By now, pretty much everyone knows plenty about “Hamilton,” the hip-hop sensation captivating Broadway. You’ve probably heard about its diverse cast, powerful music and profound messages, and likely witnessed the social media war that went down after the cast made a pointed statement at Mike Pence. What you all may not know about, however, is the existence of the “Hamilton Mixtape,” something I only learned about the past weekend myself. Essentially, Lin Manuel-Miranda produced a collection of songs in collaboration with a huge number of music stars, inspired by the music from his musical. I think it’s one of the very best things about Hamilton, because it brings out one of the very best things about art.
For one, the mixtape is an incredibly powerful collection of music. There are two kinds of songs on it: ones in which artists remake the musical’s numbers, such as Sia’s take on “Satisfied” with Miguel and Queen Latifah, and others in which rappers such as Busta Rhymes, Nas, or Miranda himself write verses on themes from certain songs, such as “Wrote My Way Out.” The songs are incredibly fun to listen and sing along to, and each artist brings his or her own flair to the song, incorporating it into their style. They also, though, and this is especially true for the raps, speak to important issues in our own day and age such as immigration. In other words, it’s an album that’s both fun and important to listen to, and deserves recognition for that.
The bigger reason I’m in love with the mixtape, though, is that it’s a celebration of one reason music and writing are such powerful mediums: the ability to remake and adapt the work of others. Becasue of the way they’re composed, out of easily reproducible individual parts, music and writing are the perfect media to be adapted continuously by artists inspired by a piece. More than visual art, music and writing are ripe for homage and redesign. This is one of the most powerful aspects of art itself, the ability it has to inspire others and carry multiple messages, as well as to be endlessly adaptable, to change its meaning a thousand times in a thousand different hands, to speak to anyone who can listen.
Whether it’s on the uplifting verses of “Wrote My Way Out” or the hard-hitting lyrics of “Immigrants,” the Hamilton Mixtape shows us just that kind of power. The musical’s songs were already impactful, as made obvious by its monstrous success on the Broadway stage. The mixtape, however, takes certain lines, certain moments in the show and spins them into powerful original songs, and in doing so proves to be a triumph of exactly what makes music and writing - which broadway sits at the crossroads of - so mighty. That’s always been the power of art and artists, after all: to take something small, something that might be easily overlooked by others, and make it matter, make it meaningful. The Hamilton Mixtape is a study in this, and I will gladly listen in awe of it.
With Excitement and Optimism,