Various Artists – The Hamilton Mixtape

The Hamilton MixtapeSay Broadway musical and people instantly turn away. Say mixtape and you’ve got their attention. What happens when you say both? The Hamilton Mixtape attempts to find out.

Hamilton is the biggest production to come out of Broadway in years, winning awards, dominating nighttime tv, and elevating writer/stage actor Lin-Manuel Miranda to A-list celebrity status. While it has yet to produce a singular song as big as Don’t Cry For Me Argentina or I Dreamed A Dream, it has gathered some of the biggest pop stars in music today (and yesterday) together in an unlikely compilation of songs from or inspired by the stage production.

This compilation isn’t a stepping point to propel Hamilton into the mainstream, no. Hamilton is mainstream. This compilation is merely a byproduct of the show’s success. A footnote, even. (Interestingly, the show was initially intended to be a mixtape first). And most of the time, it works surprisingly well. That could be mainly due to Miranda’s efforts to get the original artists who inspired some of the songs from the show involved. The best-case example of this might be Ashanti and Ja Rule reprising their roles as oft-collaborators in the early 2000s on Helpless, a song written with them in mind. It’s the perfect fit. Kelly Clarkson‘s take on It’s Quiet Uptown is equally fitting, so much so that the Broadway version sounds like it was made for her.

Like most of the covers, direct references to the plot and characters are replaced to give the lyrics more universal themes without taking away the story and structure of the songs. My Shots (Rise Up Remix) has three completely new verses, replacing those from the Broadway version, while keeping the iconic chorus in tact.

In most cases, the mixtape recordings hold their own but can’t compare to their Broadway counterparts. Satisfied, with Sia as Angelica Schuyler, Miguel as Alexandre Hamilton and Queen Latifah tearing up the rap verse, is good but strangely enough, the production of the Broadway version sounds more contemporary, in particular the ‘rewind’ breakdown in the beginning isn’t as epic on the mixtape. It’s almost a letdown.

In the second half of the collection, it begins to drag. You’ll Be Back has a questionable-at-best intro from Jimmy Fallon that sours the rest of what should be a highlight of the album, with smdh results. After that is a string of forgettable tracks from Alicia Keys, Jill Scott and John Legend and it doesn’t fully regain its spark before it ends.

For those afraid of but intrigued by musicals, The Hamilton Mixtape is a nice introduction that stays faithful to the originals through the artists interpreting the songs. At 23 tracks and 70+ minutes, it might be slightly overwhelming to jump into but with over three dozen artists, there’s a starting point for everyone. Just note that the songs are out of sequence so if you really value a story, start with the original cast recording. It’s a solid addition to an already successful story and supposedly a second volume is on the way. I’m ready for it!

Four stars

1. The Roots – No John Trumbull (Intro)
2. The Roots f/Busta Rhymes, Joell Ortiz & Nate Ruess – My Shot (Rise Up Remix)
3. Nas, Dave East, Lin-Manuel Miranda & Aloe Blacc – Wrote My Way Out
4. Usher – Wait For It
5. Watsky f/Shockwave – An Open Letter (Interlude)
6. Sia f/Miguel & Queen Latifah – Satisfied
7. Regina Spektor f/Ben Folds – Dear Theodosia
8. Lin-Manuel Miranda – Valley Forge (Demo)
9. Kelly Clarkson – It’s Quiet Uptown
10. Alicia Keys – That Would Be Enough
11. K’naan, Snow Tha Product, Riz MC & Residente – Immigrants (We Get The Job Done)
12. Jimmy Fallon & The Roots – You’ll Be Back
13. Ashanti f/Ja Rule – Helpless
14. !llmind – Take A Break (Interlude)
15. Jill Scott – Say Yes To This
16. Dessa – Congratulations
17. Audra Day – Burn
18. J. Period & Stro Elliot – Stay Alive (Interlude)
19. Lin-Manuel Miranda – Cabinet Battle 3 (Demo)
20. Wiz Khalifa – Washingtons By Your Side
21. John Legend – History Has Its Eyes On You
22. The Roots f/Common & Ingrid Michaelson – Who Tells Your Story
23. Chance The Rapper & Francis and the Lights – Dear Theodosia (Reprise)

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