The great revelation of The Hamilton Mixtape, in fact, is in how much it makes the musical sound like a love story. It’s of course a cliché by now to say that Hamilton injected messy humanity into the Founding Fathers myth, a cliché that the rapper Black Thought reprises cleverly in the Mixtape’s intro, “No John Trumbull.” Still, a lot of the commentary about the Hamilton phenomenon has focused on historical accuracy, bootstraps narrative, diverse casting, or political resonance. Turning Hamilton into a pop album, unsurprisingly, recenters the visceral qualities that made the thing successful in the first place: the ooey-gooey melodies and the lovey-dovey relationships. Rather than serving up the play’s gloriously overstuffed exposition anthems—“Alexander Hamilton,” “Aaron Burr, Sir,” “Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down),” “Non-Stop”—the mixtape is anchored by tunes about husbands and wives, parents and kids, and deep personal yearning for improvement.
While few tracks match the cast album in emotional impact, many do shift emphases in refreshing ways, confirming these songs’ potential to live outside of a narrative. Usher’s “Wait for It” is breathier, hammier, smoother, and more radio-ready than the original. The father/daughter address “Dear Theodosia” shows up twice, first with Regina Spektor and Ben Folds tweeing it up (meh) and later with Chance the Rapper’s cracked falsetto turning it into a wrenching lullaby (prepare yourself). The internet has already used up its crying gifs for Kelly Clarkson’s bombastic version of the mournful “It’s Quiet Uptown.” Even bigger—though worse—is “Satisfied,” which despite distinctive performances by Sia and Queen Latifah has become the lurching Frankenstein monster its deft stage version was so miraculous for never becoming.
In the cast recording, the big romance-related twist of Hamilton’s life—America’s first political sex scandal—feels a bit like an extra puzzle piece thrown into the box. Here, though, it gets deeper treatment, providing a fuller glimpse into what the episode illuminated about Hamilton’s character and times. Jill Scott turns “Say No to This” to “Say Yes to This,” purring and cooing with panache as she imagines the mistress’s perspective. The rapper Dessa delivers “Congratulations,” a blistering diss track from Hamilton’s sister-in-law that was cut in the jump from Off-Broadway to Broadway. And Andra Day inflates the betrayal ballad “Burn” with a very current kind of nu-soul angst; you can imagine it fitting in on a dystopian YA movie’s soundtrack.
Even the songs that seem more political come with heavy doses of the personal. “My Shot” is retrofitted into rap-rock with all-new verses from a clutch of emcees, the first of whom, Black Thought, makes explicit how Hamilton’s childhood obstacles recall the black-youth experience today. “Immigrants (We Get the Job Done)” remixes the most iconic bit of the play’s dialogue into a pan-global crew anthem that gets across how immigration isn’t an abstract concept but one involving vibrant individuals, cuisines, cultures, and talents. For “Write My Way Out,” another new track, Miranda raps a verse about how childhood misfit anxiety has motivated his entire life. All of these songs suggest that the deeper, embedded romance of Hamilton and maybe even hip-hop in general is between people and their own sense of potential.