Rapper Charles Hamilton was only three or four years old, growing up in Cleveland, when Sonic the Hedgehog took hold of him. He was parked in front of the family TV, but a video game controller wasn’t even in his hands. Hamilton didn’t need to experience Sonic’s gameplay to fall in love. All it took was the demo reel the iconic 1991 video game would run through when its main menu sat idle for long enough.

“I was amazed,” Hamilton says. “Watching Sonic take over the world was all I needed to see to believe I could do anything.”

Almost two decades after staring entranced at that demo reel, Hamilton landed major-label deals and magazine covers by fully incorporating Sonic the Hedgehog into his identity. In 2008, Hamilton released Sonic the Hamilton, a mixtape of tracks entirely inspired by Sega’s speedy mascot character. He sampled everything Sonic—from the music that played over levels in 1991’s Sonic the Hedgehog and its 1992 sequel, to sound effects of Sonic grabbing bubbles of oxygen underwater or racing to finish a level before the game’s timer expired, to bits of the character’s self-titled 1993 Saturday morning cartoon show.

“The mixtape was basically me believing I'm Sonic,” Hamilton, who signed a deal with Republic and appeared in an episode of Empire last year, explains. “I never believed in myself, so when I created the opportunity to believe I was my hero, my self-esteem jumped through the roof.”

Heroism is what Hamilton says draws him, like millions of other fans, to the character of Sonic. “He never gives up,” the rapper says. “He believes in himself and is a team leader. He also has a great heart. He risks his life for the entrapped wildlife [in the Sonic games and cartoons], and instead of sticking around to receive glory, he's off to save another life. That's what I love about him."

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