The Grammy-winning singer-songwriter reflects on what it was like working with powerhouse producer Babyface and the advantages and disadvantages of “crossing over” musically.
R&B artist Anthony Hamilton
Tavis: Pleased to welcome Anthony Hamilton back to this program. He is once again receiving high marks for his most recent CD. It’s called “Back to Love.” The Grammy winner also recently took part in the Evening of Stars fundraiser for the United Negro College Fund, the UNCF – more on that in a moment.
But first, now some of the video for the single – and I love this single – “Woo.”
Tavis: So the experience of working and writing with Babyface is like what?
Anthony Hamilton: Man, you go all this time listening to his music and being influenced by him, and to work with him, it was magical. I had to get over the groupieism. (Laughter) I had to simmer that down, but other than that I learned a lot. Word play is very important with him.
You could have a song written – we went up to Lake Tahoe, actually, and you could have a song written, you think it’s done. He’ll come back and say, “No, we’ve got to change it.”
Tavis: When you say “word play is important,” I think I know what you mean by that. But because I’m curious, when Babyface says word play is important, by that he means what?
Hamilton: Well, lyrics, the delivery, the words you choose to use to convey the message. You have to make sure that it’s proper, it’s exactly right, and that it will evoke emotion.
Tavis: Yeah. I don’t want Babyface to misunderstand this comment because I love Babyface and we’re both from Indiana, so love you, Baby. (Laughter) But the question nonetheless is this – you are the most soulful artist on the scene today.
Hamilton: Thank you.
Tavis: I mean that, you’re the most soulful cat out there today.
Hamilton: Thank you.
Tavis: Babyface has a hip sound, he has a pop sound, but when you think Anthony Hamilton you don’t think Babyface; you think Babyface, you don’t think Anthony Hamilton.
So I raise that to ask how writing with him and delivering the sound that he wanted to get out of you changed, altered, adjusted Anthony Hamilton as we know him.
Hamilton: Well, it was a natural chemistry that we had already, just understanding where I am or where he is, and what we could do together. It came about easy, and he pulled out a few things that I didn’t have that dirty-dirty in them, but he pulled it out, he did. (Laughter) He can really play that guitar, too, man, like Eric Clapton. He can really get down.
So just being around and just getting to know each other, he listened to me and my life and he knew what to bring out, what instruments, what sounds, what songs, and it was just a natural progression to go where we ended.
Tavis: I ask this not to cast aspersion on you at all, but I’ve known so many artists over the years and had a chance to talk to so many over these years who start out in one place and what they ultimately want is crossover.
God rest his soul, they don’t come any better than Luther Vandross.
Tavis: But if people are going to be honest about Luther, Luther, at a certain point in his career, after everybody in Black America adored him, was trying to make that crossover move, and there’s some stuff that Luther put out that I wasn’t altogether crazy about because I could tell what his intent was – I say that with all the respect in the world for Luther.
But when a cat is as soulful as you, where do you take the career? Because if Black people are in love with you and always will be, but how do you get to a broader – am I making sense here?
Hamilton: You’re making great sense.
Tavis: To get there, does it mean you have to compromise your soulfulness?
Hamilton: You know what? No, because I’ve delivered the song from “American Gangster,” written by Diane Warren, which is a very soulful song, but it’s very crossover. It’s just about the instrumentation around the song, my delivery is going to always be Anthony, whether it’s a pop record, it’s going to be a gritty pop record, and if it’s a country record that I’ve done plenty of, it’s going to be Anthony.
I don’t think you can take that out of me, and that’s what keeps my Black fans rolling with me and the white fans and everybody else throughout the world who gets a taste of Anthony. They love the fact that I am me, and you can hear it and it’s distinct. So I don’t think I really have to get rid of who I am or water it down.
Tavis: I ask that because I find so many people – and this is not just true of artists – and I think one of the dangers, one of the things wrong with our world today is everybody wants to transcend who they are. It’s hard to find people who are willing to be authentically who they are, and we think somehow in that transcendence more is going to be opened up to us.
Hamilton: Well, now don’t get me wrong, there’s times when I feel like okay, here I am, R&B, I’m known for R&B, but I love country music, I love rock, I love all that. So how do I make that make sense without people feeling like I’m abandoning them?
You want success on different levels. I wouldn’t be honest if I said I don’t look over there in the pop world and say, “Man, that’s attractive – Adele selling 100,000 albums a week. A week.
Tavis: Mm-hmm. (Laughter)
Hamilton: It’s very –
Tavis: What was that? A week?
Hamilton: A week. (Laughter) And she’s been doing it for almost a year. That’s attractive. Not only am I a musician, but I’m a businessman and a family man. (Laughter)
Tavis: With another baby on the way.
Hamilton: Yeah, with another one, man, and being a businessman, you want to invest your time and your heart into growth and a legacy, and sometimes it’s about going over there and getting it. But you don’t have to lose yourself.
Tavis: When you say you love country, I know that to be true about you. For some reason when you said that I thought of the scene in the movie “Ray” where “Ray -” (laughter) you know where I’m going with this.
Hamilton: Yeah, yeah.
Tavis: Where Ray is trying to convince these Negroes, “No, I really love country.”
Tavis: “And y’all should listen to this, and I think you’ll like it if you give it a try,” and I love the scene where his manager, Joe Adams, gets them to bring the house lights down and set the mood for them to hear the – we all know the scene from the movie “Ray.”
That was then. Could Anthony Hamilton now do a country project that people would embrace?
