So for this episode of Music You Need in Your Life, I have to tell you about my obsession of the past few months, the original cast recording of the new Broadway musical Hamilton.
I really don’t know where to start with this one. Let me try to explain what it is then we can get to the music. A Broadway musical about Alexander Hamilton, a Founding Father and our first Secretary of the Treasury. A musical that uses hip-hop, R&B, and pop to tell the story. A musical that is incredibly historically accurate (Chernow’s Hamilton biography was the inspiration for the musical). A musical that uses a predominately black and brown cast to tell the story of a bunch of dead white people. A musical with a cast recording so good, it’s the first 5-star review by Billboard and the only Broadway recording to ever hit #1 on Billboard’s Rap Chart.
So let’s get to the music. The man who wrote the music and lyrics (and plays Hamilton) is named Lin-Manuel Miranda. This is his second Broadway hit. He started writing Hamilton as a hip-hop concept album that ultimately turned into the musical we have today. He actually performed what would become the opening track in 2009 at the White House:
And Lin-Manuel Miranda is probably one of the weakest singers/rappers on the recording (musically speaking). Every time I listen to this, I’m blown away by the strength of Leslie Odom, Jr.’s voice. He plays Aaron Burr, the man who spent most of his life as Hamilton’s frenemy and ended up shooting Hamilton in a duel. Here’s Leslie Odom, Jr. as Burr singing about his jealousy towards Hamilton because Hamilton is happily married and Burr is in love with a married woman (amongst other things):
Now, I can’t talk about this musical without mentioning the cabinet rap battles between Hamilton and Jefferson (played by Daveed Diggs). There’s two of them and they have some incredible rapping all while arguing over the financial structure of our country or whether we should get involved with the French Revolution or not. Here’s Cabinet Battle #1:
There is one more song I’d like to show you. Jonathan Groff plays King George and he has three tracks where he sings the King’s reactions to the events in America. The songs are perfectly written examples of British pop and they’re pretty hilarious too. Here’s the first one, You’ll Be Back:
Since we’ve heard a few tracks and hopefully you want to go ahead and listen to the whole cast recording, I want to talk about this decision to cast an impressively diverse group of people to play all these white men and women. Since I’m not a person of color, I don’t really feel like it’s my place to vouch for the importance of this. But I think the following quote from the 60 minutes episode by cast member Leslie Odom, Jr. really makes the point for me: “He’s made these dead white guys make sense to a bunch of, you know, black and brown people. He’s made them make sense in the context of our time with our music.” What more could you ask for from a historical musical? Or even from just any Broadway?