In the music industry’s pre-streaming salad days, the bigwigs at RCA/Arista Records would rent out an auditorium at a fancy hotel somewhere in New York City and usher in tastemakers for 2 or 3 days of new music and performances. This convention was part of their 4th quarter rollout every year. In addition to rubbing shoulders with the bloviating likes of L.A. Reid and Clive Davis, you got to see a who’s who of luminaries perform or get interviewed. I was fortunate enough to be able to go three years in a row (’03, ‘04 and ‘05). I got to hear folks freak out the first time they heard OutKast’s “Hey Ya!”, and I got to stand next to Usher in a lunch line (Confessions was being previewed about six months before its release) and marvel at the fact that he and I were the same height (I’m 5′8…he looks much taller on TV).
One performance from those conventions sticks out in my head above all the others, and it was Anthony Hamilton’s in 2003. At that point, no one really knew who Anthony was. He’d scored a contract with MCA in the ‘90s, but his album XTC (which I later got a bootleg copy of, it’s pretty good) never got a commercial release. If folks knew him at all, it was because he sang the hook of Nappy Roots “Po’ Folks” (remember them?).
I was blown the fuck away after hearing a couple of songs and then watching his performance. His music was a revelation. Here was a soul singer who wasn’t afraid of contemporary production. And while the songs he wrote and performed were contemporary, they weren’t trendy. Live instrumentation, no guest rappers, meaty lyrics. He wasn’t an “R&B thug” playing into tired stereotypes. Anthony Hamilton felt authentic.
Comin’ From Where I’m From, which was a few weeks away from release when I attended the convention, has held up quite well in the fifteen years since its release. The title track’s first line, “sittin’ here/guess I didn’t make bail/got time and a story to tell” has to be one of the best table-setting lines in modern music history. “Comin’ From Where I’m From” was realistic in its depiction of the desperation of a poor Black man. Hamilton’s husky, lived-in voice gave the song a believability that most post-millennial R&B singers wouldn’t have been able to pull off. Live, Hamilton and his band turned “Comin’ From Where I’m From” into a gospel/rock rave-up.
I became Anthony Hamilton’s biggest fucking cheerleader after this performance. Social media as we know it didn’t really exist back then, but I was writing reviews on Epinions pretty regularly and blabbed about Anthony to anyone who would listen. When Comin’ From Where I’m From eventually went Gold, then Platinum, I felt levels of pride that I’m not sure people who actually worked on the album felt. It’s been a long time since I’ve been as passionate about an album or an artist.