Alexander Hamilton has finally got his wish to become king; the greatest founding father is now the King of Broadway. The hit musical Hamilton is not only selling out on Broadway but was recently the only moment of musical excellence during the Grammy awards.
Each year I hate-watch the Grammys to catch up on all the pop songs I don’t listen to and reassure myself, without fail, that I have missed nothing by only listening to vinyl records containing music made during the Renaissance or earlier. As usual, the night featured a confusing mix of mash-ups, poor production values, and incredibly boring, lip-synched tunes from a strangely curated list of Grammy-acceptable artists. Lady GaGa even managed to destroy the life-work of my beloved David Bowie.
But then there was a live performance from Hamilton, and it blew everything else away.
I’m a huge Hamilton fan, (I think his picture should be on all the money) and I will take his side against any Jeffersonian. It seems to me that Hamilton gets the better of this George Washington Administration Cabinet rap-battle:
‘Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’
We fought for these ideals; we shouldn’t settle for less
These are wise words, enterprising men quote ‘em
Don’t act surprised, you guys, cuz I wrote ‘em
Thomas. That was a real nice declaration
Welcome to the present, we’re running a real nation
Would you like to join us, or stay mellow
Doin’ whatever the hell it is you do in Monticello?
Oh boy, that has to sting, Jeffersonians.
Hamilton the musical is inspired by nothing less than the 2004 biography written by Ron Chernow, the Platonic form of biographies, a perfect blend of readability and substance. The lyrics, written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, are full of witty jokes and obscure insights gleaned from Chernow’s work.
The decision to use rap was not random. Whatever the state of modern rap may be as an art (I admit that I am not a fan), or if rap is even music at all (I’m really not sure), or whether current hip hop artists in general have used their talents to say anything good, beautiful, and true, or if their work is merely a tool of protest, rap certainly “hears” the rhythm of a poem and puts words front and center.
This emphasis on words makes rap the perfect vehicle to tell the story of Alexander Hamilton. Miranda explains that Hamilton literally “wrote his way out of the Caribbean.” In fact, it was a poem he wrote for a newspaper about a hurricane that saved him from a life of obscurity and brought him to New York for college. Hamilton, says Miranda, is “the most hip hop guy I’ve ever heard. He used words to get everywhere…he caught beef with every other founding father. Jefferson hated him. Adams hated him…and then the Vice President shot him.”
In addition to the old-school rhymes in Hamilton, there are some classic Broadway show-tunes.
King George III is the best!
When you’re gone
I’ll go mad
So don’t throw away this thing we had
Cuz when push comes to shove
I will kill your friends and family to remind you of my love!
I have no clue whether Hamilton will endure the test of time. All I know is I like it. The wordplay is fascinating in its ability to make an old, biography-worthy story come to life and seem incredibly relevant. Painstaking attention to detail reveals how fascinating a man Hamilton is, a romantic through and through who enters public life as a young poet and ends it with a duelist’s bullet in his side.
This is ridiculous, but I can’t end this little tribute without hazarding a ranking.
Revolutionary Era Rap Skilz
- The Marquis de Lafayette. This Frenchman has unreal flow.
- Hercules Mulligan. An American spy who raps with extreme aggression.
- Alexander Hamilton. Not a natural, but the creativity of his rhymes and insults are unparalleled.
- George Washington. He’s in charge and he knows it.
- Angelica Schuyler. She brings some much needed heartbreak to the art form.
- Thomas Jefferson. His posturing isn’t bad but you can tell why we’re all Federalists now.
- Aaron Burr. He’s a weasel.