Critical Voices: The Hamilton Mixtape

December 7, 2016

Photo: Atlantic Records

The Hamilton Mixtape, inspired by the soundtrack of the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical Hamilton, features interpretations of the original songs from a series of high profile artists as well as new material from Lin Manuel Miranda that did not make the final cut for the musical. For fans who have been unable to acquire the highly sought after tickets, The Hamilton Mixtape invigorates the musical through the addition of new material for those who can only admire from afar.

Just like the original production, The Hamilton Mixtape stands out both in its innovative musical prowess and social commentary. Featuring artists like John Legend, Usher, Ashanti, Wiz Khalifa, and the Roots, the soundtrack includes a diverse range of styles that rivals the original musical’s. The songs don’t stick to Hamilton’s lyrics, but do include memorable lyrics to emphasize important plot points from the musical.

One of the mixtape’s key features is its commentary on more serious issues by skillfully interweaving important historical moments with more modern topics. In “Wrote my Way Out,” Nas and Dave East compare themselves to Hamilton, who lifted himself out of poverty through his skill at writing. Hamilton’s rise to prominence as an immigrant in the volatile world before the Revolutionary War is a major theme in both the original musical and the mixtape. “Immigrants (We Get the Job Done),” which features K’NAAN, Snow Tha Product, Ric MC, and Residente, includes critical lyrics about modern American immigration issues (“You claim I’m stealing jobs though / Peter Piper claimed he picked them, he just underpaid Pablo / But there ain’t a paper trail when you’re living in the shadows”) interwoven with fast paced verses in Spanish for an added touch.  

For longtime fans, Miranda provides an insider’s look into the making of Hamilton by including stripped down, demo versions of original songs that were not included in the final Hamilton soundtrack. “Cabinet Battle 3 – Demo,” the third rap battle between Hamilton and Jefferson that was cut from the final musical, features a clever and cutting debate over the African slave trade (Hamilton: How will the south find labor for its business? How will Thomas Jefferson find his next mistress?”). While the original music lightly touches on issues of slavery and the experience of black people during the Revolutionary War era, it could have done more. Adding “Cabinet Battle 3” to the soundtrack would have explored the issue of slavery on a deeper and more direct level.

Where the mixtape falls short, perhaps, is that it tries to do a little too much. Jimmy Fallon’s cover of Jonathon Groff’s “You’ll Be Back” begins with commentary from Fallon on breathing techniques and is laughably horrible. Kelly Clarkson’s “It’s Quiet Uptown” could be a radio pop hit; it is too overproduced, failing to strike the emotional fragility that makes the original so good.

Just like the original soundtrack, The Hamilton Mixtape has an addictive quality thanks to its fast pace and infectious energy; the tracks deliver witty punch lines that are so well executed they can be easy to miss during a casual first listen. Although it may never replace the original soundtrack, the mixtape is creative and well executed, pulling from high profile artists across all genres to produce an eclectic experience that will resonate with new and old Hamilton fans alike.

Voice’s Choices: “Helpless (feat. Ja Rule)”, “Immigrants (We Get the Job Done)”

Devon O'Dwyer
Devon studied Government in the College, is the Voice's former assistant podcast editor, and a former leisure editor. She spends a lot of time making playlists.


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