A soul singer who drew comparisons to such classic vocalists as Bill Withers and Bobby Womack, Anthony Hamilton struggled for the better part of the 1990s as two of his albums went unreleased. While he didn’t always get the label support his talent deserved, Hamilton established himself during the 2000s as one of the rawest, most singular, and relatable voices in R&B. He did so while racking up several Top Ten R&B albums and a handful of Grammy nominations.
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 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 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 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. Although he didn’t release another proper studio album for several years, he added 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 contributed to the Django Unchained soundtrack. Released in 2016, What I’m Feelin’ reunited the singer with Mark Batson.