Hamilton: You know what? I think a whole project would take time. You have to wet their feet a little bit to let them know they’re going to walk in the water. So I think gradually putting a few of them on the album and introduce it to them slowly, I think they’ll digest it. Or just do a separate project. This is my R&B project and this is my country and this is my blues. That’s an option.
Tavis: Sounds like you’ve already thought this out. That wasn’t just an on-the-spot answer to a question.
Hamilton: No. Yeah, I have. (Laughter)
Tavis: You’re working this out already.
Hamilton: Yeah, it’s working out. I’ve recorded a few songs.
Tavis: Blues or country?
Hamilton: Yeah, I’ve done a song with Buddy Guy, Jean Lalanne.
Tavis: Is Buddy Guy all that or what?
Hamilton: Man, he’s amazing.
Tavis: Can I just tell you, I was in Chicago about six weeks ago and as you know, in January every year he plays at his club, Buddy Guy’s, in Chicago, and I’ve been wanting to get to his club for years to actually see him. I was in Chicago to give a speech and I realized that he was actually in town playing his club that night.
So I shouldn’t say this with the sponsor watching – I rushed through my speech, got my check (laughter) and ran downtown to Chicago to see Buddy Guy. Can I just tell you I have never had an experience – you talk about a soulful, spiritual experience, I have never experienced anything like that in my life, watching Buddy Guy perform. I didn’t know he had it like that.
Hamilton: And it’s more so because he’s been living with it and he’s been feeding and nurturing it. Man, that was amazing. I love to see him and –
Tavis: I loved it.
Hamilton: Yeah, and BB King. See, I love all that, man. BB sounds like my grandfather – holler at you.
Tavis: Oh, yeah? (Laughter)
Hamilton: (Unintelligible) get the lip, you know, BB King will holler at you.
Tavis: What was the experience like doing something with Buddy Guy?
Hamilton: Well, actually, I did it separate from him. But just being on a record with him was amazing. “Lay, Lady, Lay,” we did that – (Singing) Lay, lady, lay across my big brass bed. It’s a beautiful song, man, and the rendition we did is amazing. Yeah.
Tavis: Blues – could you put out a blues album that would work?
Hamilton: Of course.
Hamilton: Yeah, coming from where I’m from was bluesy to me. Yeah, the old swamp water, you know what I mean? (Laughter) It was bluesy. There’s a few bluesy records on the new record that did with Babyface. It’s called “Mad.” Yeah, it’s bluesy, it’s very bluesy.
Tavis: Speaking of this project, the new one, “Back to Love,” how did you figure out the playlist on this one?
Hamilton: You know what? I had a lot of songs to choose from, about 80. I listened to the ones over and over again that I love, and some of them I love them today and tomorrow I think, mm, I don’t feel like this is as strong as the next one. So I’ll continue to listen and see which ones continue to go over to the mm, I don’t think it’s the one. (Laughter)
So by the end, I kind of figure out okay, this is the story. The picture’s starting to look good on this side. The rest of them I’ll say okay, I’ll put this on the next record or on a blues record.
Tavis: I’m curious now as I think about this, since the project is called “Back to Love,” did the notion of a love narrative come after you decided to work with Babyface or before?
Hamilton: You know what? The song, I did the song after Babyface, with Salaam Remi. When I did that, it kind of had the overall tone that I wanted to sing.
Tavis: You know why I asked that, because you think Babyface, you think love songs, and I didn’t know if you went that way because you wanted to do an album that was strictly about love.
Hamilton: No, Babyface, we was talking some trash. (Laughter) Don’t get it twisted, he’ll get on you. He’ll crack a joke on you. He’s funny and witty, man. No, it wasn’t all no love, we was in there cutting up.
Tavis: All right, I’ll take that, I’ll take that.
Hamilton: We were men acting like boys every now and again, snowed in in Lake Tahoe.
Tavis: Yeah. So how much hitting the road you going to do for this one?
Hamilton: A lot.
Hamilton: Yeah, I’m going to do it while people are excited about it and go out. The last tour with Jill Scott was amazing, so –
Tavis: Oh, I saw that, that was amazing.
Hamilton: Thank you. I want to put together another project as special as that. Maybe Erykah Badu – I’m talking to you, Erykah.
Tavis: Holla at me if you hear me.
Hamilton: You know? Holla. (Laughter) I’m just playing.
Tavis: No you weren’t. You were serious. (Laughter) I love Anthony Hamilton, I said earlier, and I mean this. He is as soulful a guy as you will ever want to hear. He is the most soulful guy on the scene today.
So if you have not been introduced to Anthony Hamilton, here he is. His project is called “Back to Love,” and you’ll want to get it and add it to your collection. Anthony, congrats on another great project.
Hamilton: Thank you so much. I appreciate it.
Tavis: Thanks for your work. Thanks for your UNCF work, too. You have a good time doing that?
Hamilton: Yes. Of course, oh, yeah, yeah, and I’m up for a few awards for the Image awards, so that’s coming up too. So all that keeps me –
Tavis: I’m sure you’ll take home some statues.
Hamilton: Oh, take home some.
Tavis: Yeah, some, yeah.
Hamilton: A brochure. (Laughter) A pamphlet. (Laughter)
Tavis: Love you, Anthony, good to have you here.
Hamilton: Good to see you, man.
Hamilton: Thank you.
Tavis: That’s our show for tonight. Until next time, thanks for watching and keep the faith.
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