The Daily Gamecock

Broadway musical soundtrack climbs Billboard charts and revitalizes American history

If you acquired the bulk of your knowledge of American history from public schooling and pop culture, you may have noticed a certain paradox: While patriotism — maybe even nationalism — is undeniably robust in the United States, there’s a near-ubiquitous dullness that tinges the images of our past in our collective subconscious. 

It’s easy, for instance, to write a paper on the heroism (or hypocrisy) of any one of the founding fathers, while still picturing everybody in the late 18th century as unimaginative and rigidly formal, speaking in verse and wearing several unnecessary layers of clothing.

This is one of the many reasons that Lin-Manuel Miranda — one of the winners of the 2015 "genius" grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation for his musical, “Hamilton" — deserves his award. In “Hamilton,” which is based on a biography of Alexander Hamilton that Miranda bought on a whim in an airport, a cast almost entirely consisting of actors of color depicts the infancy of America through the tumultuous life of Alexander Hamilton, an “orphan / son of a whore and a / Scotsman,” who grows “up to be a hero and a scholar,” to quote the first song of the musical. It’s clear already from this point that “Hamilton” is not the whitewashed version of American history that we’re used to hearing, but an honest human story told through a medium that will speak more directly and effectively to wider audiences: rap and R&B music.

In fact, the climax of “Hamilton” is the duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, which Miranda said reminded him of '90s rivals between rappers.

“It’s a hip-hop story,” he told the New York Times, “it’s Tupac.”

Miranda, a second-generation immigrant who grew up in New York, deserves all the mountains of praise that have been heaped upon him for “Hamilton.” By making great art, he has shown us a truer version of America’s roots, making it easier to understand that the tradition of the American story is defined by both duality and human emotions. It did not begin after the deaths of some superhuman but robotic American patriarchs. Instead, these patriarchs were great because of their ability and willingness to wrestle with the same questions we argue about today — such as the role of the federal government or the directness of our democracy — and because they were just as imperfect as anybody else, filling their lives with alcohol and affairs or worrying about death while launching a massive experiment.

While I can’t personally recommend the show itself, both because I haven’t seen it and because it is prohibitively expensive to probably any college student, the Broadway cast recording is a complete and brilliant work of art by itself. As approachable as any mainstream rap album, “Hamilton” the album tells a vibrant, compelling story that will change any listener’s view of America, both today and at its birth.