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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 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.


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.

Kevin Willmott’s Top Ten

From the New Yorker to the LA Times, critics are voting a brand new movie– Spike Lee’s Chi-Raq– the best of 2015. Richard Brody calls it “a latter-day masterwork,” and it also won his vote for the best screenplay of the year. A biting social commentary based on Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, Chi-Raq is set in Chicago and was co-written by Lawrence’s own Kevin Willmott.

kevin willmott

Kevin graciously sent us a list of 10 books that influence him in all of his films. It should come as no surprise that the man’s a scholar– so much so, that LPL doesn’t own any of his selections. But you can always find them through our interlibrary loan service. Catch Kevin’s films CSA, The Only Good Indian, and Jayhawkers while you wait. Those we have. Read More..

Interview with Stephen T. Johnson

A working wrench, screwdriver, and pencil are not commonly found in children’s books, but the versatility of artist and Lawrence resident Stephen T. Johnson is reflected in his classic My Little Red Toolbox, an object which bridges the gap between book and toy.  Each day, thousands view his sculpture “Freeform,” located on the southwest corner of 6th and Massachusetts, and in places like the DeKalb Avenue subway station in Brooklyn, or Love Field Airport in Dallas, his work offers color and energy to thousands more.  But he may be best known as an illustrator of children’s books, from the dynamic realism of the basketball players in Hoops, to the intriguing found images of Alphabet City, which received a Caldecott Honor, and its companion, City by Numbers.  Johnson blends beauty and text in a title published this year, Alphabet School, and he was kind enough to answer a few questions about his life and work when he stopped by the library recently.       Read More..

Home Grrrl

Carrie Brownstein’s name may recall her performances on the television show Portlandia, a sketch based comedy with a satirical perspective about the culture that is unique to Portland, Oregon. Twenty years ago, however, Brownstein’s occupation was as guitarist and founding member of the band Sleater Kinney. Alongside bandmates Corin Tucker and Janet Weiss, they comprised one of the most notable groups of the Riot Grrrl movement. Now, Brownstein has written a telling memoir, Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl

During the early to mid Nineties, Riot Grrrl stemmed from a continuing Punk Rock aesthetic, manifesting through music, political activism, and the medium of zines. It was born out of frustration from the lack of voice regarding women’s rights, gender and sexual equality, as well as numerous other social issues. Factions were located on both Coasts; however, a burgeoning epicenter was in the Pacific Northwest. There, a handful of bands soon became figureheads, such as Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, and Heavens to Betsy, yet few reached the status of Sleater Kinney. Read More..

Hold Tight, Don’t Let Go

On January 12, 2010, an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.0 struck Haiti and devastated large parts of the country, essentially leveling the major city of Port-au-Prince. It is estimated up to 160,000 people lost their lives, though some figures go as high as 316,000. Read More..

Human Rights Day

To honor Human Rights Day on December 10, here are recent acclaimed books, music, and videos to spur action to improve human rights. Human Rights Day is an initiative of the United Nations. All human beings are entitled to these rights and freedoms: civil, political, cultural, economic, and social rights, freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. Read More..

LPL’s Best of 2015 Booklist

Every December, there’s a cascade of year-end “best of” lists that come out, chronicling the most notable new albums, films, trending superfoods (shout out to chia seeds), and more. Books are no different; you can read about the best fiction and nonfiction from many expert sources.


Here at LPL, we may not have read every book that came out in 2015, but we’ve certainly handled them enough to know what’s good.

Read More..


Made At Home For The Holidays

Every year I have daydreams of finding the time, resourcefulness, and inner depths of creative inspiration to craft our family’s holiday. I envision the vast array of unique gifts and handmade wrappings that I would bestow on family and friends. I can almost audibly hear the oohs and ahhs as said wrappings are torn to shreds, revealing the inner wonder of artfully constructed gifting as it all shines in hands that appreciate the effort. Read More..

LPL on the Road: Bookin’ it in Brooklyn

A sense of place – both a way of orienting to your surroundings and a feeling of belonging – is important not only in our daily lives but also in our reading lives. Whether a book is set in the realistic present or a bizarre, magical  future, an author’s job is to give readers something, some place, to hold onto. And sometimes a piece of fiction can unexpectedly provide a way of orienting to the “real world” around you. I learned this lesson a few weeks ago on my first trip to New York for the Book Riot Live conference. Before leaving for the city, I was admittedly terrified. I’m an anxious traveler in general, and wondered how I’d react to So Many People All At Once (especially because my idea of “too crowded” is, like, the 11am crowd at the Lawrence Farmers Market). As all my wise friends and colleagues had insisted, I adapted to the bustling city life, but what I hadn’t anticipated was that an author and a book would help with this adjustment. Read More..

PBR Book Club Reviews Wolf in White Van

The PBR Book Club has been one of the hippest literary clubs around Lawrence for the past 4+ years. Starting in September 2011, the club has met regularly at bars in town to discuss popular fiction works, often pairing up with Read Across Lawrence selections, and their membership has grown by the dozens. As a special year-end treat on In the Spotlight, we wanted to invite this boisterous book club to review their latest selection, John Darnielle’s Wolf in White Van. Enjoy! Read More..