Hamilton Mixtape: Reviewed by Hamilstans

By Danielle Leard and Ndemazea Fonkem

“No John Trumbull - Intro” is an interesting introduction to the mixtape. The Roots compare the entire project to a painting by John Trumbull, an American artist from the American Revolution who painted anything ranging from war scenes to the Constitutional Convention. In only 46 seconds, we hear that no matter how good this may sound, it’s no John Trumbull painting.

“My Shot” features The Roots, Busta Rhymes, Joell Oritz, and Nate Ruess. Though the song shares a title and chorus with an opening track from the original cast recording of Hamilton, new rap verses repurpose the song as an anthem for everyone—especially young people of color. Nate Ruess of the band Fun. sings opening and backing vocals. He was a good choice to emphasize the existential undertone this song carries, as most of his songwriting in his other work reflects on the same nature of thought. The Roots, which consists of Black Thought and Questlove, produced this track. Black Thought has a rather large contribution to the song, rapping a verse and the choruses. Busta Rhymes and Joell Oritz also feature on this track, and all three of them bring their own perceptions of the world’s stigma to the table. Overall, this track is very insightful. It has an “underdog” vibe to it. This gifted team of artists seemed to have capitalized on the main message and applied it to today’s world.

“Wrote My Way Out” works off the riffs from the song "Hurricane" from the original Broadway recording. Bringing together rappers like Nas and Dave East with Lin Manuel-Miranda himself and the smooth, velvet voice of Aloe Blacc for the hook, “Wrote My Way Out” carries the same message as "Hurricane". It may be a stereotypical story to have rappers talk about how they got themselves out of their bad situations, but it’s also extremely inspirational. Seeing other people rise from awful circumstances to greatness shows us plainfolk that opportunity truly lies in our own hands and that the pen is mightier than the sword.

“Wait For It” is virtually a cover of the Broadway recording’s version by the legendary singer Usher. However, the bridge is no longer conveyed as a competitive mode of thought, but as one ushering (no pun intended) their audience to really consider what obstacles we will have to overcome in our lives. Usher’s vocal performance is raw, though smooth. The backing track has a bit of a revamp from the original, drawing from a more electronic standpoint.

“An Open Letter - Interlude” is the sassiest song I’ve ever heard. Watsky and Shockwave do an incredible job with the beatboxing and rhymes, fusing an amazing political diss track. Though it is one minute long, it is a modern-day rundown of an open letter from Alexander Hamilton to President John Adams and it is great. The riff at the beginning is from the song "Wait For It" and truly you have to wait for it: each insult is about Adams and how he is never at work, is not smart at all, is irrelevant, and how his wife makes his political decisions for him (which, is not untrue - Abigail Adams was an amazing politican and if gender roles at the time didn’t push her to the side, she would have made a better president than her husband). The song ends with a kazoo version of "Hail to the Chief".
“Satisfied” is also a cover from the original recording, performed by Sia, featuring singer Miguel and rapper Queen Latifah. This version of the song really highlights women of strength, with on-point vocals from Sia and epic rap verses from Latifah. Miguel’s vocal performance is smooth as anticipated, in notable contrast to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s gravelly voice. Overall, the song highlights some underground sounds and feels from the track, almost providing a transportation to another universe when you close your eyes.

Regina Spektor’s cover of “Dear Theodosia” is one of the sweetest things in the middle of all the political shade and chaos, which is the same purpose that the piece had in the original Broadway recording: wholesome fatherhood moments humanizing our characters. The line "you will come of age with our young nation" brings me to tears every time I hear it.

“Valley Forge” is a demo/cut song from the Broadway tracks. The song is organic, with most sounds generated solely by Lin-Manuel Miranda’s voice. As a result, the track is haunting. It doesn’t care to embellish the absolute horror that the soldiers of Valley Forge had to go through. The song is not hasty, despite the rap style, and gives the listener time enough to get goosebumps. Miranda doesn’t start rapping until the 26 second mark, a notable contrast to nearly all of the tracks that made it to the Broadway cast recording. Elements and rap verses of “Valley Forge” were clearly moved to the track “Stay Alive”, which covers the events of military base Valley Forge as well. This song may have been replaced with the former due to time and motifs, a notable element of Hamilton. The theme of “Stay Alive” appears a couple more times throughout the musical, with those double entendres Miranda is so famous for.

I’ll admit: I’m not a Kelly Clarkson fan. But her work on “It’s Quiet Uptown” has so much heart and soul and longing in every word that I couldn't help but go look at some of her other works. Clarkson embodies the message of grief and loss through the offbeat rhythms and quiet piano undertones. After Hamilton loses his son in a battle, he moves his family uptown to have a quiet place to process the events. It allows him a place to have honest conversations with his wife, Eliza, whom he cheated on. The description of the loss he had as ‘unimaginable’ is so powerful because Hamilton had always been this grandiose powerful man. To bring him to a state in which he is gray-haired and frail, only feeling the ‘unimaginable’, is so chilling. Clarkson captures it perfectly.

“That Would Be Enough” is a cover from the original recording. It is performed solely by Alicia Keys, introducing a soulful take on the touching track. Keys, interestingly enough, brought the song out of the 1700's and crafted it to be non-linear. Core elements of the original track remain intact, with just enough alterations to keep old and new listeners attentive throughout the song.

“Immigrants: We Get the Job Done” is a powerful statement about immigration in America and how immigrants are the backbone of this country yet are demonized and ignored by not only the government but its people. The radio clipping talking about how in a country founded by immigrants, immigrant has become a bad word is chilling. K’NAAN’s great voice can then be heard talking about lapdances from Lady Liberty (in a purely metaphorical sense). Snow Tha Product, Riz MC, and Residente all do great jobs talking about how immigrants are treated and half of the song is in Spanish. The most impactful bar for me was: “Peter didn’t pick the pipers, he just underpaid Pablo.”

