It’s been almost exactly 5 1/2 years since Anthony Hamilton has been one day away from dropping a new album, so forgive him if he’s just a little bit excited — and just a little bit out of sorts.
“I’ve been here since probably, like, Saturday?” the Grammy Award-winning R&B star ventures to guess while on a Zoom call from Atlanta, where he’s been ramping up for Friday’s release of “Love Is the New Black” with a massive publicity blitz.
“We’ve been going at it. Goodness gracious. What? What?? Today it’s just like the grand finale. Dunn dunn DUUUUNNNN. Yeah. Look, I’m going back to the grass roots like when I first started, talking to people one individual at a time, selling one album. One individual, one hand to the other.”
And the approach seems to be working: “Love Is the New Black” was hovering near the top of Amazon’s list of the bestselling CDs available for pre-order as of Thursday afternoon.
It’s Hamilton’s first album since 2016’s “What I’m Feelin’” — and his most star-studded ever. The 14-track offering boasts collaborations with Academy Award winner Jennifer Hudson (on the powerhouse duet “Superstar”); rapper Rick Ross (on “Real Love”); and crunk king Lil’ Jon (“I’m Ready”). Superstar producer 9th Wonder of Raleigh produced “Real Love.”
Hamilton, who turned 50 in January and who has called Charlotte home for the majority of those five decades, spoke this week with The Observer in a wide-ranging interview. He explained the album title, the reason the album shifted in tone from more angry to more loving, and the story behind how he hooked Hudson. (The conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.)
Q. I’m guessing fatherhood and the pandemic may have had something to do with the long gap between albums? (In addition to three adult sons, Hamilton has 10-year-old twin boys as well as a 9-year-old son, all of whom he shares custody with his ex-wife.)
Yeah, absolutely, the kids and the pandemic and just not being able to move around and to be around people, without the fear of catching COVID — which I ended up having anyway. But yeah, that slowed it down. I thought it was just gonna be the three years, that was prior to the pandemic. But the extra two years … they add up pretty fast.
It never was my intention to wait that long. (But a new album means) touring, and with kids, you have to prioritize your life in a way that everybody feels like they’re being supported — you know, support them and what they’re doing, and take some time off. … Through the pandemic I had ’em for like four or five months straight.
Q. When did you have COVID?
I was in the hospital for two weeks last December. Yeah, on oxygen. But I came through. Came through strong.
Q. How did Black Lives Matter and the social justice movements of 2020 inform this album?
I was starting on the album before the pandemic, and before the racial stuff started. I was in LA recording. … We have some really dope stuff (that came out of those sessions). Some stuff that didn’t make this album. Because it started to change, when the racial divide flared up again.
I started writing from a more angry place of more Black Lives Matter, but then when things started to shape up, I veered back over to let’s talk about love and relationships, and the things that I’m talking about that’s on there now. So it took a few different turns.
I wanted to create an album and still let people know, like, “Hey, although it’s not ‘What’s Goin’ On?,’ Marvin Gaye … (BLM and the social justice movements) mattered to me. It’s not just, ‘OK, we went through it, let’s get back to making money and let’s get back to selling you guys records.’ No, I was in there. I was in the trenches with you.” And I wanted the album to reflect that.
Q. But you intentionally tone down the anger?
Yeah, I just didn’t want people to have to re-live it again right now. We can find a time. I’m sure there’s gonna be a time again when it’s gonna be necessary to go at it, or it may be an EP with some things that I wanna express. But I wanted to give people a place to go to feel safe again, and so I decided to let up on it a little bit.
But there’s a few songs on there, like “Mercy” and “Mama Don’t Cry” and “Safe,” those songs kind of teeter around that.
Q. Can you talk about the title of the album, which is also the title of the first song on the album?
Yeah, “Love Is the New Black,” man. I wanted to celebrate Black love and the Black culture, and just remind people that we’re beautiful. A beautiful group of people. Love is in their houses … and we be proud of it, celebrate it, and make it a priority.
Whatever your color love is, make it priority every day. Let it be the new black sneaker, the new black leather bag, the new black car that you love so much. Let love be that, and yeah, let’s do it on purpose.
Q. Did you come up with that title?
Actually half of it. My writing partner, Ed D. Kane, he came up with revamping it, and turning it into “Love IS the New Black.” But it was gonna be “Black Love”-something. I was trying to say it in a way that felt new, and that felt not so Black Lives Matter. You know, because people — although they were down for it, sometimes you can push ’em away, if you keep repeating it, repeating it, repeating it. It loses the value of what it stood for.
Q. When did the title hit you guys?
It was close to the completion of the album. And I hadn’t even gotten that song recorded yet. But when I heard the music, I was like OK, this is it. This is the opening song. I needed an opener. … And it was perfect.
I went into my Curtis Mayfield bag, and I was like, “I know where I’m going, you know where it’s at, one thing that’s for sure, Love Is the New Black.” I said, “Mmm. I like that!” Then I started building up on it. Then pretty much we decided to take a Dr. Dre approach to it, and we added the lady (singing at the end) to … just take it on out, and just create this intensity.
Q. Do you have a favorite song on the album, or one that has a good story behind it?
Yeah, I think the duet with me and Jennifer Hudson is a pretty remarkable story. The fact that I even decided to do a Luther Vandross song … who’s that crazy? (I was) reaching out to a whole lot of people, trying to get the voices and textures that I needed for this album. And after recording, I was like, You know what? I’d love to do a song with her. …
So I reached to her, and I sent her a few songs. She was like, “Well, which one do you really want me on, Anthony? You sent me all these songs, which one you really want me on?” I said, “OK, let’s go with ‘Superstar,’ Luther Vandross.” And she sent it back and I was like, “Oh, wow.” She sent a lot of vocals. … We took parts from each take, and we added it. It was some great stuff.
Q. With the new album out, will there be a new tour that comes through Charlotte?
I’m pretty sure. Once things open up, I’m definitely coming home to give my fans and my family, you know, the business. Roll it out for ’em and yeah, celebrate at the house.
Anthony Hamilton livestream
Anthony Hamilton will host a livestream performance of “Love Is the New Black” on Facebook Live on Monday, Sept. 27. Details: facebook.com/AnthonyHamiltonMusic.
This story was originally published September 23, 2021 5:44 PM.