Orbital Matters

Saturn Smith
Editor’s Pick
NOVEMBER 9, 2009 6:57PM

Which Founding Father is on your Mixtape?

Rate: 15 Flag

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)

To which I say: thank you, universe, for creating the perfect combination of my artistic and dorkish interests. If I had a video projector, I'd load this video and broadcast it on a wall in my living room every evening until a spontaneous Alexander Hamilton dance party began.
This has led, as well, to a fun afternoon game of trying to figure out other interesting concept albums and artistic mash-ups having to do with the founding generation: Green Day does George Washington might be my favorite, but I  think there's got to be an album in the Marquis de Lafayette's life story, too.
So, just out of curiosity: Anyone else have a great idea for a ripped-from-American History concept album?  

Transcript (and please understand all punctuation mess-ups in the lyrics are mine):

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, 

Devastation reigned,

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'

And readin'

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.

Started workin'

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.


Alexander Hamilton,

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.

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Have to think about it. Great post, great video, great concept.
The history geek in me is doing a major happy dance. And if I weren't still at work, the rest of me might just join in.

James Madison. Hands-down.
Glad you liked it, too, Kathy.

I really, really need to read more about Madison, AshKW; having read so much on the Hamilton "side" of things, I'm disposed to dislike him, but then again: The Federalist Papers!

Actually, I'm changing my answer to that. A hip-hop rendition of The Federalist Papers would be perfect.
I'm not the best person to ask. I cry every time I go to The American Experience at Epcot.
Ben Franklin: writer, scientist, engineer, political thinker, musician, composer, chess master, diplomat, polyglot. Even had a state named for him, for a while.
Jefferson. Anti-Federalist, power to the people...right on!
Besides that, he gave my great Uncle a job...Sec of Treasury.
We owe him one.
Now that's original! (And you won't get this kind of reporting from the MSM.)
I hate to have to say this, but I wouldn't be much good around the slave owning, child raping, racist monsters who didn't even consider my ancestors to be a whole human being.

If one showed up around me today, I would have to punch him in the nutz, then try to kill the son of a gun.

The ones who amended that document are the founding fathers of my constitution.
Hip-hop Hamilton...who'd a thought?

I think Jefferson, with his inter-racial proclivities, would definitely have been a jazz man, tinged with the blues. Madison, classic rock. Adams most definitely would have gone for the standards, a real Tony Bennett kind of guy. Washington would have been classic British rock of the Phil Collins/Genesis variety when with Martha, but in his own study he would be listening to Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash!
On the Sunday before the duel, Hamilton read the service of Morning Prayer from the Episcopal Church. He did his normal legal duties as a successful New York lawyer through Tuesday. Very early Wednesday morning Hamilton and Burr met in a secluded spot in New Jersey, because dueling was heavily punished in New York.

Burr was a marksman, and he brought his own pistol, while Hamilton borrowed a pistol since he had not owned one for years. At the word “present” the two pistols were fired. Hamilton’s shot hit a tree. Hamilton said he would not shoot Burr. In French, delope, this was throwing away your shot. Burr’s shot inflicted a mortal wound. Hamilton was quickly taken by his seconds to a residence in Manhattan.

Hamilton wanted the ministrations of the Rev. Benjamin Moore, rector of Trinity Church, New York and Bishop of the Diocese of New York. Moore denied any ministration, for fear it would give credibility to dueling. Hamilton then asked for the Rev. John Mason, a Scotch Presbyterian, who also denied giving him Holy Communion because it was not in a church setting. Hamilton again asked for Benjamin Moore, who heard Hamilton’s confession of faith, his forgiveness of Burr, and his desire to unite with the Episcopal Church, which he had not yet done. He was then given the final sacraments.

Hamilton asked that his wife Elizabeth be called, but not told the extent of his wound. When she came with their children, she went into an understandable frantic state.

On Thursday, July 12, at 2 p.m., Hamilton died at age 49. At the foot of his bed was Ella, and their seven children. Later on, Ella opened the letter Hamilton had written in expectation that he would be killed. He asked her to be consoled by religion, comforted that they would meet again in a better world. He called her the best of wives and the best of women. Hamilton was buried in the Burial Ground of Trinity Church, New York. Saturday, July 14,1804.

Although the hip-hop tribute is cute. It does little to really reveal any of the true essence of Hamilton and actually sounds a little revisionist.

For the "MC Burr" to neglect the fact that Hamilton forgave him for killing him misses the most important point.
That was actually pretty rad.
Philos77, I trust that the actual duel and its details would be dealt with later in the album; this is just the opening piece, and its focus seems to be mostly on Hamilton's upbringing. Beyond which -- if it's from Burr's point of view, it seems completely in character (and not at all revisionist) for him not to mention Hamilton's forgiveness or the details of his death, as Burr never went on record, in public or private, as having any regrets toward shooting him or wishing for his forgiveness; the closest he came was to make a few sly jokes about the whole affair, much as the character in this piece did.

Also, just to prove my own dorkery: Hamilton and Burr both used pistols borrowed from Hamilton's brother-in-law. Burr had been practicing, against the custom of his time, with his own pistols prior to the duel, but the choice of weapon went to the challenged (Hamilton), who chose the set of weapons that his son had used in his own fatal duel not long before.

See, it's totally made-for-hip-hop. The drama! The tragedy! The gunplay!
Well, Saturn, I don't much like Alexander Hamilton. Thought he was an arrogant ass. But then, that's probably because I admire Madison so much. And yes, a hip-hop version of the Federalist Papers would be amazing.
Ah, well, one of my vices is an admiration of arrogance.
Great post as usual. Great question too. For me it would have to be Jefferson. There is already the inherent feel of poetry in his words for me.

The majority of your post is taken word for word from an article titled, “Why, Aaron Burr, did you fire ?” by Rev. Richard W. Davies as found on oldsaintlukes.org. You may have simply overlooked giving the proper credit for this in your comment.
Dennis (and Paul, earlier), I admit I'm not a tremendous Jefferson fan, but his life and works would certainly lend themselves well to an album. So much intrigue! I'd buy it.
This is one post where the comments are evry bit as good as the original post! And that, Saturn, is a testament to you for bringing the subject up. Very enjoyable.
As for founding fathers and their rap, its hard not to consider Jefferson for the poetry of his words. But if we just expand to American history a little, I bet Lincoln would make a good concept album.
how incredibly original!! Also the performer has energy and sparkle and electricity
i think if you really want a revolutionary figure who embodies the hip-hop ethos (not sure those two words have ever been next to each other) you go with john hancock...accused (falsely?) of smuggling, so criminal background--check...big-ass signature embodies living large and the necessary ego--check...and of course, his last name would lend itself to some appropriately gritty lyrics...
I'm a Hamilton lover too.! They broke the mold when they made him. It it weren't for his bad cop to Madison's good cop we may still be under the AofF.
And, when I hear people apply their own convenient motivations to the founding fathers I think of Hamilton and just roll my eyes.
Love this post!
Since you've mentioned your fascination with Hamilton before, I'm sure you already know about this, but just in case...

"Drunk History" on Youtube, the bastard child of indy filmmaker Derek Waters, presents a different episode from American history with each installment, as told by a comedian who has imbibed way too much, and set to a Waters video starring, well, real stars. The idea got started with this episode featuring Michael Cera as Alexander Hamilton and narrated by a comedian who also happens to have a masters in history (other than stand-up what else would one do with that?). Enjoy.