Anthony Hamilton on making songs that matter and collaborating with Chris Brown

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Anthony Hamilton (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Anthony Hamilton has been an important voice on the R&B scene ever since his 1996 debut, XTC, introduced his unique sound to the world. In 2003, his album Coming From Where I’m From, earned him three Grammy nominations and proved he was here to stay.

Since then, he has developed a knack for maintaining his own signature sound and continued to push boundaries with his collaborations with artists ranging from Nas to Jeezy to Chris Brown.

Now, the soul-stirring singer has racked up another Grammy nomination (his 17th) for “How I’m Feelin'” featuring The Hamiltones, his “background singers” that are anything but wallflowers and whose insanely addictive videos have gone viral on more than one occasion.

TheGrio caught up with Anthony Hamilton and The Hamiltones to get their take on their current Grammy nominations, their viral video successes, and the resurgence of R&B in the mainstream market.

Grammy Time

According to Hamilton, the Grammy nominations are still important after 17 nods, but he’s not pressed to take home a trophy.

“I think it still means something and allows people to see I’m still in the game and I’m not forgotten. I still matter in music. I got the Hamiltones on there with me which is exciting. It’s good to be able to celebrate them as well,” he says.

“If I’m not nominated I know I still did good work. Even if I never got nominated, I’m gonna love music the same way. This means you’re rubbing elbows with the big boys but it’s never pressure to go after a nomination. The labels like it because it makes them look good. It makes me look good too, but it’s not my focus.”

For The Hamiltones (comprised of three talented musicians J.Vito, Tony Lelo, and Twoey) their Grammy nomination for Best Traditional R&B Performance alongside Hamilton for the song “What I’m Feelin’” may carry a bit more weight.

“We are all very grateful for the opportunity to be considered for something so big. All I could do was think back on all the years we put in to make this impact in the music industry,” says Tony Lelo.

“What we’ve tried to focus on was bringing that real soulful sound back. The fact that we’re being considered for a Grammy is mind-blowing. It really hasn’t hit me yet,” adds J. Vito.

The group has created its own lane by releasing an arsenal of covers and parodies that highlight topical social issues and put a new spin on current hits.

Old school gone viral

Anthony Hamilton and The Hamiltones’ unique approach to bringing R&B to the forefront speaks to their ability to keep the genre and their music relevant at a time when the public’s appetite for content is voracious.

“It’s about putting a body of work together that is cohesive and timeless and powerful enough to play from beginning to end but it’s still important to have singles that radio can push. You need singles to get exposure. It’s a business as well as a creative process. The two have to go together if you want to eat,” explains Anthony Hamilton.

“The numbers are different now in terms of album sales because there are other avenues for people to consume content. You can get paid on streaming but you have to have a song that fits those formats. When you get played on those playlists, that’s how you rack up like The Weeknd and these other people streaming large amounts. Competing with that is something new and you gotta find a way to get on those spaces whether it’s with collabs or something that goes viral that can get the attention of the mainstream. You gotta find a way to get in there and still make good music.”

Anthony Hamilton and The Hamiltones have certainly “found a way” to go viral with good music and their efforts to comment on social issues.

“You have to talk about what’s going on in the world. I have a song called “Charleston” that’s really powerful about the incident that happened in the church,” Anthony Hamilton says.

“There are a lot of songs that need to be heard, you just gotta find a way to present it to the people when music is so trapped out and spaced out and people are so into partying and sex. That’s the drive of a lot of stuff. There’s still a real world going on. These are real stories and real events that can’t be forgotten,” he says.

“I was affected by the fact that black people got killed in the church where we have been safe for so many centuries—one of the safest places you can be. For someone to come in when you’re praying to God and take so many lives, that whole thing touched me. It could have been my grandmother or my aunt. When something like that happens, you feel it.”

Resurgence of R&B

Anthony Hamilton weighed in on some of his competition in the R&B category and how young artists are bringing a new energy to the often overlooked genre.

“People still want R&B and some of the younger cats are trying to reinvent R&B and putting people in the mindset of what the music used to feel like. Daniel Caesar, he’s a new guy but you listen to his album, it’s just good R&B and good music and good songwriting. People have been ignoring the genre for a long time and they must stop,” he says.

“I think SZA is extremely talented. The depth of her writing and the lyrics and situations she speaks about—she’s pushing the line and its really incredible. She puts it together well. There’s a newness to what she’s doing. She has a real story. I listen to that album often.”

Killer collabs

The soul-stirring singer also explained his habit of collaborating with pop stars and rappers, and the way R&B has the power to change contemporary tracks into something special.

“I think it has been a marriage for a long time. Even back when Biggie and Tupac were doing it and all the stuff Puff was doing with the R&B hooks on the rap records. I think melody keeps the hip-hop community interested in it and it’s a beautiful collaboration when it’s done right. You can’t get that feeling anywhere but R&B. Those samples make a world of difference and bring a whole other sound to it.”

And when it comes to choosing with whom he should collaborate, Hamilton’s range is eclectic to say the least. He doesn’t shy away from controversial figures like Chris Brown, whom he joined for the “Back To Sleep” remix in 2016.

“I think being young, you go through things that you don’t want to repeat. Being a young guy with a lot of energy—things happen. He was young…we weren’t there,” he says of the 2009 incident that nearly shattered Brown’s career.

“When it comes to the music, he delivers every single time and everybody is entitled to forgiveness and we move on. We learn and we move on. He has evolved to a great man and a great father and it says a lot about his character. A few blemishes don’t recreate your whole entire being. If you get a pimple, it don’t mean you’re not the same beautiful person.”

This weekend, Anthony Hamilton and The Hamiltones will go up against The Baylor Project, Childish Gambino, Ledisi and Mali Music for Best Traditional R&B Performance at the 90th Grammy Awards.

The show will air live on CBS from Madison Square Garden at 7:30pm/EST on Sunday.