After a public flameout and several years deliberately spent out of the spotlight, Charles Hamilton is back—and in a big way. The once-prolific Harlem rapper and former FADER cover star is working with a new management company and has signed with Republic Records; tonight, he'll cement his return to pop culture with a performance of his and Rita Ora's sweeping new single "NY Raining"—his first since 2008's "Brooklyn Girls"—for the legendary Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard) on the two-hour season finale of Fox's hit series Empire. He refused to spoil the episode ahead of its airing when we met with him in New York last week, but he did open up about his return to music and the ways he feels the show reflects his personal and professional life.
How did you end up on Empire? Ironically, my old A&R from Interscope heard I was back in the circle and was like, "Anything I could do to help?" They selected "NY Raining" for the soundtrack, and they liked the song so much that they wanted me to appear on the show. I'm just performing—but apparently [Lucious' son Andre] has bipolar disorder, which I was diagnosed with.
Do you feel the portrayal of the disease is accurate? They're not doing a bad job. [When you're diagnosed with bipolar disorder], you get intensely angry about the smallest things, and I'm trying to search within to find out exactly how I respond to everybody while having this condition. It's not something you can take lightly. I'm sure [actor Trei Byers] did his homework to play the role.
Do think the show portrays the music industry correctly? Certain sides, yeah. There's a rough side to hip-hop—the marketing, promotion—so [on Empire] you're getting a pretty in-depth look at how things go down. You gotta have heart if you're gonna do this, especially if you're an urban upstart—there's some cutthroat people out there. The scene that I'm in is intense—like, when you see it, you're gonna be like, "Wow, this kind of stuff happens in the music business."
How did "NY Raining" come together? I started writing it as a vent, and then I started massaging the record more—once I heard the hook, I was like, "Okay, let me relax a little bit more." It started off a little rough around the edges, but the more I got into the song, the more my passion got into it, so I was like, "Alright, maybe I can chill out a little bit." I'm doing this for the girl I'm talking about in the song—I've made a lot of the changes in my music lately because of love.