The long-awaited “Hamilton Mixtape” is finally out. And yes – it is good. It’s great, in fact. It’s one of those albums where you could literally pen a 200-word review by writing “GREAT” over and over. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s original vision for the phenomenon that is now Hamilton: An American Musical proved to work well and as a good way to bring various communities together.
For those who are unaware of the hype, Hamilton, the biography of founding father Alexander Hamilton, is a cultural musical phenomenon that swept at the Tony Awards and won the coveted Pulitzer Prize for Drama this year. Its creator and original star, Lin-Manuel Miranda, took home multiple Tony Awards for writing and won the Drama League Award for Distinguished Performance. Because of Hamilton, Miranda skyrocketed from a musical theater writer and actor (who also penned In the Heights with Quiara Alegría Hudes ’04) to an international sensation. According to Miranda, a Hamilton Mixtape (featuring popular musicians) was the original plan, but encouragement from producers led him to write a stage-able version of the piece. That proved to pay off. Now, Miranda is back to his original idea. That also pays off.
The album features covers of popular songs from the show, new variations on memorable lyrics, and demos of songs that didn’t make it into the finished product. Every track in the album is absolutely fantastic, either featuring established artists, up-and-comers, or Miranda himself. The mixtape features crowd favorites like Usher singing Leslie Odom Jr.’s “Wait for It,” Kelly Clarkson singing the company number “It’s Quiet Uptown,” Alicia Keys singing Phillipa Soo’s “That Would Be Enough,” and Regina Spektor on the duet “Dear Theodosia” with Ben Folds. They are all fantastic – not much less to be expected.
Every track is award-worthy – below I highlight my favorites:
“Valley Forge” is a historical recount of the winter spent in Valley Forge by the Revolutionary troops. This piece is devastating but incredible; apparently it didn’t make it into the final cut of Hamilton. Doesn’t mean it’s not worth a listen.
Arguably the most popular song of the show, “Satisfied,” (originally sung by Tony-winner Renee Elise Goldsberry) is covered on the mixtape by Sia, Queen Latifah, and Miguel. These three retain their individual artistry while collaborating excellently together: Sia’s bright, belty voice compliments Miguel’s tenor, which goes well with Latifah’s rapping.
Possibly the best track on the album is Andra Day’s cover of “Burn” (originally performed by Phillipa Soo). Day somehow balances the melodic line of the piece with her own R&B style that got her two Grammy nominations this past year. Listen to her growl “You’ll SLEEP in your office INSTEAD!” The result is one that forces you to repeat the moment over and over again.
Even Jimmy Fallon’s cover of “You’ll Be Back” (originally sung by Frozen‘s Jonathan Groff) is alright. I mean, it’s the kind of cover that makes you smile and roll your eyes, but it’s not half bad.
Miranda lets the artists featured on the album retain their own artistry while singing and rapping his words. It makes a fan of the show hear the lyrics and music from a different filter, a different point of view. And it works. “The Hamilton Mixtape” also meshes different communities: the hardcore theater community gets exposure to popular music they may not have heard before, and the masses of the US get to hear good musical theater, maybe for the first time.
“The Hamilton Mixtape” is an incredible feat of artistry, theater, and music. If you can take seventy-three minutes out of your day to listen to the album in full, it’s worth it. The effect is quite something.