Born c. 1971 in Charlotte, NC; married Tarsha McMillian (a gospel vocalist), 2005; children: Anthony, Tristen, Romeiro. Addresses: Record company--So So Def Recordings, 1350 Spring St. NW, #750, Atlanta, GA 30309. Website--Anthony Hamilton Official Website: http://www.anthonyhamilton.com.
"My music is like the perfect haircut--a Friday-night cut!" neo-soul vocalist and former barber Anthony Hamilton told Dimitri Ehrlich of Interview. "It makes you feel like wanting to put on some nice clothes to go out and have a good time." Plenty of music fans apparently agreed, for Hamilton's rough, impassioned vocals, strongly reminiscent of the classic soul and R&B vocalists of the 1970s, exploded in popularity in the mid-2000s. Hamilton was seasoned by a decade of professional frustration, making it all the sweeter when his hit albums Comin' from Where I'm From (2003) and Ain't Nobody Worryin' (2005) entered the top five of Billboard magazine's Hip-Hop/R&B albums sales chart and the top 20 of the magazine's Billboard 200 chart.
Hamilton was a native of Charlotte, North Carolina. Various inconsistent figures have been given for his age, but he told Bill Withers of Interview in February of 2006 that he was 35, and several other interviews from the end of the previous year listed his age as 34. Thus he was probably born in 1971, a date that would place him in his early 20s as he began his major-label career. Hamilton has played up his Southern roots and pointed to his discipline-heavy upbringing as one source of his gritty vocals: "I got whooped with a big ole country belt," he was quoted as saying in the Buffalo News.
Worked Off Energy by Singing
Hamilton's large family was religious. When he was little, the only secular music he was allowed to hear in the house came from Elvis Presley or from the television country variety show Hee Haw. "Then there was church," Hamilton recalled to Lorraine Ali of Newsweek. "My mom would give me a butterscotch, then a peppermint, then pinch me 'cause I was fidgeting--but I was full of sugar! The only way I could move around was if I sung." Hamilton made his performing debut with his church choir at age ten. Another major influence on Hamilton was his grandmother, whom he saw collapse and die at home. "God is embedded in my mind, in my soul," he explained to Withers. "That's what my grandmother was about, and I can't disconnect from it." After high school Hamilton became a licensed barber.
Despite the strong religious influence in his family, Hamilton did what he described to Tonya Jameson of the Charlotte Observer as "laying and playing around" after he moved north from Charlotte to Englewood, New Jersey. He fathered a son, Anthony, when he was 18, and continued to help raise him (and, later, another son) after his relationship with the mother broke up. Hamilton moved to New York's Harlem neighborhood and began to make some contacts in the city's music scene. With the hard-edged R&B known as new jack swing on the rise, Hamilton was spotted by producer and fellow Charlotte native Mark Sparks and signed to the Uptown label, where Mary J. Blige and onetime Charlotte group Jodeci ruled the roost.
Thus began Hamilton's frustrating pathway through the maze of record industry politics, as several of his recordings disappeared from the radar just as he seemed to be nearing a breakthrough. His problems came partly from bad luck, and partly from the fact that while new jack swing and other forms of urban neo-soul were well underway in the 1990s, Hamilton's deeper rural-Southern sound had to wait until other Southern African-American acts began to drawl their way across the radio dial. By 1995 Hamilton had recorded more than enough music for a debut album, but Uptown went bankrupt. His album XTC was released by Uptown's parent company, MCA, in 1996, but it was lost in the restructuring shuffle, given little promotional backing, and allowed to disappear without a trace.
Toured with D'Angelo
Other musicians recognized Hamilton's talents, and he was able to land compositions on albums by Sunshine Anderson ("Last Night") and Donell Jones ("U Know What's Up" and "Pushin'") while looking for another record deal. In 1999 Sparks cofounded a new Los Angeles label, Soulife, and signed Hamilton. About a dozen tracks had been recorded by the time D'Angelo hired Hamilton as a backup singer for a 2000 international tour. The tour was an exciting event for the former barber. "I went all over the world--Europe, Brazil--and had the best time of my life," he told Hip Online. But he returned to the United States to find that Soulife, too, had gone bankrupt.
