of the work seems unapproachably large. Luckily I have friends and family who are better versed than I, so I had my way into their music with a primer for what to look for and what to avoid. I’ll give you the smallest of footholds into their worlds: Lil B’s “Wonton Soup” and Charles Hamilton’s “Music."