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New Music: Hamilton

By Melanie Woods, September 29 2015 —

For those of us who can’t casually fly across the continent to catch the latest Broadway musicals in New York City, cast albums provide the grandiose experience of musical theatre without the price.

But Hamilton isn’t an average musical theatre album with sweeping scores and chorus lines. It’s an album that appeals to the widest demographic possible — hip-hop fans, musical theatre nerds and anyone interested in American founding father Alexander Hamilton’s financial reforms and sex scandals.

A Broadway musical that began its run in the spring of 2015, Hamilton is already poised to sweep next year’s Tony awards. Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote the script, scored the musical and stars as Alexander Hamilton. The musical is based on Rob Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton and follows the founding father throughout his life.

Miranda brings the show to the present by combining this history with the modern sensibility of rap and R&B. This fusion allows the musical to draw connections between themes of solidarity and unity that Hamilton fought for almost 250 years ago with modern hip-hop culture and social justice. ENT_HamiltonCover_spidermaninterwebs

But this isn’t just an album about Alexander Hamilton — it’s about the countless immigrants and children of immigrants who came after him, including Miranda himself.

The most formally experimental sections of the album come when Miranda interprets political situations through a hip-hop lens. In “Cabinet Debate #1,” he takes the meeting over establishing a national bank and creates an 8 Mile-style rap battle between Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. On the surface, this track has the sensibility and inspiration of modern artists like Kanye West or Jay-Z, but Hamilton drops sick burns alongside those beats.

Other tracks pay homage to Hamilton’s historical significance and the history of rap. “The Ten Duel Commandments” is as a direct nod to Biggie Smalls’ “Ten Crack Commandments.” Miranda repeatedly raps that they “only have one shot to live another day,” a direct reference to Eminem’s “Lose Yourself.”

When listening to the album instead of seeing the musical live in NYC, you do miss out on the choreography and showmanship. But that’s no different than listening to an album instead of seeing the artist live in concert.

Like most great hip-hop albums, Hamilton captures the heart and soul of what its creator is trying to say. In addition to talking about of Hamilton himself, it tells the story of countless immigrants and their descendants who have made their way in America in the years since.

Miranda summarizes the show’s message best in “The World Was Wide Enough” when Hamilton raps, “America, you great unfinished symphony, you sent for me and you let me make a difference in a place where even orphan immigrants can leave their fingerprints and rise up.”

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