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“My Heart Went Boom”: Hip Hop, History, and Falling in Love with Hamilton the Musical

Before this fall, my main source of knowledge of Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr came from the 1993 Got Milk? commercial. Sure, we studied the “ten dollar founding father without a father” in history as the author of the Federalist Papers, but beyond that,

he wasn’t on my radar…

Until the Original Broadway Cast Recording of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s smash hit musical Hamilton was released this fall.  I haven’t been able to listen to anything else since. Really. Just ask my husband, who has been subjected to my off-key singing and to me answering questions like, “Do you want some ice cream?” with lines like “Tell me how to say no to this.”

By now, you’ve probably heard of it, whether you caught Miranda with Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show (the freestyle rap battle!) or have read about it in The New Yorker or The Economist, or caught one of the one million tweets about it (that’s where I first heard about it, then immediately went to Spotify to listen to it).

But if you haven’t yet fallen into a Hamilton obsession, here are eight reasons to check it out (don’t worry, if you’re already #hamiltrash, I’ve got ten things to keep you occupied until you can see the show I’m counting down to October 17, 2016, myself).

Hamilton the Musical vertical

8 Reasons To Obsess About Hamilton the Musical

The music.

Seriously, it’s the best. Miranda pays homage to the founding fathers of hip hop (here’s a track by track list) while also showing how hip hop the actual founding fathers were. Drawing inspiration from rap, soul, and traditional Broadway show tunes, Miranda has created two and a half hours of music that you won’t be able to get out of your head; it’s so catchy and covers a full emotional range.

The rhymes.

But it isn’t just the music you’ll listen for Miranda is a wordsmith to rival Hamilton himself, constructing amazing internal and external rhymes that are so unexpected you’ll be like, “Did they really just say that?” Miranda manages include actual historical quotes from Washington alongside references to Biggie. And it works.

The diversity.

Miranda’s take on the American Revolution celebrates immigrants, emphasizes the anti-slavery work of the Hamiltons, and includes a diverse cast, and is all the better for it.

The history.

Of course Hamilton the Musical isn’t entirely historically accurate. The timeline is abbreviated, and events are shifted around for dramatic effect. But Miranda sneaks in little tidbits you never would have learned in history class, like that Martha Washington named her feral tomcat after him . Check out all the tidbits of history references in the musical, decoded.

Even more importantly, Hamilton recognizes its own metatexuality – “Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?” is not only the theme of the show, but of the work of all historians.

Hamilton ladies

The lay-deez.

Hamilton puts women in the narrative. The show-stopping song “The Schuyler Sisters” is phenomenal, as are “Helpless”, “Satisfied,” and “Burn”.  While the love triangle between Eliza, Angelica, and Alexander may be a bit of a stretch (although it does have some basis in history), if there’s one character my heart really bleeds for, it’s Angelica. All the lady wants is a man she can match wits with, but she’s stuck with a boring English guy. Of course, Eliza is great, and what really gets me about the Schuyler Sisters is their first love is each other, rather than a man.

I am disappointed that as rocking as the Schuyler Sisters are, the show still doesn’t pass the Bechdel test, but at least we have a strong female relationship not destroyed by competition over men, and a look at their interior lives.

The scandal.

I was a kid during the Clinton years, much to my parents’ chagrin, who had to answer a lot of questions about Monica Lewinsky, which required explaining things that might have waited until I was older. I didn’t know, however, that sex scandals had been around since the birth of our nation.

The irony.

Aaron Burr is the star of the show. Leslie Odem takes the villain and makes the audience relate to and understand him. Some of the most stand-out lines in the entire show belong to him.

The laughs.

There are several moments where the music brings me near tears, but it’s balanced with enough laughter to not leave me emotionally devastated. Of course when you’re listening to the soundtrack you don’t get to see Jonathan Groff’s walk as King George (which Beyonce plans to steal), but you do get to hear his breakup song to the colonies, which is hilarious.

8 Things to Check Out While You Wait to See Hamilton On Broadway

 

So, now you’re addicted, and want more Hamilton to explore? Check out these eight titles and more from the library and beyond.

Alexander-Hamilton-Cover

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

Heading somewhere tropical? Make like Lin-Manuel Miranda and take this along as your beach read. This biography inspired the musical.

In the Heights Original Broadway Cast Recording

Can’t get enough of Hamilton? Check out the original Broadway recording of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s other Tony award winning musical, In the Heights.

Dinner at Mr. Jefferson’s: Three Men, Five Great Wines, and the Evening that Changed America by Charles A. Cerami

Want to be in “the room where it happens?” This is the detailed account of the infamous dinner between Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton that placed the nation’s capital near Virginia and allowed the federal government to assume the state’s debts. Bonus: there are recipes, so you could recreate the dinner itself (and make macaroni and cheese, too, if you’d like).

Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell

Let’s hear it for everyone’s favorite fighting Frenchman! Vowell’s new nonfiction looks at the swashbuckling, teenaged French aristocrat who came back with more guns and ships to save the American Revolution.

Drunk History, Season 1 and 2

The Youtube to Comedy Central series presents historical reenactments with a “twist”  and of course the first bit of history they tackled was the Hamiton-Burr duel.

Fanfiction

Still can’t get enough? There’s always fanfiction. Some of it will be totally NSFW, but if Hamilton’s lines  to Mulligan “I really liked those pants” and to Laurens “I really like you a lot” seemed to have some subtext to you, you’re not alone – some historians argue that Hamilton was bisexual and had a relationship with Laurens. Many of the 528 stories currently listed on Archive of Our Own explore that idea, but there are certainly other characters and themes represented. Really, Hamilton has an amazing fandom, and if reading fan fiction isn’t your thing, there’s plenty of fan art to enjoy.

The Federalist Papers

See if you can find the quotes that Miranda references by diving into the best known works of Hamilton’s writing.

Duel!: Burr and Hamilton’s Deadly War of Words by Dennis B. Fradin

Are the kids singing along to the soundtrack now, too? This nonfiction book for the younger set is perfect for exploring more of the history behind the musical.

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