4-Piece Set: From The Four Mills Brothers to Hamilton Park

Hamilton Park_DLegendary record breaker DJ Smallz speaks bluntly regarding his feelings on R&B quartet Hamilton Park. “They are the future,” he says.

Given the killer-bee-buzz surrounding members Royce P., Anthony, Chris Voice and Mr. Markus Lee, Smallz’s opinion of the four Georgia native friends could be considered confirmation rather than prediction. “We have four lead singers,” says Chris Voice, “whatever the record needs that’s what the record is going to get. You’re not going to get one of us singing a whole song. With our four leads we know how to blend them. We’re not just screaming at you on a track, we’re not all screaming at you during our shows. Everyone is blending real nice. I feel like that’s been missing in R&B these days.”

“These days” could be in for a change. The first act signed to Harrell Records, the newly minted imprint from iconic record executive Andre Harrell, Hamilton Park has the opportunity to follow the success of other Harrell finds such as Mary J. Blige, Guy, and Jodeci.

More importantly, they follow a lineage of quartets dating decades before their professional and physical existence. The four-piece set, more often described as four-part harmony, grew in popularity during the World War II era thanks to pioneering groups like The Four Mills Brothers and The Ink Spots. Their groundwork in vocal layering paved a road directly to mid-1950s doo wop, which saw hit makers The Turbans drive up the charts. As demand for this style grew more four-member groups emerged.

By the 1960s a change was in order. A catchy hook with well-placed shoo-bops paired with croon-heavy harmonizing was no longer a guaranteed sell, especially once listeners got wind of the sultry hot front of rhythm and blues being blown across the country by The Famous Flames. The yet uncrowned Godfather of Soul, James Brown, Bobby Byrd, Lloyd Stallworth, and Bobby Bennett were edgier, sexier, with a heck of a lot more wop than doo. The same could be said for Motown’s own foursome, The Four Tops. The dazzling Detroit natives mixed pop sensibility with gospel-influenced R&B; they and the Flames set a fruitful trend that carried over to groups like Blue Magic in the 70s and The Whispers in the 80s. Their fast records turned dance floor dwellers to jelly while their ballads ushered in spreadable slow jams.

Their 90s descendants were well-groomed to carry the torch, and none held the flame higher than Boyz II Men and Jodeci. Both sets of four utilized the 1940s to 1980s eras’ fundamentals while adding sound variations of their own, each style ripe for their new-jack, hip-hop-inspired time period. The four-piece set reached higher than ever. In the years following the rise of Jodeci and Boyz II Men not many others had the strength–vocally nor in terms of marketability– to climb up after them. When Harrell discovered Hamilton Park in 2010 he immediately noticed these four young singers possessed no fear of heights.

Frame, Harrell Records’ Vice President, says their vision with Park was “to develop a group of boys that would use music as a tool to learn life lessons and agreeably contribute to the commentary of the American music experience with fearless, unrestricted expressions from the heart. Enable themselves to enhance the quality of life for their families and gain influence to put ‘love back into the universe,’ as Andre Harrell would say.”

How Chris describes himself and his group mates: “I’m the crooner. Anthony is the sincere one; he’s got that seasoning voice. Mr. Markus has got that freak nasty, it’s-time-to-do-it voice. And Royce P. is going to just bring down the heavens. Period. And those four tones make up Hamilton Park.” Frame adds, “Hamilton Park is the singing group of this Generation.”

Hamilton Park’s tones have made their singles “Computer Love,” “Thing Called Us,” and “Derriere” must-play hits, building anticipation for whatever their future holds while also honoring the generations of singers who came before them.

Hamilton Park may have a promising career ahead, but how does their past play into this potential? In closing, each member tells SoulTrain.com why they decided to become singers– the beginning of the future.

Anthony: “There’s a history of singers in my family. My aunt sings, my grandma sings, my mother sings, I grew up singing in the church youth choir. That inspired me, and it intrigued me to do it. There’s just such a history of singing in my family.”

Mr. Markus Lee: “Music was always in my house. I was growing up looking at New Edition; I’m from East Point, so we had Outkast and all of that. I was in church every Sunday; my father was the pastor of the church. I always felt God gave me a gift and I wanted to share it with the world.”

Chris Voice: “My grandmother used to take me to church every Sunday. And she would say, ‘If you get up and sing my favorite song, I’ll take you to McDonald’s when church is over and buy you a Happy Meal.’ And the only thing I would be thinking about every Sunday was that Happy Meal! But over time I fell in love with singing and the music, and I couldn’t see myself doing nothing else.”

Royce P: “I’ve always been singing, ever since I was little. What made me take it serious was feeling the effect it had on me and seeing the effect it had on other people. Just that alone really made me want to be a real singer. So…I started studying the greats, I started listening to real music, and started working on my craft. And I had an older brother who would whoop my ass, and made sure I sang right! He was like a Joe Jackson!”

For more on Hamilton Park visit www.HamiltonParkMusic.com and AtlanticRecords.com. Follow the entire group @HamiltonPark and each member (@Anthony_HP, @MrMakuslee_HP, @ChrisVoice_HP, @Royce_HP) on Twitter.

–Mr. Joe Walker

Mr. Joe Walker, a senior contributor for SoulTrain.com, staff writer for Muskegon Tribune Newspaper, and feature writer for City Locs, is an award-winning entertainment and news journalist and columnist published thousands of times regionally, nationally, internationally, and online. Former Editor In Chief of XPOZ Magazine, his work has graced the pages and covers of Notion Magazine, Kalamazoo Gazette Newspaper, Real Detroit Weekly, and MLive.com. He loves to create, loves that you read. Follow him on Twitter @mrjoewalker. Also visit MrJoeWalker.blogspot.com and Facebook.com/ByMrJoeWalker.

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