The life of a hip-hop hook singer isn't necessarily filled with Cristal and 22s, and Anthony Hamilton's long hard-luck story is a case in point. The North Carolina native spent a decade adding his southern-fried vocals to albums from heavy hitters like Tupac, Busta Rhymes, and Eve, but his own solo career remained stubbornly resistant to all efforts to take flight. Two Hamilton albums were casualties of failed labels and never saw the light of day, while a third, 1996's XTC, arrived just as neo-soul was flowering; it probably would be recognized today as a classic of the genre, had it gotten any promotion. Yet it was another high-profile hook -- performed on Nappy Roots' 2002 Grammy-nominated hip-hop hit "Po' Folks" -- that won Hamilton a new major-label deal and led to the release last year of the acclaimed Comin' From Where I'm From, which matched his angelic tenor with a platterful of greasy, down-home R&B.
Frankie Beverly, meanwhile, can probably sympathize with Hamilton's struggles. After all, the soul veteran and his band, Maze, have been staples on the urban-music scene for three decades without ever crossing over to pop radio. Instead, Philly native Beverly and his band, who have made tasteful, "Quiet Storm"-style funk their trademark, enjoyed a steady string of R&B hits throughout the '70s, '80s, and '90s. If there was irony in the fact that Beverly got his first mainstream attention when he was sampled (illegally) by Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock, on the 1988 club smash "Joy and Pain," Maze's perpetually busy live schedule probably gave him little time to worry about it.