Hamilton Mixtape stars a modern twist
Hamilton the Musical pioneered this year as the first rap-musical, a tale â€śabout America then, told by America nowâ€ť starring a cast predominantly made up of people of color. After Hamiltonâ€™s debut and meteoric rise to fame, playwright Lin Manuel Miranda organized a 23-track album featuring old school rap, pop and alternative artists titled â€śThe Hamilton Mixtape.â€ť
It is important to keep in mind that this is a mixtape, meaning the songs are meant to be different stylistically. Some songs are so similar to the original versions that they can be classified as covers while some artists took the liberty of laying down new lyrics and heavy beats on original samplings and melodies from the musical.
The album begins with a rap song made up of an entirely novel track and lyrics. It alludes to John Trumbullâ€™s â€śDeclaration of Independence,â€ť a painting depicting the historic signing of the document it is named for. This intro song sets up significant thematic and stylistic motifs in the mixtape. For example, it notes that the reality is always â€ś messier and richer, kids, the reality is not a pretty picture, kidsâ€ť with a basic cadence and rhyme scheme.
In anticipation of this album, I searched up artists who might appear on the track and was impressed by the variety both in terms of genres and age groups. Now, actually listening to the album, itâ€™s baffling to see artists such as Alicia Keys, Nas, Queen Latifah, Common, John Legend, Sia and Chance the Rapper on the same collection.
One thing the album does really well is that it matches individual styles with the subject matter and essence of the song theyâ€™re singing. John Legendâ€™s rendition of â€śHistory Has Its Eyes On Youâ€ť has a soulful tune with his characteristic piano accompaniment and minimal … The reflective, hopeful tone of this song itself complements Legendâ€™s powerful, meaning-fraught vocals.
The comedian Jimmy Fallon brings humor to the tape in his depiction of King George III — an extremely ostentatious and flamboyant character — in his cover of â€śYouâ€™ll Be Back,â€ť a message from the British empire to the rebelling colonies.
Many themes explored in the album are especially relevant to recent events. In â€śWho Tells Your Story,â€ť The Roots rap about racial profiling and the attack on blacks in America. The original song which details the uncertainty of Hamiltonâ€™s legacy is linked to recent events as blacks are made voiceless and lives lost to police brutality are forgotten or ignored in the media. As the artists question, â€śWho holds on to our lives…will they tell your story in the end?â€ť
One of my personal favorites â€śDear Theodosia (Reprise)â€ť ends the album in a peaceful, plain melody sung by Chance the rapper and Lin Manuel Miranda with instrumentals from Francis and the Lights. As opposed to the bold, boisterous beginning of the album, the melody is a simple piano tune. The lack of intrusive editing and layering of beats creates a very earnest and pure sound especially with Chanceâ€™s raw vocals. In Hamilton, the song is an open letter from Burr to Theodosia, his daughter, and Hamilton to Philip, his son. The repetition of â€śsomedayâ€ť points toward the future, a future where the world is safe for their children.
Ultimately, the album stays true to the ultimate Hamilton motto: â€śThis is a story about America then, told by America now.â€ť Despite all the divisions in genres, age groups and backgrounds the mixtape remains a narrative about both historical and modern America.
Written by Angela Zhang, In-depth editor
Photo courtesy of genius.com