“The Hamilton Mixtape”
THE GRADE A-
BOTTOM LINE The music of “Hamilton” searches for new contexts and broader audiences
Long before President-elect Donald Trump took on the cultural juggernaut that is “Hamilton” and made it front-page news, creator Lin-Manuel Miranda had been looking for a way to expand the musical’s influence beyond Broadway.
With “The Hamilton Mixtape” (Atlantic), which Miranda says is the first of at least two, he and a star-studded cast of collaborators ranging from The Roots to Sia and Miguel employ a variety of strategies to bring the show’s music and message into the mainstream.
“Immigrants (We Get the Job Done)” uses the line from the show’s “Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down)” as a jumping-off point for a full-fledged, multilingual appreciation of immigrants’ role in building America. And the song, which features K’naan, Snow Tha Product, Riz MC and Residente, doesn’t shy away from controversy, opening with a spoken-word piece stating, “It’s really astonishing that in a country founded by immigrants, ‘immigrant’ has somehow become a bad word.” Snow Tha Product takes it a step further in the song, rapping, “Racists feed the belly of the beast.”
Another way “The Hamilton Mixtape” tries to expand the musical’s influence is by trying to make some songs from the show feel more universal. Kelly Clarkson’s lovely, wrenching version of “It’s Quiet Uptown” rolls various characters’ parts into a simpler narrative, removing names and references to make the story less specific. Usher does the same on his lush version of “Wait For It,” which makes both songs far more radio friendly and allows them to serve as an introduction to the show for the history-averse.
The best of these is the reworking of “Helpless” from Ashanti and Ja Rule, who Miranda has said inspired the original. By simply stripping out the plot elements and adding a bit more swagger to both parts, the dynamic duo may have created the surest hit of the “Hamilton”-related bunch.