Sobriety isn’t a word typically associated with hip hop music. Drugs, alcohol or both tend to be a recurring theme in the music and the lives of the talent that occupy this space.
This is true of Chris Hamilton – or at least it was true.
“I grew up in the Comox Valley and I always used the excuse, ‘I’m from a small town, there’s nothing to do, so this is what I do,’” the 26-year-old says of his past, having started drinking at 10 – stealing it from his parents – and smoking pot at 12.
By his mid-teens, he’d moved on to ecstasy and cocaine. And in his 20s he was taking “pretty much everything you could think of, short of anything involving needles.”
Through it all, though, Hamilton wrote music.
“I’ve been writing lines since I was about 12 years old. It didn’t get serious for me until I was about 21 when I moved over to Vancouver,” he says. “Seeing an actual studio (in Vancouver) motivated me to start writing. Writing rhymes became writing songs. I went back to school and learned how to engineer and produce my own music.”
But drugs and alcohol were still playing an active role in his life.
In January 2012, Hamilton was ready to exorcise his demons, and went to rehab for the second time. (He went once before at age 19, but admits he wasn’t ready to quit everything, hence having returned to old habits almost immediately upon release.)
“Life’s changed for the better (since rehab),” he says, now one year sober. “I’ve reestablished a lot of old relationships with friends and family, I’m not always broke and complaining about stuff, and it’s just a more positive way to live.”
Hamilton admits he was concerned at first about what impact sobriety would have on his music, but it’s been nothing but a positive experience.
“I noticed my thought process is a lot quicker. Songs get written a lot quicker, beats happen a lot quicker. And there’s definitely more positivity, for sure,” he says. “It takes a lot of energy to maintain (a drug- and alcohol-fuelled) lifestyle, so being able to channel that energy into music as a creative outlet has been great.”
Hamilton, a.k.a. Ill Tone, performs March 7 at Lucky Bar. He’ll open for Masta Ace on the Western Canadian dates of his cross-country tour. On Feb. 27, Ill Tone’s debut album, Bringin’ the Hope Back will be released.
The album is some three years in the making, meaning the music is more of a reflection of Hamilton’s past life. He’s already working on his next album, which won’t be full of songs written during “the depths of all my crap.”
“When a person’s in the depths of their addictions, they’re not going to be saying too many positive things,” he says. “I still write the occasional heavy song, because I think about that life that I lived to write about it and get it out in the open. But definitely I’m a lot happier – that will show with my next album.”
Tickets ($18) to the adult-only show at Lucky Bar are available at Lyle’s Place, Ditch Records and TicketWeb.ca