You done good. The Hamilton Mixtape takes the heart and soul of the beloved musical and translates it into a collection of songs that are relevant, exciting, and simply brilliant.
Long before Hamilton: An American Musical became the Broadway sensation and household name it is now, the show’s creator Lin-Manuel Miranda met the band The Roots, who were inspired by the show to write their own music. Thus the premise was born for what would eventually become The Hamilton Mixtape.
The mixtape is essentially what it says on the tin, taking and reworking Hamilton‘s songs and draws inspiration from them to create not just covers but songs inspired by thematic concepts of the play. As a collection, the album truly does feel like a random assortment of different styles and genres that share a common theme and goal. To perform them, Miranda really has garnered the cream of the crop, assigning various contributing roles to John Legend, Usher, Sia, Alicia Keys, K’Naan, Aloe Blacc, Kelly Clarkson, and more, resulting in a collection that’s as good as you would only dream it would be.
The album opens with ‘No John Trumbull,’ an introduction which refers to and dispels the Trumbull painting of the founding fathers – “The reality is messier and richer, kid / The reality is not a pretty picture, kid” – before going on to suggest that what the listener is “about to witness” is something altogether more gritty and true-to-life. Thus, the scene is set – from here, those themes of a life of struggle and attempting to rise up above are continued by Busta Rhymes’ rendition of ‘My Shot.’
Those tracks which are direct covers of Hamilton songs are all beautifully re-imagined, with each artist bringing their own musical influences to change the vibe of the track. Kelly Clarkson’s ‘It’s Quiet Uptown’ and Sia’s ‘Satisfied’ are quintessential pop, whereas Alicia Keys’ ‘That Would Be Enough’ and Ashanti’s ‘Helpless’ are both laced with a more vintage R&B feel. John Legend brings soul to ‘History Has Its Eyes On You’ and Regina Spektor conveys a much softer tone on ‘Dear Theodosia.’ Others are written from scratch, performed from the perspective of some of the show’s characters, like Maria Reynolds’ side of the tale on ‘Say Yes To This’ and Angelica Schuyler’s on ‘Congratulations.’ These groups, however, are in no way the strength of the mixtape. That honour lies with the original tracks it premieres.
Each is constructed around the motivations and conceptualisations of a line or two at most from one of the musical’s original songs, allowing for fascinating political commentary. ‘Immigrants (We Get The Job Done)’ – a rap track featuring K’naan, Snow Tha Product, Riz MC, and Residente – makes this particularly evident, with each artist detailing their own stories by emanating the idea in the title. ‘Wrote My Way Out‘ does this too, turning a line from ‘Hurricane’ into the artists’ own stories of using words to get themselves out of trouble.
What The Hamilton Mixtape does is ooze (and practically burst with) creativity, showcasing the ways in which the musical has been so influential in popular culture in its short lifespan. It shows how each artist can take a song and make it entirely their own in ways that mean that there isn’t even much point in comparing it to its original, illustrating Miranda’s rich interpretation of Alexander Hamilton’s story as an illuminating source of inspiration to write contemporary music that speaks of contemporary and relevant truths.
The Hamilton Mixtape is out now via Atlantic Records