The Hamilton Mixtape isn’t a good introduction to Hamilton; if you want that, listen to the show on Spotify. The Mixtape is an odd mix of three completely different types of songs: completely original songs which are inspired by Hamilton and sample or quote a specific song from it (all of these are good to phenomenal), cut tracks or demos that didn’t appear on the show or appeared in substantially different form (interesting to excellent, but definitely for people who are already fans of the show), and covers of Hamilton songs, some slightly to moderately rewritten (a few excellent, some meh, one outright bad. (Jimmy Fallon.)

So, those original songs? AMAZING. Worth the cost of the entire album. Here are my three favorites, My Shot, Wrote My Way Out and Immigrants (We Get the Job Done on YouTube. Go listen! Those are the ones where you don’t need prior exposure to Hamilton.

They’re very lyrically dense, so hard to take in completely on one listen, but also musically excellent, so I have listened to all three of my favorites a minimum of 20 times and have not even begun to get tired of them. “Immigrants” might be the most accessible/striking on first listen, “Wrote My Way Out” will speak a lot to writers, and “My Shot” is just a great political/personal song. They’re all very American and about specifically American political issues in addition to personal/universal ones, but I don’t think you have to be American to enjoy them. Probably half the references went over my head anyway and I still loved them.

I am not very musically knowledgeable, so please feel free to chime in on genre, influences I missed, etc. Also, I want to listen to more music by some of these artists, so would love recs that are for songs or albums by them that sound musically similar to their work here. I talk a lot about lyrics because 1) they’re great, 2) I can talk sensibly about words. But I only listen to music if I like it as music, so that’s way more important to me in reccing than lyrics. If I like the sound, I’ll enjoy it even if I don’t know the language it’s in; if I don’t like the sound, I won’t enjoy it no matter how great the lyrics are.

I would especially like recs for K’naan, Snow Tha Product, Wiz Kalifa, and the Roots, all of whom, er, I never even heard of before. Also Common – yes, I know who he is, I’ve head songs of his that were clearly good but they didn’t jump out at me as “Oh I have to buy his albums.” What the hell, Nas too, same reason.

“No John Trumbull (Intro)” — The Roots. Very short but very good intro, sets up the themes, concept, and style of the entire album in about 30 seconds.

My Shot
(feat. Busta Rhymes, Joell Ortiz & Nate Ruess) [Rise Up Remix] — The Roots. Brilliant, lyrically dense political/personal song about racism, the lack of opportunities and the determination to grab them anyway, some dazzling wordplay, and a whole lot more. I know it’s not exactly a surprise to say that Busta Rhymes’ verse has jaw-droppingly good rapping, but the bit where he storms from “Hamilton Hercules Mulligan” to “We in the guts again” is just SO GREAT. Again, I wish I could talk about music better, because though the lyrics are great this particular part is really striking because of the delivery. Also meta-cool because Hercules Mulligan’s style was inspired by Busta Rhymes.

Wrote My Way Out
— Nas, Dave East, Lin-Manuel Miranda & Aloe Blacc. Of my three favorites, I actually don’t think this one is objectively the best song (I give the edge to “Immigrants”) but it’s unsurprisingly the one that I love most. It’s based on and samples “Hurricane.” It’s got a quite complex structure, interweaving four distinct parts on a single theme: writing your way out. Nas, Dave East, and Miranda rap their stories of writing their ways into a better life and what writing means to them; Aloe Blacc sings a refrain on the same theme.

They're personal stories, but not told in isolation. All their inner struggles occur in a complex social context of racism, immigration, poverty, family, people who help them and people who stand in their way. They're not just struck from above by inspiration and hope and ways out, they reach out to snatch them. And then turn around to reach back. The very last line isn’t rapped, but spoken with power and sincerity: “I thought that I would represent for my neighborhood and tell their story, be their voice, in a way that nobody has done it.
 Tell the real story.”

