Though it’s not uncommon to hear fiery guitars, sensuous grooves, and even the occasional trap beat on his latest LP, What I’m Feelin’, the church is always present in Anthony Hamilton’s voice. Growing up singing in his congregation’s choir in Charlotte, North Carolina, Hamilton viewed his preacher and choir leader the way some kids might see the Avengers or Superman. “The lead singer in the choir and the pastor were superheroes because of how they made you feel,” he says. “It’s a feeling you get when you hear someone lead that just inspires.” Like gospel crossover heroes the Staple Singers before him, Hamilton has derived a sound that has earned him fans all over the globe, inspiring the faithful and secular alike.
Over the course of a career that includes seven albums; collaborations with Tupac, D’Angelo, Buddy Guy, and the Gorillaz; a Grammy® Award–winning duet with Al Green; a high-profile duet with Elayna Boynton for Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained; and even a performance for President Barack Obama, Hamilton has established himself as a modern soul icon. Since breaking out in the early 2000s with “Po’ Boys,” a collaboration with Kentucky rappers Nappy Roots, he has proved his voice to be a malleable instrument, capable of gruff preaching, tender balladry, and rhythmic punch.
What I’m Feelin’ finds the veteran singer showcasing his instrument in surprising ways, from the slow-jam grind of “I Want You” to the synthesizer-tinged “Ever Seen Heaven” to the classic snapback funk of opener “Save Me.” “I just want to be born again baby / You give me life,” he sings, invoking the prospect of spiritual redemption and the transcendent sensation of romance. In his poetic sonic worlds, the gap between cosmic and physical spaces seems to narrow – the thrill of romance and the power of spiritual redemption seem to blend and expand in his warm R&B spaces. Credit his imaginative use of sound and language, fueled by his inner life: “I was an introvert growing up,” he says. “I had a wild imagination and I would dream a lot.”
He’s spent his career translating his inner visions and dreams to the “big world” he sings about on “Ain’t No Shame.” From his 2003 debut Coming From Where I’m Coming From to What I’m Feelin’, his voice has connected to listeners with an unadorned honesty and a recognition of the specialness of the ordinary world. Even as Hamilton bounces from funk to gospel, from red dirt soul to sultry pop ballads, he maintains a wholeness, indicating that no matter what styles he draws from, it’s the presentation of his real self that holds his albums and songs together, and his recognition of a higher power working through his music. In his songs, grace extends from the sacred to the secular, from the temple to the everyday, his view unobstructed by the division between the two, as he sings on “Amen”: “Got me saying amen / From the bed to the stove / From the church to the job / Best thing I know.”