If you missed it, click on the Hamilton
tag for the first part of this review.
“Wait For It “— Usher. I was excited to see this on the album, because it instantly struck me as an excellent match of song and singer, but was underwhelmed on actual listen. It’s fine but he doesn’t make it his; as a cover, it’s nice but nothing special. Sorry Usher, it clearly wasn’t just you because I had that exact issue with a lot of the covers.
“An Open Letter” (feat. Shockwave) [Interlude] — Watsky. A cut song, Hamilton’s outraged letter to John Adams. It’s fun (and a good performance) but you can see why it was cut; Hamilton screaming, “Sit down, John, you fat mother—” and being drowned out by a chorus of shrieks and sirens goes beyond fun and into Crowning Moment of Hilarious.
“Satisfied” (feat. Miguel & Queen Latifah) — Sia. A cover, with slight lyrical changes. The part that’s very prettily and expressively sung by Sia is one of the better of the cover songs, but it also contains one of the two best covers on the album, which is the verse rapped by Queen Latifah. Without any lyrical changes at all, she takes that verse and owns it and makes it hers. It’s terrific. I would love to hear Queen Latifah do more Hamilton
- actually, I’d like to see her perform in an all-women version. I think she’d be an amazing Jefferson.
“Dear Theodosia” (feat. Ben Folds) — Regina Spektor. Another cover, minor lyrical changes. Very pretty, not all that memorable.
“Valley Forge” (Demo) — Lin-Manuel Miranda. A cut song, or more accurately a cannibalized song; the majority of it was used in the show with a different melody and in different contexts. Like the other demos, it’s mostly interesting to fans as a "making of" Easter egg rather than something you’d want to listen to on repeat. I really wish all the cut songs had been given full productions rather than demos, because if they had been, you probably would want to listen on repeat.
“It’s Quiet Uptown” — Kelly Clarkson. A cover with minor-ish rewrites that feel more substantial than they actually are, because the performance sounds so different and the reason for them – removing the play’s specifics to make it a more universal song about grief and forgiveness— makes a big difference. I liked this a lot. It and Queen Latifah’s “Satisfied” verse are my favorite of the covers. (I’m counting Dessa’s as a cut song, not a cover; if you count it as a cover, it’s also a favorite.) It’s beautifully sung and emotional. And, bonus for me, I can listen to it because it’s not specifically about Philip Hamilton. I can’t listen to “It’s Quiet Uptown” on the cast album because it’s just so damn sad. This is also sad, but for me a lot less of gut-punch, and in this case that’s a good thing.
“That Would Be Enough” — Alicia Keys. Cover. Nice, not that memorable. ”Immigrants (We Get the Job Done”
— K’naan, Snow Tha Product, Riz MC, Residente. FUCKING BRILLIANT. Go listen if you haven’t already.
A stunner of a song in every way: lyrics, music, performance. I was not previously familiar with the performers on this, and they’re so good
. (And also very musically appealing to me personally, which as you’ll see is not always the case just because someone is objectively good.) Snow Tha Product gets more feeling and rhythm out of a single “Uh!” than a lot of singers get on an entire album.
This song samples two key bits from Hamilton:
Hamilton and Lafayette’s bring-down-the-house line, “Immigrants: we get the job done!” and (referring to slavery in context, but also to racism in general) “Does this mean freedom?” “Not yet.”
The lyrics tackle various aspects of immigration, from sharply observed personal details (“I got one job, two jobs, three when I need them/I got five roommates in this one studio but I never really see them” (because the roommates are always out working their
three jobs)) to equally sharply observed politics (“We’re America’s ghostwriters”) to the inner experience (“You can be an immigrant without risking your lives […] All you got to do is see the world with new eyes”), in multiple languages and from multiple perspectives, different journeys and backgrounds contrasting and finding unexpected correspondences, all of which is, of course, the essence of the immigrant experience: all those people with all their different stories from all their different places, converging on a single destination.
The hypnotic refrain of “Look how far I come” has multiple meanings— literal travel from afar, success against the odds, “look at where we are/look at where we started,” give me some fucking credit for what I’ve accomplished instead of blaming me for existing, let me tell you about my struggle to get here and then survive here, look at me instead of pretending I don’t exist— and sounds like an incantation, a blessing, a prayer, the spoken expression of the act of faith and hope required to leave everything behind for a leap into the unknown.
