Hamilton: Hip hop and History

Hamilton PosterMusicals are not really my thing. Sure, I like to sing, and I like to dance around (poorly), but watching people sing and dance around always seemed like the height of ridiculousness to me. For instance, my family watches White Christmas every year, and I can’t get through it without my own biting, hilarious (read: annoying) commentary.

I’m a real amateur Mystery Science Theater 3000, I am.

Then, along came Hamilton, and my whole view of an entire form of entertainment changed.

Hamilton is the hit Broadway musical that tells the story of, who else, Alexander Hamilton. But the creator of Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda,  did something with the ten-dollar founding father’s story that I find intensely interesting: he threw hip hop into the mix.

In hindsight, it makes perfect sense. Hip hop and rap are about love, braggadocio, the struggle of poor people, and then the struggle of new money. Sometimes those musical forms are about violence.

So when Alexander starts rapping about how he came up from nothing and starts bragging about how smart he is (but unpolished), it feels authentic. Really, the story of Hamilton is the story of a hip hop feud. There are competing posses, there are shootouts, there are falls from grace, and unrequited love.

Honestly, Hamilton could be about Notorious B.I.G.

And that’s where it works. When we think of the founding fathers, we think of stodgy old white dudes who talked with semi-British accents who forged this country from nothing. Sometimes, I think we see them as peerless demi-gods.

But they were men. They loved. They hated. They cheated on their wives. They had slaves. They sometimes drank too much or ate too much or cared too little about certain things. They didn’t all agree on every single point of our government. They had fears and regrets. They had aspirations. They succeeded and failed.

And although I think they were intelligent and exceptional men, they were just men–not the giant gods made of granite that we picture when we think about them.

Hamilton doesn’t shy away from the fact that they were human.

Hamilton

Hamilton meets Laurens, Lafayette, and HERCULES MULLIGAN!!!

It’s funny: we live in a society that isn’t afraid to crucify celebrities or public figures over their failings, but I’ve heard folks talking about the founders as if they were infallible gods second to Jesus in all matters. Hamilton isn’t afraid of poking holes in those perceptions. If that gets only a few people interested in our country’s history, I think it will have been worth it.

Even better, though, Hamilton, like the book on which it’s based, focuses on the women in Alexander’s life as well. Women might not have held a whole lot of power in the 1700s, but, man, could they bring their influence to bear. Angelica and Eliza Schuyler get plenty of attention (and some great songs to boot.)

I haven’t seen the show yet, but I’ve listened to the cast recording of the show probably a dozen times. I’m not sick of it yet (though my family might be), and I doubt that I will be for some time. I highly recommend it.

And, hey, maybe I was wrong about this whole live-action musical thing. I guess there’s only one way to find out.

One thought on “Hamilton: Hip hop and History

  1. Sarah says:

    Extra love the historical perspective. Thanks for spreading the good word about Hamilton.

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