Moment of Clarity: Charles Hamilton vs. Black Spade
A few weeks back I was the guest of honor at what was then the coming out (pause) party for Elliott Wilson’s Rapradar.com. I think I was the first writer outside of Elliott and Bdot to contribute to the site, and it was the Charles Hamilton vs. Black Spade beatjacking incident that caused me to come out of retirement.
Here’s the entry in full:
My homie from The Scratch days, The Gooch wanted to give his take on the beat-jackin’ accusation-filled, finger-pointin’ foolery goin on between Charles Hamilton and Black Spade. The following views don’t necessarily reflect YN’s, but this is my house and I live here. The floor is Mr. Cantor’s.
There’s been much debate going on in the rap blogosphere today about whether or not Charles Hamilton beatjacked St. Louis producer/MC Black Spade for a track he claims he produced and uploaded to his Myspace player in 2007. There’s apparently a dialogue going on between all parties involved (Kenny Fresh, of Freshselects.net; Black Spade; and Charles Hamilton), obviously Spade is sticking to his story, and Charles to his.
After carefully listening to each track multiple times, it’s obvious that there are similarities and differences between them. Any time producers are working with samples, there’s the possibility that two different beatmakers can flip the same sample in similar ways. Still, it’s rare that producers will use the same types of drum sounds, the same swing on the rhythm section, same tempo, and so on. Because Spade’s version is a rough mix, you need to listen to each track with a pair of headphones, and you can very clearly hear that young Charles was working off Spade’s skeleton of a track. The whole beat is noticeably beefed up. There are some portions that sound like they have overdubbed vocals and additional layers of keys added, which Charles alluded to in his defense that he actually made the track.
I’m not insinuating that Charles stole this beat of Black Spade’s Myspace page. That seems a little extra. Stealing songs off of Myspace pages doesn’t require much energy, but a little, and I doubt a dude like Charles Hamilton is going in like that. Maybe this Black Spade fella sent the beat to someone (anyone with an internet connection, take your pick), who then in turn gave it to Charles. Charles probably gets a lot of beats emailed to him. So he downloaded it, put it in a folder of beats that he gets from a bazillion producers who send him tracks, he does what he does with it, and here we are now. That doesn’t seem to be too far outside of my realm of imagination. These things happen.
Still, if what Black Spade says is true, that he made the track and just humbly uploaded it to Myspace, it’s basically his word against Charles. Charles says he made it first. So where did Black Spade get this rough version of the track from? And why would he flat out approach you about it after a show at SXSW?
To prove his innocence, Charles sent YN the Pro Tools files for “Shinin,” which he subsequently sent to me. I was expecting to see a session with the whole beat laid out, but when I cracked the session open, all I saw was the raw vocal tracks and a two track of the original instrumental. There was an intro section added. I have no clue why Charles sent this session out. If anything, it’s an admission of his guilt. If he wanted to prove that he was in fact the creator, he should have been able to produce the stems for the track itself (meaning: the individual tracks, with the kick, snare, hi-hat… etc. separated). The date on the session is March 17, 2007. Again, that doesn’t really jibe with what he’s put forth so far, which is that he created the song in 2006.
In reality, this is all a moot point. “Shinin” was available on The Pink Lavalamp, a free downloadable mixtape. If the beat was in fact stolen, it was the backing track on something that never made any money in the traditional sense of the way recorded music earns money for an artist (songwriter) and producer. You could be mad that Charles is performing the song at shows, and earning money in that respect, but other than telling the guy to stop performing it, there’s little that can be done. This is the plight of the producer in the mixtape era. You know who should really be bitching? Frankie Beverly and Maze! They gave one guy a career, and another guy a legitimate internet beef, without you having to do shit but press a few buttons in a computer program. The nerve…—Paul Cantor