Among a stack of “Now That’s What I Call Music!” CD cases, a forgotten copy of Missy Elliot’s Under Construction and a memorable homemade mixtape from your angsty middle school days, there could be a perfect home for the newly-released Hamilton Mixtape. The 23-song mixtape reimagines the music from “Hamilton: An American Musical” through covers, remixes and brand new songs from artists like Usher to “The Tonight Show” host Jimmy Fallon. The Hamilton Mixtape serves two goals: sharing Lin-Manuel Miranda’s inspiration for the music behind the show and speaking to issues America has continued to struggle with since founding father Alexander Hamilton’s era.
The mixtape compiles music from pop, rap and R&B. A collaboration between Sia, Queen Latifah and Miguel blends the three genres in “Satisfied.” Kelly Clarkson joins Sia in a pop rendition of “It’s Quiet Uptown,” with solid vocals, but a cover sounds more suited for Clarkson’s “American Idol” days.
Wiz Khalifa’s “Washingtons By Your Side” is a completely new song that sounds like it could easily fit on his album Blacc Hollywood.
The mixtape wouldn’t be complete without a shout out to the glory days of early 2000s R&B. The double-tracked voices, slow electronic drum and harmonized piano chords of Ashanti and Ja Rule’s song “Helpless” send us back in time to the 2001 single “Always on Time.”
Many albums have an outsider song, that one you almost always skip unless you’re stuck in the shower unable to reach your phone, left to listen to the song when you could be enjoying one of your favorites. The Hamilton Mixtape is no exception. While the official band of Fallon’s “The Tonight Show,” The Roots and band leader Questlove are brilliantly featured on the mixtape, Fallon’s cover of “You’ll Be Back” is humorous, but awkward.
Fallon’s blundered cover in no way overshadows or distracts from the masterpieces of the mixtape, including soul and R&B singer Andra Day’s cover of “Burn,” a haunting, powerful ballad that is bound to leave goosebumps on listeners. You may even shed a tear. Day hits notes with so much passion, richness and depth in her voice that it would be enticing to listen to it non-stop. Much credit for the emotional sound goes to her soulful, Amy Winehouse-like funk.
Chance The Rapper continues the high standard in his rendition of “Dear Theodosia (Reprise),” featuring Francis and the Lights. In a raw, cracked, soft voice, the lullaby is bound to leave you more tearful than Michael Jordan in his famous meme. Chance’s emotional cover towers over another rendition of the same song on the mixtape by Regina Spektor and Ben Folds, whose overly cheery tones are hollow and dull.
While the mixtape is full of multiple genres, no one category outshines the others–songs like “Who Tells Your Story” feature a cohesive multi-genre collaboration between Common, The Roots and Ingrid Michaelson. Although Common and Michaelson’s musical styles are as similar as zucchini and chocolate, the song flows naturally as Common raps about leaving a legacy while Michaelson harmonizes during the chorus. Instead of bouncing from song to song with harsh genre shifts, the mixtape flows thanks to interludes like “Take a Break” and “Stay Alive.”
A few songs on the mixtape give a second chance for songs that never made it to the Broadway version of “Hamilton.” Minneapolis rapper Dessa gives life to “Congratulations,” while Miranda revives the historically based songs “Cabinet Battle 3” and “Valley Forge.” However, the mixtape is more than just a sequel to the 11 Tony Award-winning musical—it uses its popularity to make key political and societal statements across multiple songs.
Released as singles before the mixtape’s debut, “My Shot (Rise Up Remix)” by The Roots featuring Busta Rhymes, Joell Ortiz and Nate Ruess addresses the limited opportunities in life offered to black children. They rap “When even role models tell us we’re born to be felons / We’re never gettin’ into Harvard or Carnegie Mellon / And we gon' end up either robbin' somebody or killin' / It’s not fair that’s all they can tell us.”
In “Wrote My Out,” Miranda joins Nas, Aloe Blacc and Dave East for a song about the power of writing and how the performers used it to pull themselves out of hardships. Nas addresses the racial bias of the judicial system and goes on to share how he uses the stage as a platform to address these crucial topics. Miranda highlights how writing became an escape during his bullied childhood, while referencing three different pieces of art: The famous Broadway musical Rent,” Maurice Sendak’s “Where The Wild Things Are,” and his own Broadway piece “In The Heights.”
Dropped two days after the presidential election, “Immigrants (We Get The Job Done)” by KNAAN, Snow Tha Product, Riz MC and Residente is a desperately needed musical counterweight. The song follows an election of hate, xenophobia and villainization of immigrants. The song brilliantly points out the hypocritical disdain toward immigrants in America. Although the nation was built by immigrants, they’re now incredibly limited and looked down upon in today’s society. The rappers featured in the song come from around the world, providing a crucial, first-hand perspective on what it’s like to be devoid of the so-called American dream.
The focus of rap and R&B music in The Hamilton Mixtape is cleverly used to shed light on these issues that have pained the country since Alexander Hamilton’s era. The catchy, expertly-worded songs serve as a reminder that history does repeat itself—it has its eyes on today’s political leaders just as much as it did on the founding fathers. With “Hamilton” tickets sold out for months in advance, the mixtape expands its reach to the thousands of listeners who will never get the chance to see the musical. From musical to mixtape, it’s clear “Hamilton” is leaving its legacy.