Depressed about his prospects, Hamilton hung on, making background vocal appearances on tracks by Eve and other artists. He began dating Cleveland native Tarsha McMillian, a gospel singer who later sang backup on his own recordings. The two married in 2005. Finally Hamilton got a break in his favor: he contributed the chorus vocal ("All my life been po'/But it really don't matter no mo'") to the Nappy Roots hit "Po' Folks," which won a Grammy nomination for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration. Hamilton performed at an industry pre-Grammy brunch with such stars as Alicia Keys and Prince in attendance. In a situation where everyone else was dressed to the nines, Hamilton came in wearing his trademark trucker's cap. It was both a personal protest and a shrewd move. "I was angry at the music industry for the mess they were putting on the radio," he explained to Ali. "It was all pretty and dressed up, but it said nothin'! I came in as dusty as I could. That way, there was nothing to concentrate on but my music, and I sung like it was my last shot."
The performance inspired music executive Michael Mauldlin to call his son Jermaine Dupri, producer and head of Atlanta's hot So So Def label, and tell him to audition Hamilton without delay. Within 48 hours of meeting Dupri, Hamilton had been signed to So So Def. His album Comin' from Where I'm From was released in 2003 and sold 1.2 million copies, even though Hamilton's name was mostly unknown to the music public. His denim-and-cap look diverged completely from the name fashions and jewelry of other African-American male artists of the day. The single "Charlene," a classic romantic soul ballad, was one of the major urban radio hits of the year, and the album earned Hamilton three Grammy nominations.
Best R&B Release
Sales of that album built slowly through word of mouth, and interest in Hamilton's earlier recordings developed. Atlantic released a group of the Soulife sides under the title Soulife in 2005, and Hamilton's sophomore So So Def release, Ain't Nobody Worryin', followed later that year. Whereas many hip-hop and R&B albums featured one or more high-profile guest stars, Hamilton went it alone. The sense of the album's title was not that people shouldn't worry, but that sometimes they needed to do a bit more worrying, The album contained several songs, including "Preacher's Daughter" and the title track, that looked back to the social commentary of 1970s vocalist Marvin Gaye. The album also contained a generous sampling of love songs as well as "Sista Big Bones," a good-natured ode to well-built women. People called the new album the best R&B release of the year. Tom Sinclair of Entertainment Weekly declared that "Hamilton's Southern-fried slow jams go down easier than a plate of grits and gravy," and the album climbed the charts in early 2006, on track to match or eclipse the performance of Comin' from Where I'm From.
Gaye was one of several 1970s artists to whom Hamilton was often compared; others included Al Green, Bobby Womack, and Bill Withers. Hamilton's voice had an unusual coarse timbre, and much of his material looked back to classic styles. Many of his songs used an organ, and there was a religious undertone to some of them. Yet his music did not seem exclusively retro or old-school. A variety of producers employed on his recordings created smooth, modern sonic backdrops--evocations of classic soul instrumental sounds rather than reproductions of them--that made Hamilton's music fit in with Southern hip-hop styles. As much as any other artist, Anthony Hamilton demonstrated the continuing vitality of older styles of soul and R&B in an era dominated by hip-hop.
by James M. Manheim
Anthony Hamilton's Career
Worked as barber in Charlotte, NC; moved to Englewood, NJ; moved to New York City, 1993; signed to Uptown label; debut album XTC released with little promotion by parent company MCA after Uptown's demise, 1996; signed to Soulife label; toured with D'Angelo but returned to find Soulife defunct, 2000; wrote songs for Donell Jones, Eve, and other artists; sang lead vocal on Nappy Roots hit "Po' Folks," 2002; signed to So So Def label, released Comin' from Where I'm From, 2003; released Ain't Nobody Worryin', 2005.
- Selected discography
- XTC MCA, 1996.
- Comin' from Where I'm From So So Def, 2003.
- Soulife Atlantic/Rhino, 2005.
- Ain't Nobody Worryin' So So Def, 2005.
- Buffalo News, December 18, 2005, p. G8.
- Charlotte Observer, December 22, 2005.
- Entertainment Weekly, December 16, 2005, p. 79.
- Essence, December 2003, p. 148.
- Interview, September 2003, p. 112; February 2006, p. 116.
- Jet, February 13, 2006, p. 22.
- Newsweek, January 9, 2006, p. 54.
- People, October 13, 2004, p. 44.
- "Anthony Hamilton," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (March 4, 2006).
- "Anthony Hamilton," Hip Online, http://www.hiponline.com (March 4, 2006).