Here's Aloe Blacc’s refrain that spoke the most to me:

I was born in the eye of the storm
No loving arms to keep me warm
This hurricane in my brain is the burden I bear
I can do without, I’m here. I’m here.
Cause I wrote my way out

Set against some of the aggressively clever lyrics of other parts of the song, it’s almost cliched, but sung and written with a lovely simplicity that points out that the flip side of cliché is traditional, classic: some themes get repeated a lot because they’re powerful and true and resonant.

You probably know Aloe Blacc as the vocalist on the Avicii remix of “Wake Me Up,” a really catchy song that got tons of radio play. When I first heard it, in a cab in New Orleans, I was so struck by his voice that I grabbed a pen and wrote down some lyrics so I could figure out who he was. The Avicii video is the one with the people with the triangle tattoos. I’ve linked to Blacc’s original Wake Me Up here. It’s more stripped-down, and the video is a beautifully done and heartbreaking protest about the crappy way America treats immigrants; the people in it are acting out their real stories.

Lin-Manuel Miranda's verse, again unsurprisingly, especially spoke to me. It’s about his high school years, when he got beaten up for reading and being too smart (me too!) and was told to defend himself and scolded for not being able to (I got scolded for defending myself, which sums up how boys and girls are socialized). You can hear that he isn’t as technically skilled a rapper as, to be honest, pretty much all the other rappers on this album, but his raw delivery really works in his context – when he screams “fucking yes I’m relentless,” it points up how the relentlessness is what matters. He doesn’t have to be Busta Rhymes – he “draws blood with this pen, hits an artery.”

A line that gets repeated several times in the song, always spoken like a proverb that's existed for a thousand years, is “I picked up the pen like Hamilton.” This obviously makes sense to listeners because it’s on the Hamilton Mixtape, but it's spoken like a metaphor that of course everyone will understand, something grown into the roots of the language. How much do I love that maybe from now on, if I say “I picked up the pen like Hamilton,” people might actually know what that means? The most crucial and singular and defining act of my life suddenly has a huge cultural context that it never did before. Of course the general idea of “I wrote my way out” has a very long history, but now it also has a catch-phrase that it never had before, attached to something extremely well-known. (“Look, I made a hat/Where there never was a hat.”)

Look. Lin-Manuel Miranda and Nas made me a hat.
meara: (Default)

From: [personal profile] meara

Oh! I only know K'naan from the world cup song however many years ago now, "Waving Flag" (which surprisingly showed up at trivia a couple months ago and I think I was the only person in the bar to name artist and song...but feel bad saying I have not ever heard anything else by him)
oracne: turtle (Default)

From: [personal profile] oracne


Some good Snow Tha Product songs: "AyAyAy," "Despierta," "Hola," "Holy Shit," "Play," "Gettin' It."

I am so-so on Swet Shop Boys, but you might like them more - good political lyrics, just not fast enough for my tastes. "Radar" is a decent one by Riz MC of the group (guy who was in Rogue One).

The Roots: "You Got Me/Me Tienes," "Streets of Philly," "Super Lyrical," "Water." They have greatest hits collections out there, so they're quite accessible.

If you haven't heard the Common/John Legend song "Glory" from the Selma soundtrack, definitely check it out.
dhampyresa: (Default)

From: [personal profile] dhampyresa

How much do I love that maybe from now on, if I say “I picked up the pen like Hamilton,” people might actually know what that means?
I love this idea SO MUCH.
qian: Tiny pink head of a Katamari character (Default)

From: [personal profile] qian

Not music, but incidentally Riz Ahmed wrote an excellent essay for the Guardian on being a brown Muslim actor:

The only song I know by K'naan is Waving Flag, which as another commenter's mentioned was picked to be the World Cup song. But IIRC the World Cup version has all the most interesting lines cut, for obvious reasons! It's like a more cheerful/corporate mix. (I've linked the interesting version, obvs.)
oyceter: teruterubouzu default icon (Default)

From: [personal profile] oyceter

I really, really enjoyed the soundtrack to 13th (the documentary by Ava DuVernay). Depressing content, given the topic, but the music was amazing. (sorry, kind of random, but the playlist does have Common, Nas, and the Roots!)

Also seconding the rec for "Glory" and lurking here for more recs!

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