Anthony Hamilton: "You Got to Love, Live, Believe It ... Never Try to Sing a Lie"
Need a dose of that old-school vibe for your rap track? Well, R&B singer Anthony Hamilton provides a fine, cost-effective alternative to pricey soul samples.
"A lot of people want that old sound, that old grit." he says, speaking by phone from his North Carolina home.
"So they say, 'Let's get Anthony Hamilton to sing it and you don't have to pay no licensing fee and you still get that same sound.' It's cheaper."
Over the years, a lot of rappers have taken him up on this economical offer. He's sung hooks for hip-hop stars like The Game, Busta Rhymes, and, most famously, the Nappy Roots, who, along with Hamilton, earned a 2003 Grammy nomination for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration for "Po' Folks."
Of course, though, he's also unearthed "that old grit" with fellow soul singers, as evidenced by "Freedom," his powerful duet with Elayna Boynton, featured in the Quentin Tarantino movie Django Unchained.
Born in 1971 in Charlotte, North Carolina, Hamilton's musical heroes included names you'd expect, like Bill Withers and Al Green (with whom he collaborated for Green's 2008 album, Lay It Down), as well as unexpected names like The Cure. But there were also closer, less renowned influences.
"There were guys you wouldn't know their names. They'd just be singing down on this path, where I'd walk on the porch from my Grandmother to my mother's, and they had some of the best voices you ever heard," he recalls.
"And then my father, he had a really amazing voice. He was very close to getting signed with Motown. His group was called the Showstoppers. He just didn't believe. Growing up in North Carolina back in that time, it seemed too far fetched."
But Anthony Hamilton was never willing to give up on his own dream to sing for a living. From his early days in the church choir, he always knew singing was what he wanted to do.
"The choir taught me how to use my diaphragm, how to control the vocals, and hone my ear sonically to know when you're on key," he says.
Later, when Hamilton tried pursuing his chosen profession, there were starts and stops and frustrations. But it all taught him a valuable lesson about what material he should tackle.
"You got to love it, live it, believe it," he insists. "Never try to sing a lie. If I don't believe it, I'll let it pass. I don't care who the song is with. I'll wait for the next song."
Currently at work in the studio, producing two younger hip-hop artists from his home state, it seems Hamilton is someone who enjoys always playing with others. When asked if this weekend's appearance at Jazz in the Gardens might include a stage collaboration with another artist from the festival's all-star roster, his voice lights up.
"We may. We're in talks about that now," he laughs. "I'm excited about the possibility."
But even if a Jazz in the Gardens jam sesh with LL Cool J and Jamie Foxx isn't a sure thing, Hamilton still has a few guarantees. "Expect me to be honest and funny and to dance unapologetically while I sing, whether my voice cracks or if it comes out perfectly. I can't wait to get my hands on those fans, with my microphone in their ear."
His confidence, his love for music, his singing style, his success at taking singing jobs away from prerecorded music -- Hamilton credits it all to his upbringing in the Tar Heel state.
"Being from North Carolina's kept me calm, so I'm able to tell the story without rushing it," he insists. "It brings me that matter-of-fact, down-home sensibility that makes everyone feel they're in their living room, whether they're under a chandelier or hanging out in their blue jeans."
Anthony Hamilton. With LL Cool J, Jamie Foxx, Trey Songz, Kelly Rowland, and others. As part of Jazz in the Gardens 2014. Saturday, March 15, and Sunday, March 16. Sun Life Stadium, 2269 Dan Marino Blvd., Miami Gardens. Tickets cost $50 and up plus fees via ticketmaster.com. Visit jazzinthegardens.com.