Fans of music-loving R&B singer Anthony Hamilton may be surprised to hear that growing up in Charlotte he was just as likely to be found watching “Hee Haw” and “The Lawrence Welk Show” as “Soul Train.”
If you go
What: Anthony HamiltonWhen: 8 p.m. FridayWhere: North Charleston Performing Arts Center, 5001 Coliseum DrivePrice: $49.50-$69.50For more info: www.northcharlestoncoliseum pac.com
Since introducing himself to a national audience by singing the backing chorus on “Po’ Folks,” hip-hop group Nappy Roots’ Grammy-nominated 2002 track, Hamilton’s name has been virtually synonymous with modern soul music.
But his solo work maintains a deep Southern flavor with tracks like “Cornbread, Fish, and Collard Greens.” That song landed second on the tracklist of 2003’s “Comin’ From Where I’m From,” his solo follow-up to “Po’ Folks.”
After releasing his debut album, Hamilton backed rapper Jadakiss on his 2004 single, “Why,” garnering another Grammy nomination.
The collaborations and 2003 solo release brewed a perfect storm to blow the singer into the limelight, vastly eclipsing Hamilton’s only previous full-length album, 1996’s “XTC.” By December 2004, on the strength of the smash hit single “Charlene,” “Comin’ From Where I’m From” had sold 1.2 million copies.
“That was the moment when everything started moving at the same time,” Hamilton said in a phone interview with Charleston Scene.
“ ‘Po’ Folks’ got a lot of play on BET and VH1, and being a part of such a great song really sets you up. People want more, and after that, I was good money. I had the hip-hop community and the R&B community, and the Nappy Roots project kind of solidified my story: the grungy trucker dude, moving through love and moving through life. ‘Charlene’ came out, and people were like, ‘Oh, my God, really?’ It was a one-two punch; jam-jam.”
Appealing to the R&B and hip-hop crowds has its benefits and drawbacks, Hamilton said. The R&B genre grew into “adult contemporary” during the ’90s, discouraging a younger generation who were far more interested in Tupac than Luther Vandross.
“You’d have great R&B, but it was attached to a hip-hop song,” explains Hamilton. “So when I came out with a great R&B song, people were like, ‘Wow, this stuff sounds good.’ It’s almost like the genre had a rebirth, and I’ve been one of the guys to help it grow.”
The downside for Hamilton is that he’s constantly walking a thin line between being too slow for the younger generation and being too hip-hop for the older ones.
“If it’s too R&B, you get put over in the old folks’ line,” he laughs. “If it’s not up-tempo, it can keep you from being in the mainstream.”
Still, he appeals to multiple generations of music fans, generating common ground between the tastes of parents and their children.
“Then they turn Grandma on to it, and she’s the main one trying to kiss me after the show,” jokes Hamilton. “They leave me smelling like Avon and Mary Kay, saying ‘I just love you.’ I say, ‘Yes, ma’am.’ Every now and then you get a fine older one, and I say, ‘You better be glad I got my shiny ring on.’ Old cougars — ha!”
Getting ‘Back to Love’
On his latest release, 2011’s “Back to Love,” Hamilton pairs his smooth croon with horns and beats, most notably on the hit single, “Woo.”
He readily admits that another single, “Sucka for You,” is heavily influenced by Outkast. The Southern rap-flavored track is an indication that a heavier change in his sound may be imminent.
“I think I’ve been too R&B for too long,” said Hamilton, re-emphasizing his childhood interest in country music. “I’m eventually going to spread to that. The longer you stay one way, the longer people are going to look at you one way.”
In the meantime, fans who swoon to Hamilton’s impressive vocal range and suave delivery will be more than pleased with “Back to Love.” The singer wrote the bulk of the album’s 16 tracks over a week spent at producer-singer Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds’ Lake Tahoe house and studio.
“I used to ‘work with’ Babyface when I was younger, you know, putting on a tape while I was on the phone (with flirting tone), ‘Yeah baby, you know what I’m talking about,’ but this was my first time actually writing with the man,” laughs Hamilton. “We went out to the lake, and the snow was 10 feet high packed up in the yard. It was the most beautiful snow I’ve ever seen. Within three days, we had at least 13 ideas. It was crazy.”
The result is a collection of love songs that reflect on his relationship with his wife, Tarsha, with whom he has twin 18-month-old boys.
“They’re running, climbing stairs and jumping on stuff; saying ‘no’ and everything else,” said Hamilton, who frequently takes his family on the road when he’s on tour.
Home base is still Charlotte, where he was raised, first by his birth parents before being put up for adoption at 15.
That experience led Hamilton to involve himself as a national spokesman for the Court Appointed Special Advocates, a nonprofit that serves African-American children in foster care.
“CASA is a special advocate for neglected and abused kids in the foster care system who didn’t get a fair shake,” explains Hamilton. “We’re just trying to make sure that we put the right people with the right kids, to make sure that they get the support they need.”
Hamilton’s birth parents are still involved in his life. When in Charlotte, he’s typically surrounded by family and friends.
Despite growing up a few hours away, he’s never had the chance to relax in Charleston beyond the day of his show. His last performance in the Lowcountry was at June’s Funk Fest, a bill that featured Hamilton, Frankie Beverly and Doug E. Fresh.
“Charleston’s a beautiful city, and I can’t wait to just stay for a good week or so,” Hamilton said. “You’ve got all that good food down there.”
For now, fans will have to settle for one night with the star in town, who’s shown little signs of taking a break for a vacation since hitting it big.
“I didn’t have money back then,” Hamilton said. “I finally got a truck in ’05.”
A self-proclaimed “lover of all things positive,” Hamilton frequently offers inspiration such as “Today’s goal: Choose Happiness” on his Twitter feed.
Even when times were harder, music was always there to see him through.
“Songs can remind you that no matter what you’re going through, there’s still an amazing God, and in time, it’ll all get better,” he said. “Music helps us get through.”