Charles Hamilton is hip-hop’s prodigal son, mounting what might be the year’s most unexpected comeback (but don’t call it a comeback!). After a lengthy hiatus and very public unraveling, the Cleveland native has broken his silence with his first major-label single in seven years, “New York Raining.” Featuring Rita Ora, “New York Raining” is a love song perfectly primed for boozy, springtime nights on rooftops and sneaking kisses while waiting for the L train.
“I was raised in New York and it’s a big influence on me and my sound,” Hamilton tells the Voice. “New York’s beauty when it rains describes the woman I was talking about.” The duo performed the track on an episode of Empire and it’s slated for Hamilton’s forthcoming debut album.
It’s an unlikely turn for a rapper once on the precipice of stardom. In 2008, Hamilton was the ideal heir apparent. A cousin of MC Lyte, he was the backpack nerd with the vigor of a hungry young MC. He released his debut mixtape, Crash Landed (hosted by DJ Skee), and flooded the rap blogosphere with a raft of material — some thirteen mixtapes in one year — including And Then They Played Dilla (dedicated to the late producer J Dilla) and It’s Charles Hamilton (based on Nas’s Illmatic). His debut single, “Brooklyn Girls,” was a fun, catchy ode to ladies from the borough and showcased an aptitude for commercially friendly tracks. It was no surprise when XXL included the rapper in its annual list of freshman artists-to-blow alongside B.o.B., Kid Cudi, Curren$y, and Wale.
But as his fellow classmates rose, Charles began to falter — hard. In 2009, he released a mixtape dedicated to Rihanna, aptly titled Well Isn’t This Awkward. But his propensity for name-dropping turned sacrilegious when he cited Dilla as producing This Perfect Life and purported to have a relationship with the late producer’s family. A maelstrom ensued and even Dilla’s mother, Ma Dukes, called him out. Losing rap battles to the likes of Rhymefest and random fans didn’t help his waning credibility. The coup de grâce happened — and quite literally — when Charles was punched in the face by his ex-girlfriend…on camera. It wasn’t long before Interscope Records (the label that had reportedly dropped seven figures to sign him) booted the rapper from its roster and into has-been oblivion.
“I wanted to commit career suicide, physical suicide, spiritual suicide — I didn’t care anymore,” Charles remarked to Billboard earlier this year. Now 27 years old, he says he retreated from the public eye and at one point was living in an abandoned building on Staten Island and threatening to jump off the Macombs Dam Bridge. “I was depressed, paranoid, and confused.”
And then it all turned around. He began seeking treatment for undiagnosed bipolar disorder. In 2012, following a five-hour show at S.O.B.’s, Turn First Artists signed the orphan rapper and helped find him a medical treatment regimen. The management firm hooked him up with the Invisible Men (the production trio behind Iggy’s “Fancy” and tracks for David Guetta, Ellie Goulding, and Jessie J), who produced “New York Raining” and will helm the rapper’s debut album.
For the rapper, his new lease is more a renewal of interest than a comeback. “I have continued making music since the Interscope deal,” he says. “I just want to continue making music. This ‘comeback’ will allow for more people to hear it, and I embrace that.”