A CoolDigerati review by Pascal Antoine
Written over a 6-year period by Lin-Manuel Miranda, “Hamilton” brilliantly tells the story of Alexander Hamilton, one of the more obscure founding fathers of the United States, through the medium of hip-hop. The Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning production, which enjoyed a sold-out debut in 2015, received critical acclaim right out of the gate.
Although I had always intended on going to see the broadway hit live, I was living outside of the U.S. at the time, and was either never able to obtain (or afford) tickets, or didn’t have enough free time whenever I did visit my home of New York City. When I finally put my foot down with intentions to go, and found out it was ending its Broadway run, I was resigned to either never see it or wait for some sort of revival.
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Month’s ago I was delighted to find out that the video rights had been bought by Disney which was planning to offer it on their upcoming video streaming service. Although I didn’t feel I quite belonged to their target market, I was quite happy that I would finally get a chance to catch the show even if it wasn’t live at a theater.
The video was released on July 3rd (right on time for Independence Day), and I quickly downloaded the Disney+ app and paid for one month of service since I sincerely doubted I’d be using it longer than that (but we will see.) I found it fitting that I was able to watch Hamilton on the 4th of July while my entire neighborhood resonated with firecrackers and fireworks exploding near and far to commemorate the birth of the country.
I will try to give my impressions without spoiling it for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet. My first impression was that the music and soundtrack are slammin’, and had me bumping’ to the beat during the very first act.
From the very beginning, although it was obvious that I was in for a very sophisticated production, it convincingly incorporated urban colloquialisms, rap styles, and music to tell a story of people and a time which existed 2 centuries before the hip-hop music genre was even invented.
The story is told with an urban flair. The production is very well written bringing historical figures such as Arron Burr, Lafayette, George Washington, King George III, and Hamilton himself to life with a largely black and brown cast. I found it ironic how the story of the beginnings of the U.S.A. complete with founders who were complicit in the perpetuation of slavery, could be told by people who represent the same groups that are currently fighting against racism, which continues to rear its ugly head in American society today.
Hip Hop Influences
The production has been influenced by many mainstream rap artists and groups.
I was immediately sold on the authenticity of the production when I heard some very recognizable rap music influences. In particular the “Ten Duel Commandments” ideally mimics rapper Notorious B.I.G.s “Ten Crack Commandments” which is not at all associated with Broadway, not to mention anything taking place in the late 18th century. Throughout the production, beats, turntable scratching, and even beat-boxing are incorporated to tell the story and, tell it very well, it does.
Hamilton’s “10 Duel Commandments” follows the same direction of Notorious B.I.G’s “10 Crack Commandments”
Hamilton – 10 Duel Commandments
Notorious B.I.G. – 10 Crack Commandments
Of note, there is the number “Cabinet Battle“, a school lunchroom-style rap battle between Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton done to music inspired by “C.R.E.A.M.” by The Wutang Clan. The production also includes lyrics and “flow” inspired by everyone from rappers like Nas to Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, DMX, and Jay Z. There are also some reggae, jazz, R&B, club music, and Broadway show-tune influences.
Note similarity in piano riffs between Hamilton’s “Cabinet Battle #1 and Wutang Clan’s song C.R.E.A.M. (Cash Rules Everything Around Me)
Hamilton- Cabinet Battle #1
Wu Tang Clan- C.R.E.A.M.
How did they memorize all of this?
As I watched, I appreciated the fairly sophisticated rap styles and cadences and started wondering how the actors managed to memorize all of it. It then dawned on me that as a youngster in the late 70s when rap music made its commercial debut with Rapper’s Delight by the Sugar Hill Gang, I had successfully managed to memorize dozens, if not hundreds, of hip-hop songs in an attempt to keep up with the trend. I eventually started losing track as the genre became more and more popular, and would eventually resign myself to only memorizing the most popular and bonafide hits.
Front row seats.
It was a pleasure being afforded a view front and center, complete with close-ups and the ability to view the stage from different vantage points. I felt up close and personal with the actors. Although it wasn’t the same as being there, I doubt I’d have the same ability if I had gone in person.
At over 2 1/2 hours the movie is definitely longer than most, but the music and story make it more than bearable. And time flies. However, since it is streaming, it comes complete with a 1-minute intermission/bathroom break, which you can put on pause for as long as you’d like.
As I watched it in the privacy of my home, I was bopping my head and could only imagine how I would have reacted in the audience if I had actually seen the show live. I had a clear smile on my face as I watched it alone, and even found myself holding my applause and cheers lest my family think I had somehow lost it.
How Rap Works in Hamilton (Part 1) – Part 1 of a series on how hip-hop music was incorporated into the production to make it successful.
22 AMAZING DETAILS That Make HAMILTON Even Better!
Needless to say, you guys can tell I enjoyed it and highly recommended it. The catchy soundtrack, smart production, and the hip-hop genre that I grew up with will cause me to at least listen to the soundtrack over and over again. If you’ve got Disney+, then click on it. If you don’t, download it for at least a month and give Hamilton a watch. It’ll be worth it.
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