The Hamilton Mixtape

Various Artists

Atlantic, 2016

REVIEW BY: Daniel Camp

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 08/28/2018

After the unprecedented cultural and financial success of Hamilton: An American Musical, Lin-Manuel Miranda had everyone from actors to musical artists beating down his door wanting a piece of the action, a chance to not only see the show but in some small way be a part of it themselves. His solution: The Hamilton Mixtape, an opportunity for his famous friends to put their own stamp on what had been largely his singular creation. The result, like most mixtapes, is inconsistent, but on the strength of the original source material, it is more than worth the effort.

Some songs exist on the album simply to give fans a glimpse at Miranda’s rough drafts. “Valley Forge” and “Cabinet Battle 3,” for example, are both demos (with the bad sound quality to prove it) recorded by Miranda himself during the days before Hamilton was a finished product. These serve as interesting looks at his process, but also proof that some things are better left on the cutting room floor—for all their lyrical dexterity, the show isn’t missing anything necessary without them. In “An Open Letter” and “Congratulations,” Miranda hands his rough drafts off to other artists (Watsky and Dessa, respectively), who provide their own flair to songs that barely missed the musical’s final cut.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Other tracks function as straight covers of some of the Hamilton’s best material. Some artists give the familiar songs new life, most notably Kelly Clarkson, whose powerful, emotional performance of “It’s Quiet Uptown” reportedly left her in tears during the recording process. John Legend’s “History Has Its Eyes On You” and Alicia Keys’ “That Would Be Enough” both bring some soul to the party, as does Sia in the melodic portion of “Satisfied.” Unfortunately, other performances fall flat—as good as Sia is in “Satisfied,” her performance is blunted by Queen Latifah’s flat, unenergetic rapping. Similarly, Regina Spektor and Ben Folds make no waves in their version of “Dear Theodosia” (unlike Chance The Rapper, who shines in his version at the end of the album). And as legendary as their partnership usually is, Ashanti should have told Ja Rule no when she heard his take on “Helpless.”

The best material on the mixape comes from those artists who took a line, theme, or sample from the musical and then created something original from it. When the Roots and Busta Rhymes join forces on “My Shot,” they take an 18th century story of ambition and bring it into the 21st, making explicit the universality of the musical’s message. Similarly, “Wrote My Way Out,” my favorite track on the album, sees Nas, Dave East, and ultimately Miranda himself trading verses about the pen’s power to bring salvation, with a sung chorus by Aloe Blacc that brings it all together. And the most culturally resonant song on the mixtape, “Immigrants (We Get the Job Done),” has four different artists rapping in multiple languages over a sample of the musical’s most famous applause line, to great effect.

Not everything on the album works, of course. Jimmy Fallon’s performance on “You’ll Be Back” is light on both comedy and singing talent, leaving you to wonder what the point was. Similarly, two brief interludes do little to move the mixtape along, thus coming across as filler in an already lengthy album.

But on the whole, The Hamilton Mixtape is much more than the cash grab a cynic might assume it to be. Curated by Lin-Manuel Miranda and featuring some of pop and hip-hop’s biggest names, fans of Hamilton would do themselves a disservice by not giving it a listen.

Rating: A-

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