Since breaking out in the early 2000s with “Comin’ From Where I’m From,” R&B singer Anthony Hamilton has continued to give listeners an unflinching look into his world. His latest album, What I’m Feelin’—the seventh in his 20-year career—stays true to the down-home, Southern soul he’s known for with songs about faith, love and his recent divorce. But as serious as his records may be, the Grammy-winning artist has cut loose on social media, posting impromptu covers of rap songs and turning memes into gospel tracks with his backup singers, the HamilTones.
The North Carolina crooner returns to Las Vegas November 4 for the Soul Train Music Fest at Mandalay Bay Events Center, where he promises to “rock it ’til the wheels fall off.” Hamilton took a break from his tour to talk turning a Donald Trump line into a soulful warning, utilizing his platform as a megaphone and more.
You and the HamilTones recently transformed Donald Trump’s scandalous “Grab her by the pussy” remark into a soulful a capella piece that warned people not to vote for the Republican presidential candidate. What prompted you to do that?
People need to know this is what this guy thinks—this is how he is, this is who he is. If you’re not looking at the news or you’re not abreast of what’s going on, you may not make the right decision [on Election Day]. We tried to take the sting out of it a little bit, but still let people know that this guy is really crazy.
You also turned rapper Birdman’s “Put some respect on my name” comment, which he said during an interview with the Breakfast Club of New York City’s Power 105.1, into a track. What made you take the viral social media approach?
[It’s] a way into people’s lives and [to] get the exposure we feel we deserve. It’s been the way of getting things done. And those are hot topics that people are attracted to. If we can take those and turn it into something special, we’ll do it.
How do you decide what’s cover-worthy?
It’s gotta be something that the people are really engaged in. Something we can take and make a difference [with]. It [has] to be a great song that people really enjoy. Some people [might not] listen to a hip-hop record, but they’ll take a chance on listening to us singing it in a quartet, [in a] churchy kind of way that brings new life to the song.
Mainstream R&B has become so sexualized, yet you’ve stuck to your spiritual roots. How do you toe the line between what’s trending and keeping your integrity?
Man, I got kids. I don’t want to be looked at as the guy who didn’t give a damn and sold his soul for some fame. I stay close to what I was taught from my mother and grandparents, who instilled in me some morals.
Though you’re still a go-to hook man for popular rappers.
I’m raw and honest in my music, what I say and what I’ve become. … And the voice commands attention. It’s a blessing.
Speaking of that rawness, you went through a divorce last year. How did that affect your music?
At first, I didn’t feel like writing about it. If you’ve been through a divorce or have seen [one happen], there’s nothing impressive about it. … I just happened to hear the music one day and it spoke to me, and [“Walk in My Shoes”] is the song that came out. The label wanted me to have a whole album full of it. I told them, “No, thank you. I’m not interested.” But I did [record] one or two songs that were created from that unfortunate [event].
You’ve also been outspoken about social justice, especially after the killing of Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte, North Carolina. Why is it important to touch on those topics?
Being an artist, you have a bigger audience. I have a [platform], so I want to enforce my opinion because it matters to me how we’re treated [and] how our kids are going to be treated when I’m gone. So I got to fight for my sons. I got six boys, and I’ll be damned if my boys are gonna be in any chains or be slaves. We can’t have that.