The Gloriously Hammy Potential of The Hamilton Mixtape
Kelly Clarkson’s “It’s Quiet Uptown” and The Roots’ “My Shot” bask in schmaltz, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
The Roots’ remix of Hamilton’s “My Shot” sounds like a Linkin Park song, and Kelly Clarkson’s take on “It’s Quiet Uptown” would fit in at a hip new megachurch. They’re grand and chill-inducing and uncool, schmaltz of the highest order, testaments to the ridiculous miracle that is Hamilton.
This year has been an extended coronation for Lin-Manuel Miranda’s smash Broadway musical about the founding fathers, racking up Tonys and a White House gig and a PBS documentary. Soon comes the ultimate prize of its cultural domination: The Hamilton Mixtape, largely a collection of covers and remixes from real-life pop and hip-hop stars. When the album’s released on December 2, the world will experience Usher as Aaron Burr and Jimmy Fallon as King George and Sia as the Schuyler Sisters and some of the rappers who inspired Miranda in the first place—Nas, Queen Latifah, Common—re-interpreting his re-interpretation of the American Revolution.
For now, though, there are these two teaser singles, unalike in tone but not enthusiasm. The romping mission statement “My Shot” has been amped up in intensity with booming drums, electric guitar, and new lyrics from the rock singer Nate Ruess and the rappers Black Thought, Joell Ortiz, and Busta Rhymes, whose rambunctious flow was the basis for the sound of Hamilton’s Hercules Mulligan. Meanwhile, the tragedy ballad “It’s Quiet Uptown” has been made yet-weepier with soft-focus keyboards and America’s first Idol letting you hear her every gasp between her every note. Both tracks highlight how Hamilton’s sugary songs have pirouetted on the line between sweeping the audience up and tiring them out. When taken off the stage and turned into radio-ready pop, they don’t have to modulate for storytelling—so they become the sentimentality mainline that Hamilton threatened to be all along. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
The new “My Shot” is additionally fascinating in that it inverts the entire conceit of Hamilton. Miranda’s first insight was that Alexander Hamilton’s life is a “hip-hop story”; now, Black Thought shows up to un-submerge that narrative, spelling out exactly what it means. He opens the song describing schoolkids being told their choices in life are between “mugshots, gun shots, dope shots, jump shot” before getting to the memorable couplet, “When even role models tell us we're born to be felons / We're never gettin' into Harvard or Carnegie Mellon.” “Rise up” still means something very real, you’re reminded, for lots of Americans.
“It’s Quiet Uptown,” meanwhile, has shifted from a movingly specific tale into something fuzzier and more universal. I’m not really thinking about two grieving parents in 1801 when listening; I’m thinking about that cozy little depression common to many cultural products about Christmastime. Clarkson’s performance may be too much for some people, but the song’s power is such that by month’s end it’s sure to be in a movie trailer or telethon commercial or maybe just the No. 1 spot on the Hot 100. In fact, we might be at the start of a process by which it and some other tracks about the inner lives of the founding fathers unmoor from their original contexts and becoming something more akin to folk standards, an outcome that, like so many things pre-Hamilton, would have once been in the ranks of the unimaaaginable.