Hamilton Mixtape stars a modern twist

Hamilton the Musical pioneered this year as the first rap-musical, a tale “about America then, told by America now” starring a cast predominantly made up of people of color. After Hamilton’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 “The Hamilton Mixtape.”

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 Trumbull’s “Declaration of Independence,” 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 “ messier and richer, kids, the reality is not a pretty picture, kids” 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, it’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 they’re singing. John Legend’s rendition of “History Has Its Eyes On You” has a soulful tune with his characteristic piano accompaniment and minimal … The reflective, hopeful tone of this song itself complements Legend’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 “You’ll Be Back,” a message from the British empire to the rebelling colonies.

Many themes explored in the album are especially relevant to recent events. In “Who Tells Your Story,” The Roots rap about racial profiling and the attack on blacks in America. The original song which details the uncertainty of Hamilton’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, “Who holds on to our lives…will they tell your story in the end?”

One of my personal favorites “Dear Theodosia (Reprise)” 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 Chance’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 “someday” points toward the future, a future where the world is safe for their children.
Ultimately, the album stays true to the ultimate Hamilton motto: “This is a story about America then, told by America now.” 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

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