Flight 801: Steve Smith and the Blazer
US: 17 Aug 2013
UK: 17 Aug 2013
The career of Charles Hamilton has been the focal point of much speculation. It’s arguable that no other rapper in the internet era has gone through as many ups and downs as Hamilton has in the span of about five years. He was the king of the online mixtape, with over a dozen available for download, many of which received high praise. He was selected to the team of XXL’s 2009 Freshman Class. Charles Hamilton was supposed to one of the leaders of the new school, side-by-side with names like B.o.B, Kid CuDi, and Wale.
His journey didn’t exactly go as expected. With a long list of gaffes and misunderstandings that we won’t dive too far into for the sake of time, Charles Hamilton quickly plummeted from the headlines. He lost his record deal with Interscope and began his descent. He went from the next big thing to back on the internet, giving out free mixtapes and trying to salvage a fan base. Only this time there wasn’t a glimmer of hope waiting on the other side. Hamilton dips through periods of being completely done with music to quietly releasing another project.
The quality of these projects is wavy. His post-Interscope tapes haven’t quite lived up to the appeal of his early 2008-2009 material. Some of these mixtapes entertain cool ideas, but miss the mark. Others just feel like a slew of half-hearted songs slapped together for the sake of releasing something. The one thing that has been consistent is the abysmal mixing. For someone who has experience in professional environments, Hamilton has been all too contempt to release stuff with the recording quality of a bottom-feeding YouTube rapper.
Earlier this year Charles Hamilton brought hope to the few fans he still had hanging on when he released Catholic Illuminati: Papal Infallibility. The album had Hamilton’s signature creativity, as he playfully sampled songs that you wouldn’t expect to hear in a hip-hop song and somehow made it sound good. The recording quality was finally reaching a listenable standard, as well.
Maybe it wasn’t a fluke. A few months later and he supplied the fan base with Flight 801: Steve Smith and the Blazer. It’s pure fan service. Charles Hamilton is rapping over unreleased beats from four to five years ago, and he sounds like he’s back in his heyday. He, for one, actually sounds motivated. While previous releases made you question if his heart was really in it, Flight 801 puts that question to rest.
This is no doubt aided by the stellar production. Charles Hamilton has always been a good rapper, but maybe a better beat maker. His beats have a really uniquely modern style, and always harness a touch of soul. Perhaps like a Kanye meets J Dilla. Maybe not quite that good, but the style is in that vein. These beats aren’t throwaways, either. You might wonder why he had beats this good just laying around, but I guess that’s what happens when you spent years of your life doing nothing day and night but making music.
On “Captain’s Log”, Hamilton breaks out the old beat used on “Voices” from The Pink Lavalamp days, and gives an alternate take on the beat. While he doesn’t make the song substantially better or worse, it’s sort of a sweet reminder that the Charles Hamilton of old hasn’t left. While people question if it’s possible for the Eminem of 2013 to sound anything like the rapper of 13 years ago, Charles Hamilton shows that if he wants to be the same rapper that his fans fell in love with five years ago, that man is still here. The confusingly titled “Voices Pt. 2” is another emotional highlight. “Anti Turbulence”, which samples “To Be Free To Be Who We Are” by Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes, is one of the best Hamilton beats I’ve heard in a while, and is another display of the level of music Charles can make when his mind is in it.
Charles Hamilton appeals to a certain crowd of internet enthused, hip-hop lovers. Flight 801 is a love letter to all of the fans who have stuck with Charles Hamilton through the ups and the downs. The people who loved The Pink Lavalamp, Well Isn’t This Awkward, and the other beloved Charles Hamilton mixtapes from the final years of the ‘00s will appreciate his return to form on Flight 801. People who have never been a fan of Charles will unlikely be moved by this mixtape. For the fans, hopefully this is a sign of more good things to come from a now level-headed Charles Hamilton.