I may have mentioned my fascination with Alexander Hamilton a few times before. Well, it turns out (thank goodness!) I'm not alone.
At a May 12 evening of Poetry and Spoken Word performances at the White House, Broadway writer Lin-Manuel Miranda performed a piece from his upcoming hip-hop concept album, The Hamilton Mixtape. The White House put video of the event online last week, and... it's absolutely worth 4:27 of your time. (Transcript follows)
I'm thrilled the White House called me tonight, because I'm actually working on a hip-hop album, uh, a concept album about the life of someone I think embodies hip-hop: Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton. You laugh! But it's true. He was born a penniless orphan in St. Croix, an illegitimate birth, became George Washington's right-hand man, became treasury secretary, caught beef with every other founding father, and all on the strength of his writing. I think he embodies the word's ability to make a difference.
So, I'm going to be doing the first song from that tonight; I'm accompanied by Tony- and Grammy-winning music director Alex Lacamore. [Applause] Uh, anything you need to know? I'll be playing Vice President Aaron Burr, and snap along if you like.
How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore
and a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot
In the Carribbean, by Providence impoverished, to squalor,
Grow up to be a hero and a scholar?
The ten-dollar Founding Father without a father
Got a lot farther
By workin' a lot harder
By bein' a lot smarter
By bein' a self-starter
By fourteen they had placed him in charge of the trade and charter
And every day more slaves were being slaughtered
And carted away across the waves
Our Hamilton kept his guard up
Decided he was longing for something to be a part of
The brother was ready to beg steal borrow or barter.
Then a hurricane came,
Our man saw his future drip drippin' down the drain.
Put a pistol to his temple
Connected it to his brain
And he wrote his first refrain
A testament to his pain.
The word got around: They said, "This kid is insane, man!"
Took up a collection just to send him to the mainland
Getcha education; don't forget from whence you came,
And the world is gonna know your name!
What's your name, man?
Alexander Hamilton. His name is Alexander Hamilton.
There's a million things he hasn't done.
But just you wait. Just you wait.
When he was 10, his father split
Full of it, debt-ridden.
Two years later, see Alexander's mother, bed-ridden,
Half-dead, sittin' in the room, sick himself,
Alex got better but his mother went quick.
Moved in with a cousin. The cousin committed suicide
Left him with nothin' but ruined pride.
Somethin' new inside him, a voice
Saying Alex, you gotta fend for yourself,
He started retreatin'
Every treatise on the shelf.
Now, there would've been nothin' left to do
For someone less astute,
He would've been dead and destitute
Without a cent of restitution.
Clerkin' for his late mother's landlord
Tradin' sugar cane and rum and other things he can't afford
Skinnin' for every book he can get his hands on
Plannin' for the future: See him now
As he stands on the bow of a ship headed for a new land
In New York you can be a new man.
The ship is in the harbor now,
See if you can spot him:
Another immigrant comin' up from the bottom
His enemies destroyed his rep; America forgot him;
And me? I'm the damn fool that shot him.
We were waiting in the weeds for you.
You could never back down.
You always had to speak your mind.
But Alexander Hamilton, we could never take your deeds from you.
In our cowardice and our shame,
We will try to destroy your name.
The world will never be the same, Alexander!
Yeah, I'm the damn genius that shot him.