History, Hip-Hop and “Hamilton” – An Album Review

Pictured: Lin-Manuel Miranda and the cast of “Hamilton” (credit: Variety)

Credit: The New York Times
Credit: The New York Times

In the highly-anticipated recording of one of the most lauded musicals in years, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton” is more than a show where hip-hop meets history. The ambitious double-disc soundtrack is a meticulous lesson in musicality, ranging in genre, tempo, style and tone as seamlessly as a project six years in the making could be.

The sprawling score is two discs twenty-three songs each of infectious spirit and unapologetic energy. Starting with the introductory track, “Alexander Hamilton” features the cast of characters lauding the titular character in a piano-laced jam. From that point on, the soundtrack ranges in rhythm, sprawls in its styles, and incorporates more than the hip-hop verse that has been touted so prominently.

Credit: EW
Credit: EW

Listening to the “Hamilton” soundtrack is, at times, like listening to a selection of Billboard Hot 100 from the past 20 or so years – yet it still maintains the crucial narrative storytelling that comes with your standard Broadway musical. The songs range from blistering, rollicking rap (“Right Hand Man,” “Guns and Ships,” “Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down”) to poignant, emotional ballads (“That Would Be Enough,” “Dear Theodosia,” “Burn”), to R&B girl power (“The Schuyler Sisters,” “Helpless,” “Satisfied”) to British 60s pop (“You’ll Be Back,” “What Comes Next?,” “I Know Him”). All are dynamic in both their storytelling and their stylistic finesse – the performers find their balance among the multitude of rhythms and rhymes. The vocals soar, the verses are punctuated and fast-paced, and the meaning behind the melodies are intricate enough to completely envelop you in the story without seeing it. While I could highlight each vocalist individually, I prefer to showcase the soundtrack as a whole – the entire ensemble works together so well and compliment each other in every aspect. From Miranda (Alexander Hamilton) to Leslie Odom Jr. (Aaron Burr) Phillipa Soo and Renée Elise Goldsberry (Elizabeth Schulyer-Hamilton and Angelica Schulyer, respectively) to Jonathan Groff (King George II – and absolutely hilarious), every member is a necessary cog in the machine.

Credit: New York Daily News
Credit: New York Daily News

The repeated mantra of “not throwin’ away my shot” is not just an interlude tool that is employed in most musicals, but it is elevated by the hunger and the intensity that is palpable from the cast and the creatives behind it. Creator Miranda collaborated with Questlove and Black Thought of The Roots for the recording, and the clean, calculated flow from track to track and style to style is evident. I mean, the score goes from “Cabinet Battle #1” (where Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson have – you guessed it – a rap battle) to “Take A Break,” a lighter, emotionally-accentuated ballad between Hamilton and his wife, Eliza. It may sound like this is what a musical should sound like, and you’d be right – a musical of this caliber with a dense, detail-oriented plot should have seemless transitions between songs and styles while highlighting and humanizing its story and its characters.

Credit: NY Post
Credit: NY Post

Alexander Hamilton had his Revolution, and “Hamilton” now presents Broadway (and pop culture) with theirs – it is possible for an epic, “hip-hop musical” to exist, and it is possible to attract and entertain audiences of all genres, races, genders, and persuasions.

Check out the soundtrack on Spotify – and share your thoughts on the soundtrack in the comments section!

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