Saturday, February 6, 2016

Hamilton: Hip Hop and History- A Magical Combination

When you come back from a show that makes everyone who saw it laugh, cry and want to run to read the history books upon it was based, how can you not love it?
This show takes a figure in American history often seen as secondary to Washington, Jefferson and Madison and pushes him to the forefront as a revolutionary leader, political thinker and nation builder, all while highlighting his character as an immigrant and an orphan in a way that allows the immigrants and orphans of our day to identify more powerfully with the country and its possibilities.
Doing this is nothing less than re-imagining the social contract through art. Think of it as an arts based " People's History of the United States", an affirmation of the United States as a country for ALL its people, dramatized by a cast of brilliant actors and singers in which people of color predominate
And by choosing hip hop as the major art form to do this with-while highlighting key conflicts and crises of the revolutionary era with startling accuracy, it validates every one of us who has used hiphop in our classrooms as a tool to help young people understand the world around them.
For what is hip hop after all- it is poetry and spoken word over a beat, an art form which,at its best, puts the voice of the disfranchised at the forefront and is the ultimate vehicle of the "striver" demanding recognition.
And Hamilton was the ultimate striver. Someone who came from "nothing" to become someone. And what someone he was. Utterly relentless in his ambition, brutally direct and incredibly brilliant., As he rose so did a nation- the nation we inhabit now
And if Hamilton is hip hop in the imagination of this show's creator, so is the terrible ritual that took his life and the life of his son-- the duel,
In this brilliant show, striking analogies between dueling and hip hop battles and "beefs" are a subtext, none more dramatically displayed than in a incredible number "The Ten Dueling Commandments" based on Biggie Smalls "Ten Crack Commandments."
That the machismo and pride that deformed the revolutionary era still live is one of many haunting images you take away from this show.
You cannot see Hamilton without thinking about how the nation in the making shaped the nation we live in now.
And when you add to this conversations about slavery, a haunting love story, friendships formed and friendships betrayed, plus the most incredible singing, dancing, and verbal artistry, you have a show for the ages
And you don't have to know hip hop to love it. I was with seven people aged 67-nearly 90, and they all came away from it filled with joy and wonder, even if none of them "got" the references to Biggie, Lauryn Hill and Grandmaster Flash
What a triumph of imagination, and art, but underlying it all is incredible historical research.
\ Which made this historian very happy.