Like the best protest songs (which it is, though it’s also more than that) I think people will be listening to this one fifty years from now, when the topical references are incomprehensible without research and all the details that are now current have changed. It won’t matter. The heart of the issue will be the same. And it’s just that good.
“You’ll Be Back” — Jimmy Fallon & The Roots. Cover. The best thing I can say about this is that it’s not as terrible as its own intro led me to expect. It’s still not good. Worst song on the album, hands down.
“Helpless” (feat. Ja Rule) — Ashanti. Cover with fairly substantial rewrites placing the song in the present day. This is pretty adorable. Ashanti’s singing is really nice, and Ja Rule’s brief but memorable section amusingly takes the exact opposite tack from LMM’s. LMM’s delivery admits to his humble origins, but emphasizes that he’s risen above them now. Ja Rule’s says he doesn’t need to rise above anything: he is what he is, what he is is fine, come on baby you know you want me just as I am.
“Take A Break (Interlude)” — !llmind. Little musical snippet.
“Say Yes To This” — Jill Scott. Cover, moderately rewritten. Scott definitely makes this hers, as an old-school sexy torch song. It’s very well done, but musically not really my thing. However, that’s a “it’s not the song, it’s me.”
“Congratulations” — Dessa. Cut song. “You have invented a new kind of stupid.” Angelica tells Hamilton how she really
feels about the Reynolds Pamphlets. I can see why it was cut— Angelica’s verse that this song was transformed into says basically the same thing in a much shorter space— but it’s a really good song in its own right. Dessa’s take is excellent: sarcastic, funny, bitter, heartfelt, angry, sad. Great delivery, great range of feeling and singing, just really well-done all round.
“Burn” — Andra Day. Cover, no or very minor rewrites. It’s fine but not memorable.
“Stay Alive (Interlude)” — J.PERIOD & Stro Elliot. Another snippet. I vaguely recall liking this one – I think it’s the one with a techno sound. The interludes are all literally 30 seconds long and I don’t think any of them add much to the overall experience whether I liked them or not.
“Slavery Battle” (Demo) — Lin-Manuel Miranda. MAN I wish this had been done as a full production rather than a demo. As is, it’s mostly of fannish/writerly interest. As a full production, it would be much more re-listenable. The Cabinet Battles on the show are fantastic.
It's a good song but probably would have been better with more drafts, which I assume it would have gotten if it had stayed in. It’s about slavery, and I agree that keeping the song wouldn’t have added that much to the points on the subject that did get made during the show. You’re always making choices when you have a limited length of time, and I can see why this song ended up being less central to the story LMM chose to tell than it would have been if the play took slavery as a central focus.
"Washingtons By Your Side" — Wiz Khalifa. Really interesting original song, very good performance. This re-interprets “Washington” to mean money (his face on the bill), and a lot of stuff that comes along with money (or the lack of it), good and bad. It’s a complex song and I’m not sure I understand all of it, but I like it a lot. It definitely made me want to hear more from him. It’s also noticeably original, with a much more non-obvious take on its inspiration song than the other new songs.
"History Has Its Eyes On You" — John Legend. Gospel version. Similarly to "Say Yes to This," he makes it his own and it’s very well-done but it’s not really my thing, musically speaking; again, it’s not the song, it’s my personal taste.
"Who Tells Your Story" (feat. Common & Ingrid Michaelson) — The Roots. Original song inspired by and quoting that line from the show. Really fantastic song, great performance, my fourth-favorite song on the album, just a hair behind my three faves.
This takes the theme of “who tells your story” to talk about the lethal racism of America that makes a black man’s sense of his own mortality far more present than it should be, how immediate that makes the desire for a legacy, and how “who tells your story,” is both the racism that endangers black men and their urgency to tell their own story before they’re cut down. And beyond politics and the death of the body, the spiritual implications of death and life after death.
I really like how it begins with very concrete matters and then shifts to more intangible ones, its structure mirroring the way we we start with a body and, if you believe, end as a soul. Lyrically complex, very well-structured, beautiful production, just all-around excellent.
"Dear Theodosia (Reprise)" — Chance The Rapper & Francis and The Lights. Cover. The song selection was a good album closer in concept (passing the torch to the next generation) but once again, it’s a solid cover that doesn’t rise above that. “Who Tells Your Story” would have been better to end on, IMO.