The Hamilton Mixtape: Odes to Diversity

Hamilton

by Anne Chen

On December 2, 2016, the eagerly awaited “Hamilton Mixtape” was finally released, after weeks of teaser songs and anticipation. Yet, even before the release, the Mixtape divided Hamilton fans.

Many were all for the Mixtape, anxiously prepared for its debut. But others were hesitant about the idea, concerned about it not living up to the original, or even overshadowing it.

The Mixtape features an array of different takes on the original songs from the Broadway musical “Hamilton,” from full-out covers, such as “Burn” by Andra Day, to old school, DJ-style remixes, like “Take A Break (Interlude)” by !llmind.

However, the Mixtape also features a new kind of remix, created by artists who take fragments of songs from the original recording and rework it to fit their own personal experiences. Seen in songs like “Wrote My Way Out” by Nas, Dave East, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Aloe Blacc, and “Immigrants (We Get The Job Done)” by K’naan, Snow Tha Product, Riz MC, and Residente, the Mixtape reflects on society.

In the song “Immigrants (We Get The Job Done),” this culturally diverse group raps about the rising xenophobia in America. Based on the originally uproarious line “Immigrants, we get the job done” from the song “Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down),” the artists transformed the song from a victorious declaration after the victory of the revolutionary war to a reflection of our current political climate.

The song starts with an interlude by J. Period, whose non-rhythmic rap is somewhat reminiscent of a newscast, as he discusses the prejudice facing immigrants in our country today. Throughout the song, we can see the ethnic diversity of these artists, and the experiences that they each faced being immigrants.

K’naan raps, “Man, I was brave, sailing on graves / Don’t think I didn’t notice those tombstones disguised as waves,” describing his experiences immigrating to escape the Somali Civil War.

The song also examines how immigrants must work so much harder than others for the same opportunities, contributing to the common theme of hard work on the Mixtape. After three verses of strong, fast rap in English (plus one in Spanish), the song ends by combining the words “Look how far I’ve come” with a remnant of an original line from “Yorktown,” “not yet,” symbolizing that though immigrants may work hard, they still have a long way to go before receiving complete equality.

On the other hand, the Mixtape also features songs like “Washingtons on Your Side” by Wiz Khalifa. This song started as wordplay on the original song “Washington By Your Side,” which celebrates George Washington’s presidential terms, but Khalifa stated that he wanted it to be about money and status instead. In this song, he explains that when you “have Washingtons on your side,” everything comes easy.

However, these politically relevant songs haven’t been received with completely positive reviews. Many fans worry that by connecting Hamilton to current issues, artists are taking away the magic of it.

That said, the whole point of the Mixtape, or a remix in general, is to change the original, create something fresh and new, and make a statement; this is what Lin-Manuel Miranda set out to do when he first conceived the idea of creating “Hamilton.” Miranda originally envisioned the musical as a mixtape, but later switched to a musical, and his revisitation of a mixtape is brilliant.

It isn’t only the remixes that shine through on the album. Many of the covers are outstanding, and Miranda even includes songs cut from the musical.

“History Has Its Eyes On You,” “Burn,” “Helpless,” and “Dear Theodosia” were all on the original album, yet they truly shine in the voices of some of today’s greatest artists, like John Legend, Andra Day, Ashanti, and Regina Spektor.

Legend’s gospel take on “History Has It’s Eyes On You” makes the completely unromantic song seem smooth and dreamy. The original song features the character of George Washington describing to Hamilton the many mistakes he made in his first military battle, and ends with Washington telling Hamilton that he has solidified a place in history, and needs to watch his step, so as to keep this reputation positive. Instead of sticking to the original tune, Legend slows the song down, successfully transforming this song into a crooning gospel ballad.

“Helpless” was undoubtedly the song that made me like “Hamilton.” Inspired by Beyoncé’s “Countdown,” this upbeat and happy song is unlike any other Broadway tune out there, and details the courtship between Eliza Schuyler and Alexander Hamilton, culminating in their marriage. I worried that the remix would not live up to the original song.

Yet “Helpless” by Ashanti featuring Ja Rule has once again become one of my favorites on the album. These two artists have such powerful voices that they can each project their own personality onto this song without even having to change the tune, the style, or even most of the words.

However, covers just aren’t always as good as songs that take risks, like remixes. Kelly Clarkson’s “It’s Quiet Uptown” doesn’t dig into the emotion that the song holds. This song features Eliza Hamilton mourning the death of her son, but, by taking the character’s names out, Clarkson creates a watered-down, deadpan version of the original song. Instead of the original piano ballad, the song is carried by an over-synthesized bass line that makes this sentimental song feel instead like a generic pop tune found on the the radio.

Because the album is filled with both covers and remixes, there are certain songs that feel out of place. Randomly placed songs like “Stay Alive (Interlude)” by J. Period that sound like DJ remixes, even complete with record scratches, seem ill-suited when juxtaposed with brilliantly written raps and beautiful covers.

This idea of not fitting in, however, is a  common trend in the album, especially since some songs discuss modern issues, while others speak of events from over 200 years ago. This causes the Mixtape to lose the flow that the original soundtrack had, where it was sometimes hard to tell when one song ended and another began.

The Mixtape’s drawbacks are overshadowed by the magnificently constructed raps that can relate songs to issues happening today and the covers of original songs that make the listener see the song in a whole new way. Though these two types of songs seem very different, they work together beautifully, taking the theme of misfit and elevating it to be integrated smoothly in this album.

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