"I don't always want to be known as the sad cat," Grammy Award-winning soul singer/songwriter Anthony Hamilton says with a laugh. Hamilton may be best-known for his hit ballads ("Charlene," "Can't Let Go") and powerful albums, typified by his 2003 breakout "Comin' From Where I'm From," but now he says it's time for a change. "I'm ready to have some fun."
This summer, he began doing just that. As a featured guest on Jill Scott's vibrant "So in Love," Hamilton joined rarefied company when the duet spent 18 weeks at No. 1 on Billboard's Adult R&B chart-tying Maxwell ("Fortunate") for the most consecutive weeks in that slot.
Building on the momentum, Hamilton is charging back up the same tally with his own "Woo," anuptempo tribute to a sexy woman and her charms. The single marks his first collaboration with Kenny " Babyface" Edmonds (Edmonds co-wrote and co-produced), and sits at No. 11 on Adult R&B after seven weeks. The same energy powers "Back to Love" (Dec. 13), Hamilton's fifth album-and first under the newly restructured RCA Records, just one of several factors the singer credits for his rejuvenation.
"Having children gives you a new perspective, another burst of energy," says the father of five, including year-old twin boys. "'Back to Love' stems from that energy as well as from that of RCA's new team. And I'd always wanted to work with Babyface; we had a ball. Everybody is excited about taking things to the next level."
For Hamilton, whose previous album "The Point of It All" debuted at No. 1 on Top R&B/Hip Hop Albums (No. 11 on the Billboard 200) in 2008 and was released through So So Def/Zomba Label, the next level meant crafting a brighter, more mainstream sound without compromising his gritty, soulful voice. In addition to Edmonds and Antonio Dixon, who contributed three songs to the project, Hamilton-who co-wrote every song on the 12-track set-collaborated with producers Salaam Remi, Mike City and longtime colleague Kelvin Wooten, as well as newcomer Jairus Mozee. Onboard as co-executive producer was young RCA A&R executive Adonis Sutherlin.
The end result is a cohesive tapestry that not only showcases Hamilton's strengths but reveals a fun, experimental side as well. Among the set's standouts are the OutKast-influenced "Sucka for You," the cha-cha groove "Best of Me," the rock-inspired "Mad" and "Never Let Go," a charismatic duet with Keri Hilson that was produced by Jerry "Wonda" Duplessis. As Hamilton puts it, "It's a broader sound, but still 'Anthony Hamilton.'"
RCA VP of urban marketing Lisa Cambridge-Mitchell agrees. "He's expanded his sound, stepping outside of what he's been doing," she says of Hamilton. "But he wasn't turned into something he's not. This record just brings out something we haven't heard before."
Noting that the success of "So in Love" helped "set the table" for Hamilton's return, Cambridge-Mitchell says that one of the label's key goals for Back to Love is to develop broader coverage opportunities through such previously untapped outlets as NPR. In addition to pursuing more TV-related appearances, RCA has partnered with mobile phone service Cricket for an outreach campaign targeting black males and females ages 18-35. The latter is in tandem with Hamilton's 19-city Woo tour, which kicked off Nov. 9 in Los Angeles and includes a headlining turn at New York's Apollo Theatre on Dec. 9.
"Back to Love" will be simultaneously released Dec. 13 in overseas markets, with an eye toward strengthening Hamilton's fan base there. "We get our greatest feedback from Germany and France," Cambridge-Mitchell says. "And now we're working toward penetrating the U.K. a bit more."
In the meantime, Hamilton is relishing this new chapter in his career. "It's a liberating feeling," he says. "This time around, I feel people are hearing the importance of what I can do... and where I can be."