After slumming on Vancouver streets looking for his next hit of drugs, Chris Hamilton has emerged looking for a different kind of high.
A pen and a pad were his counsellor and he re-evaluated where to focus his addiction, making hits instead of taking them. Music and hip hop are his vice now.
“I struggled with poly-addictions, so addictions to whatever a person can get their hands on for a decade plus, then finally I went back to rehab a second time and have been clean for about a year and a half now,” said Hamilton, who performs under the name Ill Tone and will be in Penticton at Voodoos on May 24.
On his first full-length album Bringin’ The Hope Back released earlier this month, the songs touch on heavy topics of drug addiction, back-stabbers and struggles in life.
“Music played a large part of bringing me back. When I got out of rehab I hit the ground running and started making a ton of music. It was a huge point to focus my energy into that positive, rather than that addiction lifestyle,” he said.
With songs like the title track, he hopes to reach out to others struggling with the same obstacles in life he once faced. And it has been gaining ground with rotation on CBC Radio.
Hip hop wasn’t something new to him coming out of rehab. At 12, he started listening to lyrical artists such as Nas and The Alkaholiks, something different from the gangster rap that was popular at the time. He started writing and rapping over whatever beats he could find. But it didn’t come easy. Hamilton admits his early lyrics were about just rhyming words, even if they didn’t make sense.
“I’m from the Comox Valley originally so it is not the most hip hop place,” he said with a laugh.
While some people naturally are good at painting, sports or rapping, Hamilton said he practiced non-stop to get to this point. His voice now flows effortlessly over hard hitting beats. His wordsmithing landed him an opening spots with Masta Ace, Pete Rock and CL Smooth, Talib Kweli, Tech N9ne, Rakim and the Alkaholiks amongst other legends in the hip hop game.
“It was a huge learning experience having grown up listening to those same dudes Masta Ace was one of my favourites and Rakim was just crazy because that guy is a legend and to see him in the flesh was just a crazy learning experience,” said Hamilton.
It afforded him a lesson in how to rock the stage and crowd as a hip hop artist, something that he pours into his high-octane sets. His album was released on URBNET Records and features some of Canada’s best vocalists and lyricists including Jasmin Parkin of Mother Mother and Kyrios (formerly of Sweatshop Union) slaying a verse on If Only For A Second. Within a few weeks of the release, the album pulled within the top five hip hop releases in Canada on community and campus radio charts, not far behind household names like Classified, A$AP Rocky and Swollen Members. Bringin’ The Hope Back has a definite West Coast hip hop vibe, with more instrumentation and arrangement in the beats.
“I’m not trying to downplay any hip hop scene but I do find it to be more musical out here as opposed to bombastic beats and synthesized stuff elsewhere in Canada. Hip hop is segregated in a way because it has branched off to so many different sub- genres. The main stream of rap is not the same thing hip hop is and it seems right now each city has a certain sound it sticks to,” said Hamilton, who engineers and does production himself.
Ill Tone performs at Voodoo’s on May 24 with opening performances by Skulastic and DJ-Mtraxx. Doors open at 8 p.m. and cover is $10.