Alexander Hamilton founded the Federalist Party; he wrote over half of The Federalist Papers; he was a chief aide to George Washington during the Revolutionary War; he established a national bank; he had an extramarital affair; he was killed in a duel by Alexander Burr.

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That’s a rough history of Alexander Hamilton. Not a complete history by any means, but a few of the major points to be found in any history book worth its salt. Far too often, history is reduced to no more than mere words on a page, a simple recounting of events. But history is much more than that — it’s a narrative. And, as any good writer of fiction will tell you, narratives are driven by characters.

Somewhat paradoxically, the more written about the great figures of history, the more mythic they’re made. They become figures, representations of nations, ideals, and attitudes of the times. But what is often forgotten about these figures is that they were, in fact, people. People with lives, experiences, emotions, and stories, yet they live in our minds only as statues, lifeless and stoic. They cease to be real people, real characters.


Lin-Manuel Miranda has set the new standard for how to tell an historical narrative. His newest musical, Hamilton, is an unqualified achievement, rich with interpersonal and political drama. It brings humanity to the lives of its subjects, which, over the course of over two hundred years, have become a matter of fact. Miranda has taken the history and done it the justice it deserves: He’s made it a living, breathing story.

Like his previous musical, the wonderful In the Heights, Hamilton has strong roots in hip-hop. While other genres and musical styles are present, hip-hop is the undeniable lifeblood of Miranda’s score. The mish-mash of hip-hop, jazz, R&B, and pop (in varying degrees) makes for a piece of musical theatre unlike anything else.

For those who don’t consider themselves fans, musical theatre conjures up certain… feelings. Primarily of contempt and disdain. Those people can hardly be dragged into a production of West Side Story, let alone listen to the soundtrack. However, if you were just to hear certain tracks from Hamilton in passing or out of context, you’d be excused for thinking it’s a cut from a straight hip-hop album.

Good music is good music, and while much good music has been written for the stage, many musicals don’t successfully survive the transition from the boards to vinyl or MP3 (I’m not forgetting CDs; it’s the rest of the world that has). Hamilton, however, effectively works as an extended concept album, reminiscent of many current and classic hip hop artists. (That’s not to say, however, that it’s derivative; just the opposite, in fact.)

As an album, Hamilton is expertly paced. The flow of the music rides a comfortable wave, never letting the high-energy, fast-paced numbers wear the listener before switching to slower, more contemplative fare. The mood of each track does an admirable job of reflecting and complimenting the action of the narrative.

It’s arguable that the life of Alexander Hamilton is an odd choice as the subject of a musical; it’s also arguable that telling that story through hip-hop is an even stranger pairing. Some belonging to the snooty highbrow crowd might be aghast at the notion of Alexander Hamilton spitting dope fire verses, that to depict such a thing would be a bastardization and debasement of its esteemed subject. But Miranda’s choice of musical styles brings the story into the realm of the contemporary. It feels present and immediate, connected to modern times and modern audiences. More than that, it shows just how universal the themes of the narrative and the struggles of the characters are. Aside from specific historical events (hello, American Revolution), Hamilton could be an autobiographical album of anyone living today. The music brings to light fundamental societal issues of class, government, and discrimination that are just as vital and in need of evaluation today as they were in the late 1700s. It shows that these struggles, unfortunately, remain timeless.

Hip-hop was born out of struggle. Like the blues music from which it grew, rap documents living in the face of intolerable cruelties and injustices that pervade the United States. And that’s what all art really is — it’s a document, a snapshot of the world as it stands and how, perhaps, it should be. Hamilton is part of this tradition. It shows that artists are just as essential in continuing to shape the story of this nation as the founders were in starting it.




The track list is as follows:

Disc I
1. “Alexander Hamilton”
2. “Aaron Burr, Sir”
3. “My Shot”
4. “The Story Of Tonight”
5. “The Schuyler Sisters”
6. “Farmer Refuted”
7. “You’ll Be Back”
8. “Right Hand Man”
9. “A Winter’s Ball”
10. “Helpless”
11. “Satisfied”
12. “The Story of Tonight (Reprise)”
13. “Wait For It”
14. “Stay Alive”
15. “Ten Duel Commandments”
16. “Meet Me Inside”
17. “That Would Be Enough”
18. “Guns and Ships”
19. “History Has Its Eyes On You”
20. “Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down)”
21. “What Comes Next”
22. “Dear Theodosia”
23. “Non-Stop”

Disc 2
1. “What’d I Miss”
2. “Cabinet Battle #1”
3. “Take A Break”
4. “Say No To This”
5. “The Room Where It Happens”
6. “Schuyler Defeated”
7. “Cabinet Battle #2”
8. “Washington On Your Side”
9. “One Last Time”
10. “I Know Him”
11. “The Adams Administration”
12. “We Know”
13. “Hurricane”
14. “The Reynolds Pamphlet”
15. “Burn”
16. “Blow Us All Away”
17. “Stay Alive (Reprise)”
18. “It’s Quiet Uptown”
19. “Election of 1800”
20. “Your Obedient Servant”
21. “Best of Wives and Best of Women”
22. “The World Was Wide Enough”
23. “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story”

-Stephen Jones