It’s been a long road since his days as a Comox Valley teen when Chris Hamilton was dealing with complications arising from his sexuality. He experimented with drugs and alcohol to cope with self-doubt. By the time he was 12 he was smoking dope and drinking every couple of weeks. As a bisexual rapper known in the hip-hop world as Ill Tone, the Vancouver-based Hamilton continues to deal with the challenges posed by what he calls “the most homophobic industry on earth.” But he has managed to sniff the sweet smell of success: he’s toured throughout Canada and Europe, opened for various hip-hop legends, and charted three releases that reached the top five for hip hop on Alternative Radio in Canada.
One reviewer called his debut recording, Bringin’ the Hope Back, a “therapeutic experience.”
A certified sound engineer, the 30-year-old has received a Vancouver Island Music Award nomination. Aside from music, Hamilton also works as a political canvasser for Burnaby South NDP candidate Kennedy Stewart.
Ill Tone took part in a recent Q and A with The Record.
How many albums have you recorded?
My discography’s comprised of one full-length album, three commercially released mixtapes, and two EPs (extended play). One of them, titled Hope, was just a preview of the full-length album. My most recent, Up In My Head, is probably the work I’m most proud of. I produced or co-produced all the beats, wrote all the lyrics, and recorded and engineered all the songs at home on a zero dollar budget.
Would you say that Bringin’ the Hope Back contains material that is hard-hitting and honest?
It definitely depicts some of the darker days of my life. I feel that, as a lyricist, it’s important to be honest with listeners. I gained a lot of positive praise regarding that album from both press publications across the country and fans of the music. Many people contacted me to say they related to the material and that it helped them with their own struggles, knowing they weren’t alone.
You’ve toured many other countries. Were they all in Europe?
Other than Canada, which I’ve toured throughout fairly extensively, all of the other countries I toured in were in Europe. I travel a fair bit and have visited places in Central America and Asia, but many European nations show great support for lyrically-driven hip hop so it’s an easy continent to capitalize on regarding live shows. So far, I’ve rocked shows in Norway, Poland, Italy, Germany, Hungary, Serbia, the Netherlands and Belgium. I went to the Netherlands and Belgium as a headliner or co-headliner and all the shows were packed. It was unreal. The other countries I toured with the legendary Beatnuts.
You say you’ve opened for 20 or 30 hip-hop legends. Could you name a few?
I’ve opened for a lot of world class hip-hop artists, that’s for sure.
To name a few: Rakim, Talib Kweli, Tech N9ne, Xzibit, Pete Rock & CL Smooth, Digable Planets, and Maestro Fresh Wes (the Godfather of Canadian Hip Hop). Wes was an important one because of who he is and what he’s done for our country’s hip-hop scene, also because he was the first notable artist I opened for.
Is it accurate to say you don’t know of any other bisexual rappers in Canada, or the world?
As far as it goes for other gay or bisexual rappers, I think there might be a few females who have come out but not too many, if any, males. Certain rappers have rumours in circulation concerning their sexuality but haven’t taken the leap-of-faith of coming out to the hip-hop community. There was this one American MC back in the late-90s or early-2000s that I read about in a hip-hop magazine, but I don’t think he really did any touring or anything. I think his situation was more of just a gimmicky thing than anything else. I can’t remember his exact name, but I think it was some weirdly spelled variation of “Caution.” As far as I know, I’m the first non-straight male rapper in Canadian history. I’m sure they’re out there, but I haven’t heard about ‘em yet!
You’re very open about your struggles growing up. Was there anyone in your family with whom you could confide about your sexuality?
I didn’t feel as if there was anyone I could confide in regarding my sexuality. In hindsight, I could’ve told my mom because she loves me unconditionally, as I do her, but it didn’t seem like I could say anything when I was living within that household. There was a lot of casual homophobia purveyed by at least one other member of the family. I lived in perpetual fear of being disowned if I told the truth. I never came out to anyone until I was 22 or 23 and beyond that, it still took another three or four years before I started telling anyone within the hip-hop world.
By coming out, do you hope other rappers will be inspired to do the same?
I’m not trying to blaze a trail or anything, I’m just trying to continue being honest about who I am, and feel that it’s important to portray that honesty through my music career, and in my everyday life. I don’t think I’m a well known enough artist to have that great of an impact, but at least I can be an honest individual in an industry full of dishonesty.
Any hip hop artists who need audio engineering from someone with a bachelor’s in engineering and production can email Ill Tone at firstname.lastname@example.org
To see the official music video for the song Bringin’ the Hope Back go to bit.ly/1K6W5oh