Chris Hamilton, aka Ill Tone, raps of brokenness and hopelessness.
They are concepts the artist once knew intimately.
But while he cannot predict the future, nor does he wish to, Hamilton believes that performing his beloved hip hop has rescued him from a thick fog of alcohol and drug abuse, saving his life in the process.
The 26-year-old is on a high, with the release of his debut CD, Bringin’ the Hope Back, Feb. 27, and the prospect of Ill Tone and The Kids joining the critically acclaimed Masta Ace and Stricklin & Wordsworth on a cross-Canada tour – a tour that stops in Salmon Arm Sunday, March 17 at the Downtown Activity Centre in an event presented by West Ave Productions.
The past year has been very good; the 15 prior to that were not so hot.
Hamilton began his dance with the devil, stealing beer and alcohol from his parents – just for the thrill of doing something he knew was wrong.
“By the time I was 15 and going into Grade 10 I literally drank every day, I was hammered,” he says, noting the alcohol abuse segued into ecstasy, then cocaine and dropping out of school. “I was loaded every night on everything you can think of.”
A year later, Hamilton switched schools and managed to graduate, despite doing ecstasy four or five times a day.
Graduation year was followed by three “brutal” car accidents, two of which were caused by his intoxication.
He escaped from them with cuts and bruises and nobody died.
At the age of 19, in a Vancouver Island courtroom where he was given two-years probation instead of the two-year prison sentence the Crown had requested, Hamilton knew he had a serious problem.
He went into a treatment centre with the idea that he would give something up. Two months later he left and managed to get by with alcohol only for about eight or nine months.
Hamilton moved to the Lower Mainland when he was 21 and increased his intake of both booze and coke, sinking further into addiction.
Over the next four years he became a regular in the Vancouver nightlife scene, his relationships were failing and, when he couldn’t find a supply of coke, turned to crack.
“When you start to do that it’s a pretty quick downward spiral for sure,” he says, pointing out that as messed up as his life was, he always managed to keep his music moving forward.
“I knew I didn’t have much time left, I was starting to bomb at shows because I was so bombed,” he says. “I knew everything was gonna go to crazy.”
In January 2012, Hamilton again entered rehab, this time with a different attitude and a commitment to getting well that he did not have as a teen.
The music provided the creative outlet Hamilton needed to release his pain and re-affirm positive messages – pain and messages like he offers in Bringin’ the Hope Back.
Things can get hopeless/ hopeless.
Thinking of brokeness/brokeness.
Sometimes, Even I don’t know Chris,
You wouldn’t know yourself on a two-month dope binge – broken.
Things that I’ve spoken/spoken.
Closed doors that were open
but when I get to feelin’ hopeless and all that, What?”
No worries, I’m bringin’ the hope back.”
By writing the words and reading them “a million times” in order to memorize them for performances, Hamilton says the messages do stick with him and the music gives him the focus he needs to stay well.
“It’s a better way to live; I don’t ever want to feel like that again,” he says, pointing out he can never be sure he will never relapse but is doing everything he can to prevent that from happening. “I am sober right now and that’s awesome. I’ve been sober for over a year, but I am focused on today.”
He has focused too on renewing relationships with his family and friends.
“I can tell sometimes my mom walks on eggshells and I was not always welcome in my own home,” he says, happily explaining Christmas at home this year was the first one in many years. “It’s been a journey to rebuild the relationships – friends who wouldn’t have anything to do with me are good friends again.”
Hamilton says he doesn’t preach to anyone else about the danger of doing drugs and alcohol. But if someone offers him a beer, he doesn’t just say ‘no thanks,” he explains why he won’t have one and what it’s like when drugs and alcohol take over your soul .
“The drugs are pushin’ my buttons/
Until I’m hurtin’ for somethin,’ then I’m turnin’ up dirty and rotten
Early in mornin’, whole family nearly in mournin’
Over the snortin’, it’s a horrible moral abortion…”
Clean for more than a year, Hamilton looks forward to every day and is hoping his new CD and the tour will take his career to new heights.
“Music is my life,” he says. “And I’d rather be a workaholic than an alcoholic.”
A mixtape Hamilton released at Christmas is currently number five on the Canadian radio hip hop charts and he has opened for such popular hip hop acts as Xzibit, Talib Kweli, and Jeru the Damaja… among others.
“I collaborated with recent Juno nominee Jasmin Parkin of Mother Mother on a song that is on the new album,” he says. “I also collaborated with Kyprios, one of the most acclaimed hip hop artists in the country and another Juno nominee.”
The March 17 show stars Masta Ace with special guest Stricklin Wordsworth and also features Emotionz, Cloth Brothers, Ace One, JDK Nonstop, Immaculate and Day Shaw Voo.
The show begins at 6 p.m. Tickets are $25 at the door or $20 prior to the show at Pinz and Needlz Board Shop or JJ’s Hemp Hollow.