Who ever thought there would be a Broadway Hip-Hop Musical or “rap opera” with a majority Black and Latino cast about Alexander Hamilton? The founder of our nation’s financial system. The founder of the New York Post. The first Secretary of Treasury. That guy on the $10 bill. That Founding Father that most people forget about unless they’re sitting in an AP U.S. History Class.
I’ve been meaning to write this for a few weeks now, but my recent trip to New York City last weekend brought this all to the forefront again. Ever since the Original Broadway Cast Recording of Hamilton was released, I’ve been binge listening to the album and haven’t stopped yet. The show is sold out until next year, so I didn’t get to see the show last weekend, but please believe I’ll be back in the city to see it on stage. I don’t even want to think about how much I’m about to drop on my credit card for this. The ticket prices are INSANE. I’m constantly trying to justify it.
But this musical is genius.
Nothing that I write here is new or different than what countless others have already said or written about it, but I just have to get my feelings out… because I’m all up IN them.
I should start by saying that I have a strong obsession with affinity towards history, and I have equal feelings about musicals (both make me incredibly happy), so this is something that I’d naturally gravitate to anyway, but I’m being completely unbiased when I say that the blend of hip hop, R&B, and history in this musical setting is nothing short of magical.
I know I’m being dramatic, but there really is something for everyone. Everyone isn’t going to feel as passionate about it as I do, but it’s a musical that most people can enjoy. Even if you don’t like musicals. Even if you don’t like hip hop. Even if you don’t like/appreciate American history.
Aside from the diversity, the thing I appreciate the most is how they portray the Founding Fathers not as the stuffy, erudite men we see in our textbooks, but as young, power hungry womanizing men who do nothing but try to climb to the top of the political food chain while they chase skirts. One of the funniest lines in the music is the claim that Martha Washington named her feral tomcat after Hamilton.
Hey yo, I’m just like my country
I’m young, scrappy and hungry
And I’m not throwing away my shot!
The youngest of the Founding Fathers, Alexander Hamilton led a rather fascinating life. He was a bastard son, born in the Caribbean and was technically an immigrant. His penniless beginnings made him insecure and gave him a serious inferiority complex, and he overcompensated for this by flexin’ on em with the power of his pen, literally writing his way to the top–gaining several adversaries on his way there. Though after all of his hard work and ambition, he destroyed his reputation and was eventually shot to death in a duel by Aaron Burr, Thomas Jefferson’s VP.
How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a
Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a
Forgotten spot in the Caribbean by providence
Impoverished, in squalor
Grow up to be a hero and a scholar?
The ten-dollar founding father without a father
Got a lot farther by working a lot harder
By being a lot smarter
By being a self-starter
By fourteen, they placed him in charge of a
Alexander Hamilton and his sister-in-law Angelica had a well-known “flirtation”, but in the musical their relationship is portrayed with a little more detail (which I’m sure is fictionalized). Alexander and Angelica meet first and are instantly attracted to each other, but Angelica is the oldest child of three girls and it is her “duty” to marry a man of a certain status since her father (Philip Schuyler, a Revolutionary War general and later U.S. Senator from New York) has no sons. Unfortunately, Alexander is not high enough in status for Angelica to accept him so she introduces him to her younger sister, Eliza Schuyler, and she immediately falls in love. Once Alexander and Eliza are married, Angelica begins to feel regret, but she finds solace in the fact that Alexander will be close by. She also knows that if she tells her sister Eliza that she’s really in love with him, then Eliza will give him up even though she loves him too. As she sings in the song Satisfied:
I’m a girl in a world in which
My only job is to marry rich.
My father has no sons so I’m the one
Who has to social-climb for one
Angelica tells Eliza that Alexander will never be satisfied, and her predictions pretty much come to life as Alexander continuously leaves Eliza to serve in the war, write pamphlets and to attend to matters of governmental affairs as the Treasury Secretary. Because he’s so ambitious, he becomes an absent husband and father. Then, Alexander has one of the first political sex scandals which pretty much ends his career, and since divorce was frowned upon, his wife begrudgingly takes him back.
The first act takes place during the Revolutionary War and follows his rise to prominence while the second act picks up in 1789 when the new American government is taking form. Of course George Washington and Thomas Jefferson are major parts in the musical, and then there is Aaron Burr, Hamilton’s contemporary with whom he shared a rather contentious relationship/rivalry and the man who eventually shot Hamilton to death in duel. Burr pretty much serves as the narrator of the story, and you can tell by the emotion in the lyrics that he equally admires and hates A. Ham at the same time. With the exception of Washington (A. Ham was his “right hand man”), pretty much all of the Founding Fathers beefed with him. He really was one of the smartest guys in the room, but to them he was arrogant and a poor, immigrant bastard. I know they weren’t really fans of John Adams either, but geez…
I mean, I really felt pity for the man!
One of the most telling songs is the very last song Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story? After A. Ham is shot to death by Aaron Burr, it’s his wife Eliza who is determined to keep his legacy alive even after everything he put her through (their son also dies in a duel defending Hamilton’s honor). I also get tickled at the Marquis de Lafayette rapping rapid-Busta-Rhymes-style in a “French” accent in Guns and Ships (I wasn’t even ready when that beat dropped). Then there’s Thomas Jefferson and A. Ham having a debate with George Washington as the moderator, but it’s done in the style of a freestyle rap battle.
If you’re a hip hop fan, then you will definitely catch the modern music references that they make in the songs. But even if you’re not, you can and will still enjoy it. This musical–just like music in general–is universal and tells the classic American started-from-the-bottom-now-I’m-here story that will have you laughing, jamming, and (if you’re like me) tearing up at the same time too.
And if you don’t know now you know, Mr. President…
There are a total of 46 songs on the album, so not everyone is going to listen to ALL of it. But if you are so inclined to do so, then listen to them in order first to hear the emotional story. It requires time and attention to really understand it. If you want to check out just a few songs, then I’ve listed some of my faves below. It was so hard to choose! But no matter which route you go, you must pay attention to the lyrics. There’s some powerful poetry going on here, guys. It’s the gift that keeps on giving, and the more you listen, the more gifts you receive.
Sidenote: Daveed Diggs who doubles as the Marquis de Lafayette in Act I and Thomas Jefferson in Act II is simply phenomenal.
And yes, I bump showtunes in the car.
A few of my faves in no particular order:
- Alexander Hamilton – mandatory
- My Shot – A. Ham declares his purpose
- Right Hand Man – here comes the General… (Washington)
- Satisfied – Angelica’s secret
- Guns and Ships – the French aide the U.S.
- Cabinet Battle #1 – the first rap battle debate centers around the state of the nation’s finances
- Cabinet Battle #2 – the second debate centers around whether or not the U.S. should assist the French in their battle against the British
- Say No to This – the torrid affair begins
- The Reynolds Pamphlet – the torrid affair is exposed
- Your Obedient Servant – the new passive aggressive anthem
I’m sure by the time I see this on stage I’m going to have all of the magnetic lyrics memorized, and I already know I’m gonna cry. Two words: Nerd. Tears.
The album is available on practically every streaming music service or you can listen to the entire album here:
Kyndal is an adventurous free-spirit who finds it very hard to describe herself. When she’s not writing, daydreaming, or planning her next vacation, she’s practicing yoga, spending countless hours in Photoshop, and reading fantasy novels.
You can find her on her blog The Entertainment Diaries www.entertainmentdiaries.com; and you can follow her on Twitter and Instagram: @ladykyndal
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Copyright 2015 Black Girl Nerds
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