Manu Francois’ musical palette consists of a vast array of vivid colors. In his ‘2020 Medley’, a 5 minute preview of his new album ‘Ten Of A Kind’ with LIPSKI, he starts with stadium-level Pop anthems with memorable hooks and chants. The next song has a similar spirit but a slightly different sonic soundscape. Extended vocals are sung in a deep reaching delivery over Dance heavy drums and Trap accelerated Hi-Hats. Manu Francois jumps from genre to genre while maintaining an authenticity and signature vibe. World Music, Electronic, Hip-Hop, Down Tempo and Trap all seamlessly blend together for a perfect backdrop to reach an expansive audience with his message of dedication, perseverance, spirituality and optimism. Manu Francois is at home singing catchy Pop choruses or spitting rhymes over Trap beats that are subtly infused with 90’s style Jazz Boom Bap like on his single ‘Nest Egg’. Though he hails from Christchurch New Zealand, his omnipresent nomadic approach to music makes mentioning any specific location almost meaningless. True art in any fashion surpasses any limitations given by genre or name, but the boundless natural authenticity of Manu Francois’ art seems to automatically multiple his limitlessness by never having a box to be put in in the first place.
Amongst The Myriad
“They say I’m going crazy and we’ve seen this before, but I’m doing pretty good as far as geniuses go”. Kanye West rapped this line in 2007 on his track ‘Barry Bonds’ off of his third album, the omnipresent Graduation. Charles Hamilton would sample this song only one year later, in his barrage of unconventional mixtape releases during his break out XXL Freshmen cover year. In this issue XXL would describe Charles Hamilton’s sound and persona as a mix between ‘Eminem and Kanye West’, a tall comparison to live up to but also the most accurate description. At that time sampling a Hip-Hop song was rare, other than the occasional vocal snippets for a DJ scratched in hook, and sampling a current song was even more taboo. Charles Hamilton’s out-the-box thinking, his double edged sword, would break both these rules quite often- almost too often. The song ‘My Wonderful Pink Polo‘ also samples Kanye West’s song ‘I Wonder’ -or it’s original sample- doubling down on this disapproved technique. In his breakout year he would almost exclusively sample current or relatively recent songs for his beats which traditionalist would shun. The upside of this odd production quirk was that Charles Hamilton’s alternative sound now had a wing-man for listeners who would normally overlook the underground/alternative music he was offering. A memorable sample triggers something in a listener, it is a Trojan Horse into the ears of the reluctant, if you can crack the door open some way then you had an opportunity to connect with a new fan. Breaking the unwritten rule and sampling the obvious was Charles Hamilton’s way. His breakout major label single ‘Brooklyn Girls’ was the deepest crate digging he did, sampling K.P. & Envi’s hit 1998 single ‘Shorty Swing My Way‘.
This odd approach and unstructured thinking was the basis of Charles Hamilton’s raw talent and genius. Thelonious Monk once said ‘a genius is the one most like himself’ and Charles was the most unique artist of his class. Being ahead of your time can be a flaw depending on how far off your time period actually is in the future, or how well you navigate your current time period. Almost every major trend in Hip-Hop now is something Charles Hamilton did in 2008 and either was over looked , or worse, laughed at for it. The current Emo phase in Hip-Hop is now omnipresent, XXXTentacion had an image of a noose and a suicide note on the cover of his debut album, artist overdosing and succumbing to the pressures of life on social media is unfortunately too familiar. There were always depressed artists, the arts seem to attract those types, Kurt Cobain and Van Gogh are some of the iconic ones. Though in the social media era everyone statistically is more depressed and artists are now showing it openly. This was not the case in 2008, this was the tail end of the “Jiggy Era” where the life portrayed by commercial artists usually was a never ending success. Jim Jones’ ‘We Fly High’ (BALLIN’!!!) was a huge hit a few years prior and 50 Cent and Kanye West were going to war over who had it better with “I Get Money” and “Good Life”. Fast forward ten years to 2018 and now Kanye is opening his album up with “I Thought About Killing You” an ode to mental health and suicidal thoughts. Charles in 2008 was still ‘the most like himself’, his magnum opus The Pink Lavalamp had a song that was a subtle suicide note, which he stated that he planned on killing himself after the recording until he heard the reaction the song got from people in the studio. ‘Music (Intro)’ opens up the album and has the lyrics “No real family, no real friends, no real escape, no real end- so I’m gon’ die with my music.. No good liquor, no good bud, no good pussy, no good drugs- so music is the only love”, content much more 2018 than 2008. Though much brighter sonically XXXTentacion’s ‘SAD!‘ was a number one hit with similar dark subject matter. Even the handicap of having dark material crossover as a mainstream major label artist was acknowledged by Charles, his shelved major label debut This Perfect Life had the single ‘All Alone’ which was upbeat in feeling and sound but just as dark as X’s ‘SAD!’ in content.
