Before Lainey dreamed about being the dean of celebrity studies at a small liberal arts college somewhere in New England, we would talk about how great it would be just to be perpetual students, deep in studying for learning’s sake, not for a degree and a job, Hermione Granger style.
But secretly, I sometimes doubted I would have the…I don’t know… silence tolerance. To spend all that time alone cross-referencing texts and noting where this one leaves off but this one includes a revision, and there’s also this other volume that should be consulted but not necessarily trusted; I thought I might become bored.
The Hamilton Mixtape has proven that I will never, never get bored.
If you didn’t know, if this was on in the background at someone’s house, you’d think it was a particularly tuneful hip-hop album. There are of course some references to Hamilton, the guy, but also references to Jonathan Larsen’s debts and Maurice Sendak and Waze. It’s like any other particularly exciting hip-hop album – listening for the references and watching how cleverly they’re woven together. The research I nerd out about above comes from listening to the Mixtape, and then desperately wanting to have my Hamiltome close by, to cross-reference everything, and then discuss it on Genius. Every place they picked up a lyric or remixed one or gave it to someone else….it’s a treat and a brain game, proving once again that Lin-Manuel Miranda is both a legit musical genius and a giant nerd.
The mixtape is, of course, a total honour to the show – and now that I’m lucky enough to have seen it*, I see the reason why it was necessary, and brings the show to a whole new audience. For example, on the soundtrack, and in the show, “We’re gonna fly a lot of flags half-mast” is a warning, it’s ominous. But in the new-but-familiar Valley Forge, it’s a much slower line, so it becomes much more of a eulogy - there’s time to reflect on the implication of what that means. History Has Its Eyes On You, in the original recording, is an introduction of a refrain, an idea. But when John Legend turns it into a big, heart-bursting gospel tune on the Mixtape, you realize, again, for the millionth time, why music is amazing – there’s no end to the interpretations.
Beyond great tracks and performers, there are two ways the mixtape is …not better than the original cast recording, but deeper. First, there are new tracks. Open letters to John Adams and his incompetence, new, utterly of-our-time tracks like my new favourite, Wrote My Way Out, and more rap battles that didn’t make it onstage. It fleshes out the story yet again, as the fresh more modern takes giving it relevance to people who never have or will set foot in a “Broadway Show”.
Beyond that, though, The Hamilton Mixtape proves it has its eyes on the women in the show – and in the story. Jill Scott changes Say No To This to Say Yes To This and you wonder why it wasn’t like that in the first place. On a mostly-new track, Congratulations, Angelica gets to rip Hamilton the new one that you know she wanted to do in the original – it’s truer to the character and the story. In Burn you get to hear and feel all of Eliza’s scorn up front and center, unsullied by any leftover sweetness – and God, no wonder Kelly Clarkson cried performing It’s Quiet Uptown. That song is a heartbreaker to begin with, but somehow we realize for the first time that it was meant to be sung by one mournful voice, like she does here…one voice to show one person’s unimaginable pain.
My nitpick – I probably shouldn’t be surprised, but I would have been happier not to have Jimmy Fallon anywhere near this. He plays King George, but still.
What The Hamilton Mixtape proves is that this is now going to be way beyond Lin-Manuel Miranda. This show and these songs and stories are now in the popular parlance in a way that has virtually nothing to do with Broadway or musical theatre. I have never thought those are things to shrink from, but if you do, or aren’t sure these songs and stories that keep coming up matter, this is the way in.
Check out Busta Rhymes performing My Shot on The Tonight Show. What more do you need?
*I was seriously, emotionally overwhelmed at all the notes from people hoping I’d enjoy Hamilton. It was incredible, and I wished Lainey was there, and I will have more to say about it. But how often do a bunch of strangers wish your wishes come true, just because? Rare and lovely. Thank you.