A review by Liz Reichart for The Campus Chronicle.
The ten-dollar bill and the bright lights of Broadway. The founding fathers and the flailing fingers of jazz hands. The story of a nation told by the minorities upon which it was built Hamilton: An American musical is the creative child of part-genius-composer, part effervescent-bouncy-ball Lin-Manuel Miranda, and with the work of art comes a fandom with infinite nooks and crannies to sink your teeth into. Assuming most reading this have some semblance of the show’s impact, or internet connection for that matter, there’s no need to reiterate that Hamilton’s success has spread like wildfire and is now engrained in the nation’s collective vernacular. The show set a Broadway box office record for the most money grossed in a single week in New York City. This past November, it grossed $3.3 million for an eight-performance week, making it the first show ever to break $3 million in eight performances.
Much has been said about what Miranda did, and the revolution he’s whipped up is no less astonishing 18 months after its premiere at the New York Public Theatre: he brought Broadway fans into the realm of hip-hop and rap, exposing them to a myriad of styles the likes of Biggie Smalls, Busta Rhymes, and Jay-Z without taking away the “jazz-handier” aspects Broadway fans love. Watch Miranda scratch the both metaphorical and literal turntable as he does the inverse: bring hip-hop fans into the realm of Broadway. The Hamilton Mixtape, released to clamoring “Hamil-heads” December 1, does just this. Titans of the hip-hop and rap industries have forged together to remix and re-cover songs from the now smash Broadway Musical. Including everyone from Nas to Kelly Clarkson, the massive project could have easily become a sloppy, Schoolhouse Rock-eque attempt to cornily remix show tunes.
Under the airtight production of Miranda and the Roots, the album proved to be anything but.
The mixtape is a living, breathing unit that inhales a Broadway sensation and exhales a contemporary creation with a gritty pulse. The Roots kick off the mixtape with a rejected song from the cast album entitled “No John Trumbull”, referencing Trumbull’s famous painting of the founding fathers at the country’s conception. Each song on the mixtape too is a work of art, and it’s almost difficult to see the whole with so many intricate parts, in contrast to the original Broadway Cast Album.
Two particularly bright spots on the album are the equally evocative renditions of “Dear Theodosia”, one by Regina Spektor featuring Ben Folds, and the other by Chance the Rapper featuring Francis and the Lights. Perhaps no other performer bookends so perfectly personify the great range of musical talent present on this mixtape. Not only this, but the high level of production found a way to capture these artists not covering songs in a misfit sort of way, but it captures their peak talents, the very best of who they are as entertainers. The bouncy, confident rendition by Spektor is everything that Chance the Rapper’s version it not: heartbreaking, mournful, emotive. Both are moving pieces of art that truly reflect the genius of Miranda as a composer of music: what a flexible piece of work is Hamilton!
Not to be too on-the-nose, but my lungs heaved at the very sound of Sia’s soaring vocals in her rendition of “Satisfied”, featuring Miguel and Queen Latifah. How Miranda managed to collect these three artists who sound so different and make the product sound so wonderfully monotone, I will never know. Perhaps this is why I haven’t written a smash musical about the yellow fever outbreak yet. But this much is true: this is some of Sia’s best, most personified work, and it is so characteristically Sia, it makes listening to the original version by Renee Elise Goldsberry a whole different piece of art in itself. In many ways, Miranda has re-written his musical for the modern Hamilton: the talented slew of artists featured on the mixtape.
The very best of the mixtape can be heard in the track “Immigrants (We Get the Job Done)” by K’NAAN, Snow Tha Product, Riz MC, and Residente. The song takes just one line of Miranda’s “Yorktown” and teases it out into a political and social protest. This song, more than any of the others on the mixtape, embodies Alexander Hamilton’s purpose and drive. Hamilton was an immigrant from the Caribbean who wrote his way out of abject poverty. “Immigrants” examines what someone like Hamilton, who is a cornerstone of the democracy we know today, would appear in the turbulent times of the contemporary. Chances are, he would not be allowed in the country, hard-pressed to gain any social or financial mobility, and persecuted upon his arrival.
Additional must-listen tracks include “My Shot” by Busta Rhymes, Joell Ortiz and Nate Ruess, “Helpless” by Ashanti featuring Ja Rule, and “Valley Forge” by Lin-Manuel Miranda, a song cut from the original Broadway show and reworked for the mixtape. I could praise this mixtape until the sun turns cold, but I would be remiss if I did not take a whack at Usher’s rendition of “Wait For It”, sung on Broadway by Aaron Burr, played by the suave Leslie Odom Jr. It is one of the only tracks on the mixtape that falls categorically flat, perhaps in its over-pop-synth-ness. It stood alone in being the track I would rather hear the original Broadway cast sing, and perhaps that comes from it being such an iconic marker of the show. Miranda himself has said on occasion that “Wait for It” was his finest work.
If you’re looking for something to get the Hamil-heads in your life this holiday season, The Hamilton Mixtape is not what you’re after. Chances are they have already dissected every piece, and are just now licking their fingers, trying to get the last bits of meat off every metaphorical bone. If you want to make them happy, listen to them talk about Hamilton for more than 15 minutes without rolling your eyes. That in itself would be a Christmas miracle.