Dont take a double take at your speakers, those throwback vocals arent hip
hops latest sampling of some Bill Withers classics, no, its the original
sounds of Charlotte, NC native, Anthony Hamilton. Even though the first
time many of us ever heard of Anthony Hamilton was on the hook to the
immensely popular Nappy Roots single Po Folks, Hamilton is no rookie to
the music industry. The unfortunate victim of an industry unable (or
unwilling) to comprehend his innovation, Hamilton found himself working with
label after label and recording several albums worth of music never to be
heard by the masses for nearly ten years.
It wasnt until the huge success of Po Folks in 2001 that Hamilton saw a
lane to run through. Having supplied the vocals for the late Tupacs Thug
Mansion, and having done collaborations with Eve, Xzibit and jazz artist
Roy Hargrove, Hamilton has taken full advantage of his opportunity and plans
on making sure that you never forget the name Anthony Hamilton. His single,
Comin From Where I From, is a perfect example of how Hamiltons butter
rich vocals and effortless delivery combine to make grown folks music with
enough thump for the under 21 crowd. Allhiphop Alternatives caught up to Hamilton in the
mist of the hustle leading up to the release of his album Comin From Where
Im From,and spoke with him about his musical journey, industry
frustrations and staying humble on the cusp of gargantuan success.
AllHipHop.com Alternatives: People love your voice, where you always complimented on your unique
Anthony Hamilton: People where like you can sing, you can sing so I just
kept singing and doing it and people starting saying hey you sound like
Bill Withers, Al Green, Lou Rawls, it was a lot of different sh*t.
AHHA: Although the first time a lot of us saw or heard you was on the Nappy
Roots song Po Folks, youre a veteran of this business.
Anthony Hamilton: Yeah, my first deal was in 1993, my brother had a record
label he was trying to start, but nothing was happening with it, I
eventually knew that I had to leave that so I started networking more. I
use to sing in the clubs in Charlotte, I met Horace Brown and all those
cats, it was like wow, Im in the spotlight. Ya know Jodeci first made it,
and than Horace made it, it felt good cause coming from Charlotte, NC, this
stuff just doesnt happen, it was just amazing to see them make it. They
just persevered and kept going to get to the point where it actually
manifested itself in reality for all our little country friends and people
who had did talent shows all they life it like yo dude, I just cant sit
around here, Im going to do it. So I met Mark Sparks and I sang to his
music, and he asked me did I want to go to New York, I was like sure and
he said he would come by the next day and pick me up, but he didnt show, he
never showed, so two or three weeks pass and I still dont hear anything.
So its a couple of months at this point and Im in the barbershop still
cutting hair and I start getting phone calls at the Barbershop, my family
calling and telling me such-in-such want you to go to New York your family
never take messages good (laughter). So one day when they called, they
actually took a good message and it was Eli, who is my manager now, and Eli
was telling me that Mark Sparks was looking for me.
AHHA: And this is a couple of months after he said hed holla at you?
Anthony Hamilton: Yeah, so I was like whatever, if they come cool, I was
excited still, trust me, but there was a part of me that said dont get too
happy. So Im at home chilling one day and Sparks drives up with a Suzuki
Side Kick, with six cats already in it, and hes like you ready. I only
had $67 in my pocket cause I didnt have that many heads that day. So I
scratch up whatever money I could from my folks, aint nobody really have
none. But we drove all the way up in a cloud of smoke and singing the whole
way to New York 7 deep in a SideKick (laughter). Ya know, we use to stalk
out Jodeci, when they came on tour I would go to the shows man, I would be
like wow, Im gone make it, Im gone make it, I just knew in my gut I was
gone make it, God cant give me this love for singing in vain. When Boys II
Men came in town, me and my partner Chop, slept out in the parking lot and
give them a tape. Nothing ever manifest with that though, it wasnt until I
got to New York and did my demo that I started making any nose.
AHHA: Were did you stay when you got to New York
Anthony Hamilton: We stayed in the studio, or we rode the train, slept in
the car or wherever, or we just walked all night it wasnt that many meals,
Mark held it down for us though. It took me a couple of months before I
could even get in the studio, but my demo eventually did get done though,
and it was tight, it was different. I did this song called (starts singing)
Bring you lovin home to daddy, it was hot. We were doing hip hop with
live instruments and this was in 91. So my demo started making a buzz and
Mark Sparks ran into Jimmy Jenkins, who was Andre Harrells right hand man
and they were starting their own label. So I signed with them. We did a
showcase at D&D studios, and everybody was there, Biggie, Russell, Andre
Harrell, Puffy, everybody, and I sung my ass off and Andre Harrell out bided
all of them and thats how I got to Uptown. I did a great album with Mark
Sparks, but Andre Harrell couldnt really get it cause it wasnt what
everybody else was doing at the time, it was different. He knew I had
something special but he couldnt put his finger on it. I had this rock
song called Wake Up (starts singing), but it was hip hop too, but it
wasnt what Jodeci, or Mary J. Blige or Heavy D so it was like this is too
weird. He actually asked me what are you trying to do, I said I was just
trying to make good music. So Mark and I had a few good songs, but it was
too left or too right, it wasnt center enough for everybody.
