Rappers like Hamilton can be cultural archivists in a way that other forms of music have yet to embrace. A song's density of cultural references and the ability of the rapper to play with them lyrically simply has no equivalent. The same holds true for the production: With very few exceptions, the sample-driven style of production allows rappers to provide secondary references and create a literal sound collage around the topics they address. With this in mind, geek subcultures, with their colorful characters, dense mythologies and low-cost accessibility, have been a low-hanging fruit for rappers to pluck and incorporate in their work. But most rappers seem to use it in two ways: either as a brief piece of color in a more general song, or as a starting point upon which they can build their own contribution to the subculture. Certainly that's what the Wu-Tang Clan graduated into when member RZA produced the music for the martial arts homage films Kill Bill and Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai.


Charles Hamilton is something different. Just as Nas was the introspective observer of New York City project life in Illmatic, rather than an overblown mythmaker that would later define a lot of rapper personas, so too is Hamilton an observer of digital life in the early 21st century. That he releases albums exclusively online and blogs about almost every stray thought that enters his mind isn't news, nor is his love for Sonic and Sega. These are all taken for granted in Hamilton's world; they're novelty, not a selling point or a sign of innovation. What is genuinely original is that Hamilton artistically engages with these aspects of his life. Hamilton isn't interested in just namedropping Sonic; instead, he makes a concept album called Sonic the Hamilton that cuts up sound samples from the games into beats, and references the series' tropes liberally in making his overall point in each song. In using geek culture so liberally and nonchalantly, Hamilton has become both a herald of the vanishing line between geek and mainstream cultures, and one of the more promising talents in hip hop.

Tom Endo is deep in the Labyrinth Zone of his life.

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