Not Your Typical Mixtape

JULIA FELDIS

December 2nd, 2016 – the release date of an album like no other. This is not just a typical mixtape. This is a worldwide statement. You have heard the name Lin Manuel-Miranda dozens of times in the past year, creating and starring in Hamilton along with contributing to Disney’s latest animation Moana. But this is one of the biggest things he has done. He spent hours upon hours with various rap, hip-hop, R&B and pop artists collaborating to take songs from his musical and turn them into something new. The Hamilton Mixtape takes famous artists like The Roots, Busta Rhymes, Usher, Sia, John Legend and Chance The Rapper, plus so much more, and allows them to create music they might not normally create.

These artists took many directions in making this mixtape. Some simply covered the Broadway hits with their own stylization like Usher re-imagining ‘Wait For It’ and Ashanti & Ja Rule adding a hip-hop spin to ‘Helpless.’ Still, other artists took this opportunity and ran. As phenomenal as all of the artists on this mixtape are, the ones who used Hamilton as a springboard to make a powerful statement in the form of rap, stood out in the album. The second and the second to last songs on the mixtape are both centered around already showstopping numbers. “My Shot” and “Who Tells Your Story” both stick pretty closely to their original names and are recognizable by those familiar with the show. The many artists taking over these songs made it their own in beautiful ways, extending the story of Hamilton the original audience could not have imagined.  

A combination of samples from the original songs combined with a drive to make a change through music created bone-chilling numbers like ‘Immigrants (We Get The Job Done).’ If you don’t have time to listen to the full mixtape, at least listen to this one song. It features four rap artists, sampling a few, but powerful lines from ‘Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down).’ Opening with a spoken statement that ends with “It’s really astonishing that in a country founded by immigrants, “immigrant” has somehow become a bad word. So the debate rages on and we continue.” This is then followed by a sample from the end of “Yorktown” where black and white soldiers wonder if they are finally free from England’s clutches during the revolution, to which George Washington responds with “Not Yet”.

The artists on this track used this line from the show with another meaning: asking if those of color and those of Caucasian descent are free from the standings of inequality that has been looming over our country since its founding. It seems this is the point of this mixtape – to take this show and bring it to our day and age, to bring an even brighter light to the troubles in our country. As the song continues, each rapper gets a verse where his or her voice is heard. One of the strongest verses is sung by 29-year-old hip-hop artist from California, Snow Tha Product, who calls it like it really is for immigrants:

“Y’all ain’t been working like I do

I’ll outwork you, it hurts you

You claim I’m stealing jobs though

Peter Piper claimed he picked them, he just underpaid Pablo.

But there ain’t a paper trail when you living in the shadows

We’re America’s ghost writers, the credit’s only borrowed

It’s a matter of time before the checks all come

But… Immigrants, we get the job done”

She drew inspiration from the childhood story of Peter Piper who “picked a peck of pickled peppers,” perhaps implying that it is immigrants who are doing the backbreaking work like picking crops. Peter, a stereo-typically white name, took the credit from Pablo, a stereotypical Hispanic name. She continues by calling immigrants “ghostwriters.” Ghostwriters are people who write songs, speeches, books, and other works for other authors who then get the credit. The artist is claiming that immigrants are the ones writing America, creating America, while ‘Real Americans’ take the credit. This ideology is repeated in Spanish in the last verse. Residente raps “Con un pico, una pala y un rastrillo, te construimos un castillo,” which translates to “With a pick, a shovel and a rake, we built you a castle.” “We” is referring to the hardworking immigrants in our country. These verses are tied together with a chorus of two lines repeated, “Immigrants we get the job done. Look how far I’ve come.”

Along with strong social stances that came with this mixtape, Lin also slid in a few unreleased demos sung by himself as well as a few other artists. ‘An Open Letter’ rapped by Watsky (featuring Shockwave) is the letter that Alexander Hamilton sends to their current President, John Adams. The letter is harsh, but perhaps, well-deserved for the character Lin had created about the absent President of the end of the century. The artist Dessa does Angelica Schuyler justice in the more well-known cut song ‘Congratulations.’ The song takes place in the middle of ‘The Reynolds Pamphlet’ where Hamilton announces to the public his affair with Maria Reynolds. Angelica is Eliza Hamilton’s sister, and she sails across the pond to wish Alexander “congratulations” on ruining his life. Lin gives die-hard Hamilton fans a taste of how songs are cut and changed into the current album we know. ‘Valley Forge’ is a demo that has obvious similarities in lyrics to ‘Stay Alive’ a song that made the final cut of the show. Though the lyrics and ideas are very similar, ‘Valley Forge’ takes a much darker road of what the play just touches on.  

Lin’s ominous voice gives chills to listeners when they land on the demo of Cabinet Battle #3. The first two cabinet battles showed Hamilton, Jefferson, and Madison fighting in the only, somewhat civil way they could.  These rap battles would bring up harsh issues, in which they would very often insult one another. This rap battle refers to a petition written and signed by Benjamin Franklin to end the African Slave Trade and abolish slavery in all forms. The song has eerie chimes in the background combined with a powerful base that can be found in all three cabinet battles. The song has a very different vibe than the rest of the mixtape. It is not upbeat or getting ready for a fight, but it is not the typical upsetting song that gives emotion to the sad storyline of Hamilton’s life. The song has an eerie, dark, serious tone that hasn’t been matched in the show. Obviously there is no spoiler alert in history so the victor of this song is no secret. Hamilton lost the battle in his day and age but has won the war decades after his death. The song is ended with Hamilton’s voice dripping with defeat saying “Let’s hope the next generation thinks of something better.” It was not an accident that Lin included this rap battle with this mixtape. What he’s implying is left for the listener to interpret it for themselves.

Lin Manuel-Miranda took the fame that Hamilton gave him and made it worth more than most celebrities. He took a show that is phenomenal in its own standing and added more meaning than you see at first glance. He gave artists an even bigger platform for reaching a greater audience to hear their struggles and their stances. What Hamilton has done is create a stage for so many other art forms to branch off of and benefit from. Most pieces of art inspire other artists, but Lin Manuel-Miranda made sure other artists truly made something out of it.