AHHA: So what producers put that album together?
Anthony Hamilton: It just so happen that when I signed to Uptown, Poke from
Trackmasters was my A&R, so me and him starting doing it. And it actually
caused a little tension between me and Sparks cause I was bringing in this
other producer on his project, on his baby. But Poke was bringing that heat
man and the music felt good, so I caught between a rock and a hard place,
like damn do I not work with this guy and this music that I love, cause some
of my best songs were done with Poke, or do I stay loyal to Sparks, which I
felt I had been doing all-a-long. I decided to keep working with Poke and I
ended having one of the best albums to never come out. From there Mark and
I started splitting. I kept moving on with the Uptown thing, and I had a
song with Poke on the NY Undercover Soundtrack, called I will Go, we did a
video and everything but Uptown started going through its own internal
stuff with MCA. It ended with Uptown folding, and Andre was leaving so it
was like damn, I was crushed man, cause he believed in me, I had to go to
MCA directly, where the project wasnt special to them cause it wasnt their
AHHA: But you actually released an album with them?
Anthony Hamilton: Yeah, XTC
AHHA: It just wasnt marketed right or what?
Anthony Hamilton: It was just messed up when Andre left, it all fell apart.
All the people who were working on it, their jobs were in jeopardy so
nobody could really focus on it. I wanted to be free and Andre tried to get
me to Motown, but MCA wouldnt sell me, he offered them $2 million, but they
still wouldnt let me go. I felt stuck.
AHHA: Thats a frustrating situation.
Anthony Hamilton: Yeah, I had to sign my publishing away and all, it wasnt
the deal I thought it was.
AHHA: So that album is someones vault somewhere?
Anthony Hamilton: Yep, I want to eventually release it
AHHA: Have they tried to holla at you since then?
Anthony Hamilton: Oh yeah, one of those cats tried to sell it to us at
Soulife for $250,000.
AHHA: How much material do they have?
Anthony Hamilton: Man, nearly two albums worth. While Andre was at Motown,
I was just writing trying to figure out what my next move was and trying to
get another deal. So Andre left Motown after unsuccessfully turning them
around, and he formed Harrell Entertainment, which by that time MCA knew
that they werent doing anything with me so they sold me to Andre. And
Harrell Entertainment was suppose to be distributed through Sony, that was
the reason I signed with Andre again, but his relationship with Sony became
a little shaky and it fell through. At this point Im starting to feel like
its just me, but then I started realizing well the last three labels its
been him, so maybe I just need to get away from Andre for a minute and its
time for me to move on.
AHHA: So that was in 1998?
Anthony Hamilton: Yeah, and so then Mark Sparks resurfaced and he had a new
label called Soulife and he had Sunshine Anderson and he made me a sweet
offer so I signed with Soulife cause I aint have no where else to go, my
back was against the wall and money was running short. So we started
working and the chemistry was there man, we were doing two and three songs a
day, me and Mark got something special, hes not on this album coming up,
but I know were gona work again, we gotta work on my next album. So in
1999, while I was still working with Soulife, I landed a little gig singing
background with DAngelo for the Brown Sugar tour. Me, Bilal, and Karen
Benard did background for him.
AHHA: How did you hook up with DAngelo?
Anthony Hamilton: When I was signed to Uptown and I was recording my album,
Kedar [Massenburg] and Poke were friends and they would kinda battle by play
me some of DAngelos album, and then Poke would play my album for him, we
were suppose to be like rivals. So thats how he knew about my voice and he
wanted to know what happen to this guys voice he had heard and he just
contacted my management. At first I didnt really think I could do
Anthony Hamilton: It takes a certain amount of technical training and
trained ear, you just cant go and be a background singer, you got to be up
on your shit, you got to know how to deliver, how to sit back and be quiet.
AHHA: Did that experience add Discipline to your voice?
Anthony Hamilton: It added a lot of discipline So, while Soulife was
finishing up Sunshines album, I asked them would they allow me to go on the
Voodoo tour with DAngelo, cause I felt like I need that at the moment.
They said yes and killed it. But when I got back from the tour, they were
telling me that Soulife was falling apart and we were having creative
differences and stuff. I felt like damn, I keep on jumping to the same
fucking situation. It really started hurting my spirit and I started going
through a little depression. But the tour, which was still going on, was
good therapy, it made me feel like theres still a chance. So I just buried
myself into the Voodoo Tour. So when the tour was over, Mark was asking me
was gone stay with him or go with the investors, and I was telling him that
Im comfortable here, and that I think the company can work out. So I
stayed and he left, and we kinda drifted apart as friends. I havent spoken
to him, but I still got love for him. In the course of being signed with
Soulife, I had a relationship with Atlantic, but Atlantic couldnt ever get
it, they just couldnt get my sound.
