Anthony Hamilton Biography
by Andy Kellman
Anthony Hamilton delivers some of the most relatable songs in post-millennial R&B with a voice distinguished by its ruggedness as much as its grace. The singer struggled for the better part of the 1990s as he recorded two albums that went unreleased. He finally achieved his hard-fought commercial breakthrough the next decade with Comin’ from Where I’m From (2003), which earned a platinum certification and five Grammy nominations. Hamilton’s vocals and no-nonsense manner prompted comparisons to the likes of Bill Withers and Bobby Womack, and it was through a collaboration with another soul legend, Al Green, that he earned his first Grammy win with the duet “You’ve Got the Love I Need” (2008). While he could have continued to crank out rustic throwback soul, Hamilton expanded his sound in the 2010s and added to his tally of Grammy-nominated Top Ten R&B/hip-hop recordings with Back to Love (2011) and What I’m Feelin’ (2016) among his warmest-received releases yet. After roughly a decade-and-a-half with So So Def/Arista and RCA, Hamilton established his own label with Love Is the New Black (2021).
The Charlotte, North Carolina native got his start at age ten in his church’s choir. As a teenager, he progressed by performing solo at various nightclubs and talent shows. In 1993, while in his early twenties, he moved to New York City, where he signed with André Harrell‘s Uptown Records, a major source of the new jack swing sound and home to artists such as Jodeci and Mary J. Blige. By 1995, Uptown was set to push Hamilton’s debut album, but the company went out of business, leaving the album unreleased.
Hamilton moved to Uptown parent label MCA and was finally able to release that debut album, XTC, in 1996. Only one song, “Nobody Else,” was released as a single. It peaked at number 63 on Billboard’s R&B/hip-hop chart, and the disc quickly disappeared from view. Another transitional period followed. Hamilton joined Soulife, an upstart venture run by some of his old Charlotte friends. While there, he laid down tracks for another solo album and wrote songs for Donell Jones and Sunshine Anderson. In 2000, he accepted an invitation to sing backup vocals on D’Angelo‘s Voodoo tour and traveled the world. Upon returning home, Hamilton discovered that Soulife had also gone belly up.
With a second album unreleased, Hamilton spent the next two years selling songs and singing backup for artists including 2Pac and Eve. Then, in 2002, a lead spot singing on the Nappy Roots track “Po’ Folks” gave Hamilton some much-needed attention, as the song was nominated for the Best Rap/Sung Collaboration at the 2003 Grammy Awards. A subsequent gig performing at a Grammy luncheon led to a meeting with producer Jermaine Dupri, who signed the singer to his So So Def label. Technically his fourth album, Comin’ from Where I’m From bowed for So So Def/Arista in 2003 and featured “Charlene,” a classic-sounding Southern soul ballad. Co-written and produced by Mark Batson, it reached number three on the R&B/hip-hop chart. In 2005, some of Hamilton’s Soulife recordings were dusted off and polished for release as Soulife, and Ain’t Nobody Worryin’, a new set, followed later in the year. It was Hamilton’s third consecutive Top Ten R&B album. Southern Comfort, released in 2007, was another compilation of previously unreleased recordings.
The Point of It All, a proper studio release, was issued near the end of 2008. It was overshadowed by Hamilton’s contribution to Al Green‘s “You’ve Got the Love I Need,” which won a 2009 Grammy for Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance — that is, until the following Grammy ceremony, when the set received a nomination for Best Traditional R&B Album, with two of its songs also nominated in separate categories. Back to Love, which featured three songs co-written with Babyface, followed in 2011 and went Top Ten R&B as well. Home for the Holidays stuffed stockings in 2014, but Hamilton didn’t release another proper studio album for several years. He did add to his already considerable quantity of high-profile collaborations with guest appearances on tracks by Big K.R.I.T., Nas, and Rick Ross. Additionally, he partnered with Marsha Ambrosius for a Grammy-nominated version of Stevie Wonder‘s “As,” recorded for the soundtrack of The Best Man Holiday, and also contributed to the Django Unchained soundtrack.
Hamilton ended his major-label affiliation in 2016 with What I’m Feelin’, a full-length that reunited him with Mark Batson and became his sixth straight Top Ten R&B/hip-hop album, entering at number two, his highest placement on the chart. A subsequent collaboration with Shirley Caesar on “It’s Alright, It’s OK” was nominated for a Grammy in the category of Best Gospel Performance/Song. At the following ceremony in 2018, “What I’m Feelin'” itself was up for Best Traditional R&B Performance. The diverse likes of Gorillaz, Boosie Badazz, E-40, and Amanda Black all released Hamilton-assisted songs by the end the decade. Hamilton entered the 2020s as an independent artist. The 2020 single “Mercy,” featuring Tamika Mallory, launched his My Music Box label. That song was among the selections on the 2021 full-length Love Is the New Black.