There is a tradition in classic black music that goes back to the smooth crooning of Sam Cooke, the earthy gritty sound of Otis Redding, the lyrical beauty of Curtis Mayfield and the unfiltered intensity of Donny Hathaway. It's a combination of church-rooted hallelujah praisin' and tell-it-like-it-is storytellin'. Few contemporary artists seem equipped to carry the torch with any sense of authenticity. Anthony Hamilton may be the sole - indeed, soulful - exception. Filling an obvious void in today's marketplace, Anthony's pure unadulterated emotion-filled vocals mixed with a no-holds-barred approach to truth-telling appealed to music buyers worldwide as evidenced by the response to his platinum-plus 2003 set COMIN' FROM WHERE I'M FROM. Simply put, Anthony proved to be the real deal, as audiences discovered during an almost three-year-long road trek performing night-after-night before crowds of - as he puts it - "young thugs, white and black, mothers with babies on their knees, old school G's and kids looking for something they could feel and relate to".
With the release of his much-anticipated set CAN'T LET GO, the Hamilton tradition - born of his Southern roots and the pathway created by soul greats such as Bill Withers, Bobby Womack, Al Green and Marvin Gaye - continued. "I didn't approach doing this new record with the intention of outdoing the last album," says Anthony. "I wanted it to have the same amount of quality, putting raw emotions and experiences to music, you know, re-living as much as possible what I've been through in the past few years of being out there, being on the road, singing songs that keep the listeners interested."
A barber by profession, Hamilton left Charlotte in 1993 for New York City, signing with Andre Harrell's Uptown Records imprint, at the time the epicenter for 'new jack swing' and the bourgeoning hip-hop-soul movement with an all-star roster that included Jodeci, Heavy D, Mary J. Blige and Guy. The label folded soon after he completed his unreleased first album in 1995 and Hamilton switched to MCA which released his widely overlooked debut CD, 1996's XTC. A move to the Los Angeles-based Soulife label (launched in 1999 by his hometown cronies Mark Sparks and Chris Dawley) looked promising and Anthony recorded another album's worth of new material while penning songs for other artists, including Sunshine Anderson ("Last Night") and Donell Jones ("U Know What's Up," "Pushin'").
In 2000, D'Angelo recruited Hamilton to sing background vocals on his worldwide Voodoo Tour. "I went all over the world-Europe, Brazil-and had the best time of my life," Hamilton recalls. But by the time he returned from globetrotting with D'Angelo, the label who had signed him had gone under. "I became depressed," Hamilton confesses. "I was like, 'Why? Lord, why? All this love I have for the music-what's going on?' Still, I kept praying and working and looking for a better deal."
For the next two years, Hamilton kept busy by singing background vocals and appearing on songs by likes of Eve ("Ride Away"), Xzibit ("The Gambler") and 2Pac ("Thugz Mansion"). Finally, in 2002, he received the break he'd been waiting for when he was tapped to sing the catchy chorus on "Po' Folks," the lead single from Nappy Roots' debut album, Watermelon, Chicken and Gritz. Thanks to Hamilton's contribution, the song became an instant smash that was nominated for Best Rap/Song Collaboration at the 2003 Grammys. The day before the ceremony, renowned entertainment attorney L. Londell McMillan, invited Hamilton to close the show at his star-studded Grammy brunch. Blown away by the singer's galvanizing performance, Michael Mauldin, a music industry veteran with a famously keen eye for talent, urged his son, Atlanta hitmaker Jermaine Dupri, to take a meeting with Hamilton. Dupri indulged his father's request and, after absorbing an earful of the singer's work, eagerly signed him to his So So Def imprint within 48 hours.
Anthony's all-important debut for the label signaled his 'arrival' on the music scene after almost a decade of false starts. Rather than leave him embittered, the sometime-rocky road that finally led to the 2003 release of COMIN' FROM WHERE I'M FROM only served to make Anthony stronger - and ready. "Everything that had happened up until that point in my career had been preparing people for my arrival," he reflected just before the album hit the streets. "Back when I was signed to Uptown, my music was labeled 'alternative soul.' Now, people have reference points for my sound..."
Whether termed 'alternative soul,' 'retro-soul' or 'neo-soul,' Anthony's music clearly hit a chord with an audience eager to hear real soul music. COMIN' FROM WHERE I'M FROM, spurred on by the success of its title track, the massive follow-up "Charlene" (which reached No. 4 on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart in the spring of 2004) and other prime cuts such as "Cornbread Pimp" and "Float," not only sold over a million copies but garnered Anthony three history-making Grammy nominations: the album was nominated for Best Contemporary R&B Album while the Hamilton-penned title cut was nominated for both Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance and Best R&B Song (a songwriter's award).