AHHA: Is your relationship with Atlantic how you landed on the Po Folks
Anthony Hamilton: Yeah, the song was cut already, but they felt it was
missing something, so Mike Caren their A&R approached me with it and I sung
it how I would sing it. And a Grammy nomination later, here we are.
AHHA: Now you said Atlantic wasnt really felling what you were trying to
do, after Po Folks, blew up did they try to put more energy into to you?
Anthony Hamilton: Yeah, they tried, they attempted to try, the talk was
there, but to no avail man, they just couldnt get it. And they already had
Nappy Roots, they really didnt need me, other than to just go out on dates
with them. I started feeling like I was being pimped.
AHHA: So how did you land the song with Tupac?
Anthony Hamilton: The lady who was over Tupac called me and said she wanted
me. She said she say me on the Po Folks video and they wanted and different
sound? Two days later they flew me out and I did the track. Doing this
track was a real notch up, cause its like doing music with Martin Luther
King Jr., so I was in a real nice space and people started really asking
AHH: So what did you do at this point?
Anthony Hamilton: Well, the Grammy nomination lead to me performing at the
Grammy brunch and I sang my ass off. It was some material from Soulife, but
they hadnt paid for it, so I was using it as my demo. So Jermaine Dupris
pops was in the audience and he loved my set. He called JD and said that
if you dont have a meeting with this guy, you stupid. So JD was kinda like
yeah whatever, but he set up the meeting anyway and he listened to my demo.
He was real quiet when he first walked in but by the fourth song he was like
did you hear that muthaf**ker singing, and by the sixth, which was my
current single Comin From Where Im From, he lost his mind. He played it
for LA Reid and they were ready to deal right then. He was hitting me up
everyday on two-way and the phone, saying that if I get Anthony Hamilton,
cats in gone be sick.
AHHA: You were being courted by a lot of labels, Shady/Aftermath, Electra,
ect., and Jermaine Dupri was just coming away from some turbulent
situations, what gave you confidence that So So Def was for you?
Anthony Hamilton: His personal stuff didnt have nothing to do with what
hes done as a business man, I can separate the two and see what hes really
brought to the table.
AHHA: And on a business level what did he say that the other labels didnt?
Anthony Hamilton: No middle man, a genuine interest, himself as the
president of the company. I feel like I made the best decision, because
Jermaine has made R&B work before, and I figured that if he understands R&B,
he understands Soul, and if he understands Hip Hop, than he understands
young Soul. But you know what really did it, is he told everybody he had me
already, I was flattered because I hadnt signed with him yet, but he wanted
me that bad. Also he didnt want to change my image or nothing and I liked
that. And ever since I signed with him, its been MTV, BET, and VH1.
AHHA: How does the family back home feel about it?
Anthony Hamilton: Everybody happy man.
AHHA: Just like Nappy Roots, a lot of people talk about how humble you are?
Anthony Hamilton: Man, that comes from not having, and just being grateful
for what you do have. The way I was brought up man, you have nothing at all
times pretty much, and its like who am I not to be humble when there are so
many people out there who can do what I do, could of choose anybody, its
not all about me, thats what keeps me grounded. I just like what I do, and
Im comfortable being me, plus, nobody wants to be around an a**hole.
AHHA: So what kind of production can we expect?
Anthony Hamilton: Its more live, more freedom in the music. Its not a
lot of drum programs, I mean there are some, but its not overly hip hop.
Its soulful, real soulful. I worked with my band, the Famlee, Mark Batson
who did a lot of India.Aries first album, James Poyser whos worked with
Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, Common, The Roots, DAngelo, I produced two tracks.
AHHA: You produced on the album as well?
Anthony Hamilton: Yeah, I feel its necessary for me to produce, because
when you telling a story and you got other people putting the music to your
story, its like there telling some of the story. I feel great about the
album, its well rounded, something on there for everybody.
AHHA: What are your thoughts on the industry trying to take a cat like you
and package in that whole Neo-Soul thing so they can sell you?
Anthony Hamilton: I dont have nothing against it, but my stuff is not Neo,
its so traditional in its sound that you cant package it up like that and
when I hit the stage youll see, Im not coming with incense, this is not a
dashiki fest, thats not what this is about, its about singing. I dont
have nothing against the dashikis cause I wear them, but thats not what
its about. Its traditional, authentic soul, its free, its not free in
the stores (laughs), but its free to be what it is.
AHHA: What else are you doing?
Anthony Hamilton: Ive got two songs and the second single on the new Nappy
Roots album, its called Sick and Tired.