Listen to Charles Hamilton's song "November 10th," and you'll be greeted by the familiar sounds of Sonic the Hedgehog background music and the chime of rings being collected. You'll note the lyrics which are rich in puns involving the Genesis and Atari, and lines like "I broke the start button / We can hardly pause." It's clear that a gamer (or a talent with an understanding of gamer culture) has written and produced this song. But you'll also hear references to Rihanna, marijuana and shopping. The song goes beyond the realm of videogames; its slang is recent and Hamilton's flow that of a professional, showing an ear for beat and the influences of the larger tradition of African-American music. Hamilton is an original, a rapper on the brink of mainstream success, who is as comfortable referencing the golden age of videogame culture as he is musing on the qualities of NYC borough girls in his breakout single "Brooklyn Girls." He is, as reflected in both his lyrics and production, an artist that views the entirety of pop culture as one big melting pot of references at his disposal to illuminate his larger points about life.


To view Hamilton alone as an Athena birthed fully formed from hip hop's metaphorical head is to fall prey to a frequently ignored truth - the hip hop world has never been at odds with geek culture. In fact, it's been something of a love affair for most of hip hop's existence. You can draw early parallels between Afrika Bambaataa and his love of electronic music and ridiculous sci-fi costumes, but the link to Charles Hamilton begins in earnest in the '90s, when the cross pollination of these two cultures came to a head.

One of the best examples of this phenomenon was the Wu-Tang Clan. On their 1993 debut, Enter the Wu-Tang, the group rapped about the usual topics of sex, drugs and violence, but blanketed it all in a deep and unironic love of obscure kung fu movies from the '70s. The ethos of the group itself was no less geek inspired, as each rapper took on an alias and equated his style of rapping with a different style of martial arts. Almost a concept album, the songs themselves used extensive sampling from kung fu movies in the creation of the beats. The Wu-Tang side projects are no less devoted to exploring genres: Wu-Tang subgroup The Gravdiggaz created, in one album, a genre of rap called horrorcore, with lyrics and production inspired by bad horror movies. Their incorporation of fantasy, obsession with obscure canon and fearless attitude toward roleplaying all suggest the Wu-Tang Clan are geeks of the most serious intent.

Comments on