On December 2nd, Lin-Manuel Miranda and his army of hip hop, pop, and R&B contemporaries dropped the Hamilton Mixtape. The release, while planned well in advance of political controversy, came mere weeks after Vice President-elect Mike Pence attended the musical and was treated to a stern but emotive speech courtesy of the cast.
The musical has never been shy about its goal to illuminate modern race relations in America. Using rap and hip hop to propel itself into the mainstream, Hamilton draws connections between the Founding Fathers’ working-class rhetoric and the racially- and ethnically-diverse backbone of the present-day American workforce (“immigrants: we get the job done”). It brings to light the all-white version of the Revolutionary War taught in history classes by insisting on a cast of minorities (the original leads were Latino [Lin-Manuel Miranda], Black [Leslie Odom, Jr.], and Chinese-American [Phillipa Soo]). What’s more, the use of rap and hip hop as the lyrical theme to the musical serves purposes beyond just adding unique texture and replicating the speed of the Founding Fathers’ thought processes. When theater audiences (which, as many have pointed out, are predominantly white) hear actors of color rap, it requires them to connect the actions of the Revolution with the every-day lives of the Black and Latin@ artists who populated rap and hip hop’s political beginnings.