Anthony Hamilton: An Original Throwback

Don’t take a double take at your speakers, those throwback vocals aren’t hip hop’s latest sampling of some Bill Withers’ classics, no, it’s 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 […]

Don’t take a double take at your speakers, those throwback vocals aren’t hip

hop’s latest sampling of some Bill Withers’ classics, no, it’s 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 wasn’t until the huge success of Po Folks in 2001 that Hamilton saw a

lane to run through. Having supplied the vocals for the late Tupac’s “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 Hamilton’s 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

I’m From,and spoke with him about his musical journey, industry

frustrations and staying humble on the cusp of gargantuan success. 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,” you’re 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, I’m 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 doesn’t 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 can’t sit

around here, I’m 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 didn’t show, he

never showed, so two or three weeks pass and I still don’t hear anything.

So it’s a couple of months at this point and I’m 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 he’d 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 don’t get too

happy. So I’m at home chilling one day and Sparks drives up with a Suzuki

Side Kick, with six cats already in it, and he’s like ‘you ready.’ I only

had $67 in my pocket…cause I didn’t have that many heads that day. So I

scratch up whatever money I could from my folks, ain’t 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, I’m gone make it, I’m gone make it, I just knew in my gut I was

gone make it, God can’t 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 wasn’t 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 wasn’t 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 Harrell’s 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 that’s how I got to Uptown. I did a great album with Mark

Sparks, but Andre Harrell couldn’t really get it cause it wasn’t what

everybody else was doing at the time, it was different. He knew I had

something special but he couldn’t put his finger on it. I had this rock

song called “Wake Up” (starts singing), but it was hip hop too, but it

wasn’t 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 wasn’t 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 it’s 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 wasn’t special to them cause it wasn’t their


AHHA: But you actually released an album with them?

Anthony Hamilton: Yeah, “XTC”

AHHA: It just wasn’t 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 wouldn’t sell me, he offered them $2 million, but they

still wouldn’t let me go. I felt stuck.

AHHA: That’s a frustrating situation.

Anthony Hamilton: Yeah, I had to sign my publishing away and all, it wasn’t

the deal I thought it was.

AHHA: So that album is someone’s 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 weren’t 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 I’m starting to feel like

it’s just me, but then I started realizing well the last three labels it’s

been him, so maybe I just need to get away from Andre for a minute and it’s

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 ain’t 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, he’s not on this album coming up,

but I know we’re 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 D’Angelo for the Brown Sugar tour. Me, Bilal, and Karen

Benard did background for him.

AHHA: How did you hook up with D’Angelo?

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 D’Angelo’s album, and then Poke would play my album for him, we

were suppose to be like rivals. So that’s 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 didn’t really think I could do


AHHA: Why?

Anthony Hamilton: It takes a certain amount of technical training and

trained ear, you just can’t go and be a background singer, you got to be up

on your s###, 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 Sunshine’s album, I asked them would they allow me to go on the

Voodoo tour with D’Angelo, 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

f###### 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 there’s 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

I’m 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 haven’t 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 couldn’t ever get

it, they just couldn’t 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 wasn’t 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 couldn’t get it. And they already had

Nappy Roots, they really didn’t 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 it’s 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 hadn’t paid for it, so I was using it as my demo. So Jermaine Dupri’s

pop’s was in the audience and he loved my set. He called JD and said that

if you don’t 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 I’m 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,

cat’s 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 didn’t have nothing to do with what

he’s done as a business man, I can separate the two and see what he’s really

brought to the table.

AHHA: And on a business level what did he say that the other labels didn’t?

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 hadn’t signed with him yet, but he wanted

me that bad. Also he didn’t want to change my image or nothing and I liked

that. And ever since I signed with him, it’s 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 it’s 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, it’s

not all about me, that’s what keeps me grounded. I just like what I do, and

I’m comfortable being me, plus, nobody wants to be around an a**hole.

AHHA: So what kind of production can we expect?

Anthony Hamilton: It’s more live, more freedom in the music. It’s not a

lot of drum programs, I mean there are some, but it’s not overly hip hop.

It’s soulful, real soulful. I worked with my band, the Famlee, Mark Batson

who did a lot of India.Arie’s first album, James Poyser who’s worked with

Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, Common, The Roots, D’Angelo, I produced two tracks.

AHHA: You produced on the album as well?

Anthony Hamilton: Yeah, I feel it’s necessary for me to produce, because

when you telling a story and you got other people putting the music to your

story, it’s like there telling some of the story. I feel great about the

album, it’s 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 don’t have nothing against it, but my stuff is not Neo,

it’s so traditional in its sound that you can’t package it up like that and

when I hit the stage you’ll see, I’m not coming with incense, this is not a

dashiki fest, that’s not what this is about, it’s about singing. I don’t

have nothing against the dashiki’s cause I wear them, but that’s not what

it’s about. It’s traditional, authentic soul, it’s free, it’s not free in

the stores (laughs), but it’s free to be what it is.

AHHA: What else are you doing?

Anthony Hamilton: I’ve got two songs and the second single on the new Nappy

Roots album, it’s called “Sick and Tired.”