By Jamel Smith
October 4, 2021
Releasing a new body of work to the public can evoke a range of emotions: anxiousness, happiness, gratitude. For Anthony Hamilton, relief is the emotion of choice. After two-plus years of process, he feels “very relieved” to have his tenth album, Love is the New Black, out of recording studios and in the world.
The multi-platinum, Grammy Award-winning artist reflected on his journey towards this long-awaited day. First, by acknowledging that it was, indeed, a journey. Interrupted by the woes of never-ending social unrest and a personal bout with Covid that resulted in a two-week hospital stay, the making of his tenth album often took a back seat to trying to cope with life.
“Coming through all we’ve been through with Covid and the racial divide, and just having to be a teacher to my kids, it was a lot to kind of juggle, to even focus on making a real album,” Hamilton said.
Nevertheless, like millions of other Americans, Hamilton persevered and, in result, created another soundtrack for our lives. In many ways, perseverance is the heart of Love is the New Black. Inspired by the lives and love of “everyday Black people,” Hamilton dedicated the 14-song album to those whose love is often underexposed in the media; his muse being the everyday family who basks in the glory of a resilient and sustaining love.
“I want people like that to feel appreciated and celebrated, and actually to say thank you for inspiring me to be willing to let Black love come into my life.”
Despite a rousing career spanning over two decades, inundated by “once-in-a-lifetime” encounters with Drake and Sir Elton John, Hamilton still cherishes a normal life for himself. He resides in North Carolina with his family, where he has the freedom of being “more than just an entertainer.” He can also be a supportive father, an excited concertgoer, an engaged community leader, and an overall lover of humanity.
Such a grounded perspective and lifestyle is partly what makes Love is the New Black radiate with comfort and soul. From the first track, the sounds are rich and warm, and the content is universal and highly relatable. The soul album explores habitual themes of love and sex (“Real Love,” “Coming Home,” “White Hennessy”), loss and betrayal (“You Made A Fool of Me,” “I Thought We Were In Love”), and regret (“Pillows,” “I’m Sorry”), while offering that additional layer of soul we’ve come to expect from Hamilton.
The soul singer hails from Charlotte, where he first began singing in his church’s choir– a textbook start for most soul singers. In 2000, he became a background vocalist for D’Angelo’s Voodoo international tour band, The Soultronics. Those eight months on the road would be super influential to Hamilton’s career and artistry in the years following the last tour date in October 2000. Hamilton spoke to us about his former boss, D’Angelo: “You know, man, like, I don’t even know if [D’Angelo] knows how important he is to our culture. Like, he really was hip hop and Prince; he was hip hop and Sly Stone; he was hip hop and George Clinton, James Brown, Fela Kuti. And I learned that from him.” As a self-proclaimed hip-hop head, Hamilton uses every opportunity to insert those true blue elements in his own work.
“Real Love” (produced by fellow North Carolina native, 9th Wonder) tips its hat to De La Soul’s “Stakes is High” with the Ahmad Jamal “Swahililand” sample over a classic boom bap beat. “I’m Ready” (produced by hip hop producer Bink!) is a homage to the South, exuding elements of Southern soul, trap, and crunk. And if that’s not enough, hearing Lil’ Jon blaring through the speakers is certifiable hip-hop.
The album also features multiple contributions from legendary producer, Jermaine Dupri, who produced Hamilton’s 2003 release “Mama Knew Love.” Those who are not loyal “Living The Life” viewers (Dupri’s 10+ year YouTube vlog chronicling his life as a producer to the stars), might have missed his three-part mini-series with Hamilton as they worked on the album. However, anyone who has knows Dupri’s extensive catalog could easily spot his productions: his signature “y’all know what this is” producer tag; his routine guitar solos; and/or his noteworthy hi-hats, which sonically peak through every mix in a defined, (almost) time-keeping manner.
“It’s always great working with someone who really appreciates who you are from the core. He’s a genius; an iconic producer, arranger and writer,” Hamilton said of Dupri.
Much like the soul men and women who preceded him, Hamilton is a special talent, a generational talent. His artistry offers a bridge between the past and the present in an authentically soulful way– a range best showcased in his rendition of the iconic R&B ballad “Superstar.” The song was originally released by Delaney & Bonnie in 1969 and has since been covered by The Carpenters, Luther Vandross, and Ruben Studdard. Hamilton’s cinematic rendition, produced by Wu10 and Cardiak, enters into history as one of the best R&B duets in the past decade with Jennifer Hudson alongside him.
In under an hour, Love is the New Black paints a vulnerable and detailed portrait of Black love: what it is to be Black and in love with someone, with yourself, and your community. At its core, the album exposes one of life’s most gratifying and rewarding experiences– the ins and outs of love– and does so without seeking validation from those who have yet to experience it.
According to Hamilton, not seeking validation is the key to greatness: “I think a lot of us are so in ‘validation world’ that we miss our greatness. We miss the things that make us special, because we look to people who may not even understand who we are. He continued, “I just want people to know, like, ‘hey, wake up every morning on purpose and be you, flaws and all.’ Love yourself, because we don’t know how much time we have, and it’s okay; don’t live in fear, but live in appreciation of every day, and be on purpose every day.”
It is clear that Love is the New Black is another soulful notch in Hamilton’s belt as he continues his pursuit towards greatness while also making love great again.
Listen to Anthony Hamilton’s new album, Love is the New Black.