What a show. What a cast. What a soundtrack. The whole Hamilton-as-pop-culture thing has been an eye-opening experience for me. I know, I’m late to the party. I was unable to check it out live so the filmed version of the play scratches that zeitgeist itch. There’s no denying its absolute phenomenon status, and it earns every bit of its accolades. The first half is like a runaway freight train. The second half slows way down with a lot more ballads and R&B homages, and may not get as many repeat viewings from me. The show could have easily vanished up its own ass at virtually any moment, but it consistently stays right on the edge of being both high quality Broadway theater and popcorn entertainment for the cheap seats. It is both a high energy Hip-Hop show and a a theater geeks fever dream.
Hip Hop or “Rap” (as a music) at this point in human existence has jumped the shark. However, I did laugh out loud and snicker at how the Freestyle Love Supreme dropped Hip Hip easter eggs through out the entire run time: Ten Crack Commandments (Obvious), the call and response “What’s Your Name?” (Snoop, DMX, a lot of others), The ‘Shook Ones’ shout out (“I’m only 19, but my mind is old”), “Boom goes the cannon” (Busta Rhymes on Scenario), George Washington with the “Such a blunder sometimes it makes me wonder why I even bring the thunder” (based on Grandmaster Flash’s The Message), the “Laaaadies” call out (Beasties reference), etc. I’m sure there are many, MANY more. I caught these on my first viewing. As an extra bonus, go ahead and watch this with the captions on to catch all the cool intricacies and wordplay with the lyrics.
In interviews, Lin-Manuel Miranda has constantly talked about his equal love for Hip-Hop culture and musical theatre, and this comes through pretty clearly in Hamilton. Is it impossible to be more ambitious than this musical is? It has three to four times as many words in it as an average Broadway play, it chronicles an entire life of a historical figure while remaining historically accurate, it has 46 songs, and it’s all in heightened language that is also understandable by a mass audience. The fact that such an ambitious musical is executed as flawlessly as it is is a miracle. I think it’s the first piece of art I can remember that can be enjoyed by any age, any intelligence level, any political affiliation, and enjoyed on a very deep emotional level. Musically, the breakthrough isn’t really that it uses Hip-Hop, it’s that it takes liberally and democratically from so many disparate, distinctly American styles and brings them together so seamlessly. Hold up, let me restate this. It’s not just that it uses Hip-Hop—it’s that it employs Hip-Hop to provide the language of the modern revolutionaries and disenfranchised, and by doing so it has the power to instantly connect people with a history—and a national identity—that was previously closed to them. It’s such a simple and seemingly obvious idea that it seems impossible that no one thought of it before—that is the sign of a true innovation.