Hitting the road, Hamilton earned much respect and acclaim from veteran critics like Jon Pareles whose New York Times review waxed lyrical on the kind of stomp-down, emotive performances which have now become Anthony's stock-in-trade. "He was preaching love and loyalty," Pareles wrote after seeing his debut at New York's Bottom Line in December 2003, "to his lover, his mama, to his Southern roots." Pareles noted, "He was offering amorous pleasures but his conviction, and his timing. came straight from the church."
For Anthony himself, the last few years on the road ("you know, I am slightly 't-i-e'd!'" he chuckles with a Southern drawl") and the overwhelmingly positive response to COMIN' FROM WHERE I'M FROM are both an affirmation and a validation. "It allowed me to see that what I was talking was necessary, that people really wanted to hear what I had to say. The reaction made me even more of a believer in my own stories. When I would perform some of those songs, I found myself asking, 'did I really go through this?' Yeah, man, the people's response to my music gave me that much more fire!"
Contributed by David Nathan
Interview with Anthony Hamilton
By Melody Charles
He's an everyday soul man who combines his Southern-bred authenticity with a rich, raspy-edged delivery that emanates from a place of sensitivity and strength. On a national tour to promote his fourth studio CD, The Point Of It All (scheduled to drop Dec. 16), 37-year-old Anthony hamilton isn't trying to completely flip the script, but he does want to, in his own words, "get my boogie on" and showcase the growth he's experienced as a man and musician. It was a quick, animated chat, but he did convey his enthusiasm for ...Point, the married life and the virtues of being with a "countrier than corn" brother....
It's good to have you back on the scene Anthony, how are you doing?
"I'm looking forward to things, it's been a minute."
I'm loving the new single "Cool," we need a song like that these days, you know? When you're dumping the couch for change, between paychecks....sometimes staying at home and keeping it simple is best.
"(Laughs) Best go 'head on...come on somebody! You got some good sense. People gotta realize, it don't take all that. You can have all of that and be miserable. All that money and stuff...."
Exactly. Tell me how Point... differs from your last CD, Ain't Nobody Worryin'?
"Well, I want to boogie a little bit, you know? I want to dance, have a good time.I got some more partying songs: there's a lot of fun, uptempo stuff on there. I pretty much wrote it all. You gon' see the bones and think to yourself, 'this boy is a wild and country negro...' (cracks up)"
I can get with that: do you have any favorites?
""I like the title track, 'Fallin' In Love,' 'Soul's On Fire'----it's just a really good album. My wife, Tarsha, is featured on a song called 'The News', the lead song. She's also got an album out right now on iTunes called The McMillian Story. I'm looking forward to really seeing both of our careers come full circle."
Is that hard, having two artists in the same house? You've been married how long, by the way?
"It's been 3 years, we've been together for 5. Most of the time, it makes it great, we know what the other one's going through. (Laughs) She's on my team and I gotta tell myself, 'ain't nobody trying to take your biscuit baby.' "
So, would you saying being married has also impacted your art?
"I'm not heartbroken, but I feel that relationships still bring about their own challenges, and you'll hear a little of that in there. It's about me not allowing myself to totally let go in the relationship. I've always been pretty much on my own, and this one is for the long haul."
It sounds like your describing growing pains, so to speak.
"That's why you do what you do, you know how to word things. Growing pains,yeah...you need conflict to grow; If there's no friction and everything's perfect, you'll never get to a place where you fully know yourself."
Since I'm married to a 'country man' myself, I've gotta say you all are some sincere brothers---when you're in it, you're in it.
"We'll mess around and will break the axle off the car with our bare hands if you try to leave---'Told you I loved you Girl!' (laughs)
You've really raised your profile lately, doing all of these soundtracks and cameos....are you ready for the mainstream, or does it have to get ready for you?
"Whereever I'm comfortable, I'm gonna make room for myself I'm not gonna shave away who I am or what I do as an artist. I'm already where I need to be, and those who gravitate toward me, those are the ones who are supposed to fit."
One last question, thanks for chatting with me Anthony: since you've gone against the grain in your career over the years and its still worked out for you, what advice do you offer anyone just entering the biz?
"Just be raw and honest about yourself, about who you are. They're (the industry) gonna try to tell you that that's not what you want to do, but people want to believe who are you are through your music. If you give them those raw moments, a glimpse of where they want to be, or say what they want to say, man... they'll ride with you til' the wheels fall off."