Charles Hamilton’s genius was in his musical prowess, a self taught pianist who could solo on the piano as flawlessly as he could freestyle lyrics. His proficiency on the piano can be heard in songs like ‘Jesus For A Day’ and in many live performance recordings. A multi-instrumentalist, a rare feat for a Hip-Hop artist, that produced his own music. His ability to freestyle -truly freestyle- was ironically also a rare feat for a Hip-Hop artist. Going into radio interviews and freestyling longer than artist spit writtens was a regular thing for Charles. His eclectic taste in music from Rock, Punk, Pop and Electronic also made his sound unique, his influences were very distant from his genre. Most rappers now call themselves rock stars, or state they are Rock fans, even the ones where no non-Hip-Hop influence can be heard at all, state they are Rock fans. In 2008 this was not the norm, the ‘devil’s horns’ hand gesture is in every Instagram photo today but Charles can be seen awkwardly throwing it up in the inside photos of the XXL Freshmen cover surrounded by his peers ten years before it would be cool. Even his painted finger nails and nonstop trolling were laughable then when today they are common place. From the Rock aesthetic, diverse musical taste, multi-genre output, self depreciating content, raw and unforgiving lyrics, and online trolling for attention, Charles seemed to have every bullet point checked off for a successful career in 2018 and 2019.
His talent and genius were apparent, Jimmy Iovine the head of Interscope Records personally signed Charles Hamilton himself. Perhaps he too noticed the Eminem similarities, as his label helped break out the iconic star ten years prior. The Kanye similarities are also obvious, but a large portion of the Kanye traits fans detest Charles adopted. Kanye navigated fame rather delicately, his erratic behavior was curbed until he reached a steady level of fame where his public acts would just be headlines instead of career ending blunders, the bigger Kanye grows the bigger backlash his superstar status can absorb. Typical of any extremely creative person, Charles’ mind would sometimes wander to a career blundering idea, but then he would actually execute it without the substantial amount of fame and achievements to withstand it. Wearing a MAGA hat should kill anyone Hip-Hop artist’s career, or at least warrant huge shaming and an actual apology. Charles Hamilton would go on to do the 2008 equivalent of this many times over but take all the heat and repercussions a superstar would have been able to avoid. He thought and acted as if he was already a Grammy Award winning act. Being ahead of your time is also a flaw when the trait you are ahead of the game with is a negative trait: trolling for attention. From citing the late J Dilla as executive producer of his major label debut album, an odd way to pay homage to one of his idols, this move did not go over well with the public. On his blog, before the backlash, Charles explained how this was just his way of saying J Dilla’s sound was so influential in his own production that he felt off this influence alone J Dilla should be cited as executive producer. Surely an out the box way to pay homage to your idol. No one on the internet or in real life cared. No one was up to hearing his quirky reasoning, it was just blatant disrespect to a cultural icon. Though this one was more misinterpreted than anything, it seemed like trolling a community to go viral. During a freestyle session on camera after an interview with his girlfriend at the time Charles mentions a possible abortion and subsequently gets punched in the face. This was not on a major platform and an artist with Interscope-level power could have gotten this removed, Charles however stated on his blog that he let the footage come out as a way to potentially spread his name and build buzz. Not a good move. You want to go viral being a winner, not a loser. If you plan on going viral doing something the entire community of the genre you’re in hates it’s best to have Kanye-level accolades prior as protection. Perhaps his self confessed loser-mentality, stated in his song simply titled ‘Loser’, manifested certain situations into reality. In 2018 getting knocked out on camera or even putting a hit out on someone on camera just adds to your buzz, XXXTentacion and 6ix9ine would just go viral another time in the media cycle, in 2008 you just got clowned. Social media takes news to the highest of heights instantaneously, the luxury of this for artists today that make blunders is that a week or two later it won’t be news anymore and the public will be laughing at the next blunder someone else did instead.