“You’ll Be Back” is also a cover from the original recording, and definitely a standout from The Hamilton Mixtape. The original track is performed by the character of King George III, and is essentially comedic relief, with a hilarious viewpoint that is a little too historically accurate. This version of the song is covered by none other than TV personality Jimmy Fallon, and the humorous viewpoint is rejuvenated, just as expected. The track opens with comical commentary from Fallon, and the song ‘starts’ ironically before jumping into the actual recording. Overall, this fun, enlightening, and even unifying track serves as a bit of a mental break from a quite provoking album, much like with the Broadway musical.

Ja Rule and Ashanti are people I’ve only heard of in Aziz Ansari comedy specials, but their cover of “Helpless” was so soulful that I immediately loved them both. The story of Eliza and Alexander’s courtship is so fun, bouncy, and ultimately joyful that you can’t help but smile. No matter what happens, Eliza is helpless without Alexander, and I believe Ashanti and Ja Rule feel the same way after listening.

“Take A Break” is a 48-second interlude, remixed and revamped by Filipino-American hip hop producer !llmind. All I can say is, I never thought I’d be compelled to dab to a mother and son counting in French.

“Say Yes To This” is Jill Scott’s take on the song "Say No To This". The original song is about Alexander Hamilton trying to resist cheating on his wife, and it’s interesting to see the situation from the mistress’ side: Maria. This song feels like a jazz club from the forties, where smoke lingers in the air and the singer of the night gets up on the stage and dazzles everyone. Oftentimes, mistresses are depicted as ladies of the night or 'sluts', but to see the vulnerability of this character through Jill Scott humanizes her in a way that you rarely get to see.

“Congratulations” is a cover of a popularized cut track from Hamilton. The cover is performed by rapper, singer, spoken word artist, and writer Dessa. Although at first many listeners including myself were hesitant to this version of the legendary diss track against Alexander Hamilton, it grew on us. This track takes on a ‘rise up’ vibe, with an energetic beat reminiscent of a marching band. A mystifying blend of orchestral and electronic instrumentation does this artist justice in more ways than one.

Andra Day’s “Burn” is extremely haunting and beautiful. The orchestral interruptions make you feel as if she’s walking right behind you, creeping on your every move. The lyrics themselves are of a woman scorned and hurt, and in the musical it just sounds sad, but Andra Day makes Eliza sound angry and a bit revengeful. Thinking about Eliza, the proper housewife, as someone who would not only burn all her spouse’s letters to her, but his entire office and his things, is so fun and Day helps you envision it.
“Stay Alive” is another interlude under a minute, this time mixed by hip hop artists J. Period and Stro Elliot. The track takes the haunting ‘stay alive’ motif sung by Phillipa Soo off of the Broadway recording and revamps it in the most appropriate way.

In the original Broadway recording, the Cabinet Battles were my favorite parts. The countless digs at each other from both sides assisted in a comedic way of seeing how the founding fathers decided on things. “Cabinet Battle 3 - Demo” is all about freeing the slaves. The Anti-Federalists want to delay the freeing of slaves to some other president because they agreed upon the year 1808 to deal with it. Moreover, emancipation would mean every slave owner would want compensation from the government. Federalists, like Hamilton, want rights for the slaves but do not really have a plan. However, Hamilton does make a pass at Thomas Jefferson, asking where he would find his mistresses. There is one true line in it: “Their descendants will curse our names while we roll in our graves.” Because to me, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison can choke. Lin Manuel-Miranda does a great job being all four characters in the scene and his rhymes are solid.

“Washingtons By Your Side” is a track performed by rapper Wiz Khalifa, pulling many notable elements out of the Hamilton track “Washington On Your Side”. Instead of criticizing a character for having literal historical figure George Washington on his side (as done in the Broadway track), the message of the track is flipped on its head to describe experiences with money. The rap verses and chorus counter the misconception that successful artists don’t work hard, also chronicling Wiz Khalifa’s personal experience with his culture and fame.

“History Has Its Eyes On You” is originally a tale of mistakes and taking caution, told by the founding father himself, George Washington. John Legend takes that and turns it into a dinner party piano tune and I love it. Legend works best when it’s just him and a piano and it shows in this piece. The melody is completely changed from the original to make it a happier, joyful tune meant to inspire those to do better because history is watching.

The finale of a musical is the most gut-wrenching sound theater fans will ever hear. Especially that of Hamilton’s incredible finale, “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story”. I cannot get through that track without crying. So you can imagine my hesitancy to hear how this fragile track has been redone. I was scared out of my mind, but as soon as I heard The Hamilton Mixtape track, I knew I shouldn’t have been. “Who Tells Your Story” is somewhat of a remix of the root track, redone by producers and rappers The Roots, rapper Common, and singer Ingrid Michaelson, along with the Broadway ensemble singing evocatively in the background. This track sustains the meaning and emotion of the original number, while branching out into new clouds of thought while pondering the questions the song poses. The Roots give stunning production on the track, while rapper Common provokes just enough emotion; not overdoing or underachieving any line. Finally, Michaelson’s simple yet fragile vocal performance ices the cake of this track. “Who Tells Your Story” tips its hat to Hamilton and its legacy in a new light.

The last song on the mixtape is a collaboration between Chance the Rapper and Francis and the Lights. “Dear Theodosia - Reprise” plays like a lullaby, with quiet piano and Chance’s soft voice. It’s a note to end the project on after the huge finale of “Who Tells Your Story” and it’s beautiful. When I hear this, I see a father singing it to his daughter as he tucks her in at night and the same people again, dancing to it at her wedding. Someday, hopefully.