Charles Hamilton’s strange religious beliefs also did not help, his love for the animated character Sonic The Hedgehog would have gone over better in 2018 where big name artists in Hip-Hop like Lil Uzi Vert and others have actual Anime characters as their twitter avatars. His professed interest in witchcraft and other occult teachings did not help, though in 2018 having an upside down cross or 666 tatted on your face is actually a good conversation starter. The satanic symbolism is so present today it’s not even shocking anymore. Charles Hamilton’s love for the color pink and his belief that God is a woman also fit better in 2018 than 2008, religion is now on it’s last leg and it is apparent in Hip-Hop by the shift in imagery and symbolism. In 2019 society is so past the constraints of religion that an album titled JESUS IS KING is more contrarian than anything else. In 2008 having an infatuation with SEGA and Sonic, and dabbling in witchcraft and the occult were to taboo for Hip-Hop, those influences were better left in Rock and Metal were they came from. The convergence of the genres now has led to a blending of sensibilities and it’s okay for a Hip-Hop artist to have painted fingernails, a love for Anime or animation, and an interest in the occult. The times always change, and what is furthest on the margins is usually a good indicator of whats to come. SEGA, Charles Hamilton’s church-like foundation, found itself in a similar dilemma. The SEGA Dreamcast at the time of it’s launch boasted many features that would become standards in the gaming world of the future. With features today we assume were standard, the Dreamcast ushered in without acknowledgement, in 1998 it was the first console to have online play, something at the time that seemed absurd (just the internet itself had people skeptical in 1998). In 2018 it would be strange if a game did not have online play. In-game voice chat, downloadable content, and second screen technology are all other features that are commonplace today in gaming but first introduced on the SEGA Dreamcast. Though innovative and technologically advanced the Dreamcast suffered to be success. Marketing and promotion among other factors led to the Dreamcast’s demise. If SEGA is Charles Hamilton’s church then their Christ figure that he embodies is their final console: The Dreamcast. SEGA is not gone though, they have a full feature length Sonic The Hedgehog movie coming -their flagship character and biggest mascot- and many games being made for other consoles. Charles Hamilton’s 2015 single ‘New York Raining’ with Rita Ora was a huge record and his following EP and album Hamilton, Charles continued his comeback success.
All the trends now in Hip-Hop were guaranteed to get you laughed at ten years ago, Charles Hamilton proved this. Trends always change and not being a part of what is current will only bring negativity your way. Now had Charles Hamilton not trolled online, made ridiculous claims, continued numerous beefs, and just generally rubbed people the wrong way would his anachronistic sensibilities that are more favorable in 2018 and 2019 been that much of a hindrance to him? Most likely not. But even his worst feats are more common today than 2008, from his strange infatuation with Rihanna, to alluding to a possible relationship, lying about making a beat that he didn’t, listing a past legend as a current collaborator, and releasing negative videos online just to go viral all seem a part of the current chaos of the social media era. In the era of Bonk Gang and 6ix9ine Charles Hamilton’s online antics seem minuscule. XXXTentacion uploaded a picture of Drake’s mother as his Twitter avatar once getting out of jail to accelerate their beef -one that may have been completely fabricated-, he got jumped by the “Migos” on Instagram, did a mock hanging of himself and posted it, and was also accused of pretty shocking domestic violence charges and in 2018 managed to have a number one album on the Billboard charts as an underground artist. Perhaps Charles Hamilton’s constant blogging may have been the nascent stages of a new era of artists growing up in the hyper connected time of social media. Charles may have understood internet culture, or where internet culture was going, and how to manipulate it. His positives and negatives both seem ten years ahead of their time. He may be the first true internet rapper, the internet in the sense we know of it today, omnipresent and ever available. There was a time when being an internet rapper was being an outlier or someone not accepted by the group, but when the internet is everywhere today and every rapper is on the internet today how can one not be an internet rapper today? Along with his Rock and Metal aesthetic and his alternative sensibilities, which are now the norm, his constant outbursts for internet attention are also current common place. Charles Hamilton, like the Dreamcast, may not get credit for current trends but the gaming company EDGE when asked about it’s poor performance once stated “Sega’s console was undoubtedly ahead of its time, and it suffered at retail for that reason… but its influence can still be felt today.”
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