Channeling my Hamilton Obsession
About four years ago, my family decided to live in NYC for just over three months. We travelled all around the East Coast (Virginia, Nova Scotia, DC, etc.) but our home base was Brooklyn. During our nomadic adventure, I was especially enamored of American history. By looking at the American Revolution through the lens of New York, I ended up focusing on Alexander Hamilton. From his valiant performances on the battlefield to his fatal duel with rival Aaron Burr, I fell in love with him as a historical figure.
During our time there, I wrote an epic, four minute rap about our experiences and the things I learned. Hamilton had a starring role, with two verses devoted to his story. And no, I had not seen the video of Lin-Manuel performing his “Alexander Hamilton” song at the White House Poetry Slam which he had presented in 2009. I guess me and Lin were just on the same wavelength about Hamilton + Rap = Awesomeness. Here is a ten-year old me performing the rap, shortly after we returned to San Francisco:
Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison
NYC’s got Alexander Hamilton
He made da Banks! He made da money!
He said to Aaron Burr, “You look kind of funny!”
Aaron challenged Hamilton to a duel
Hamilton agreed so he wouldn’t look a fool
The shots rang out, we lost Hamilton
But Burr’s on the run… and Hammy’s on the ten!
When I finally discovered Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton” in October 2015, my mind was blown. I actually discovered it through my dad–who was already a Hamilton buff–a little while before then but we first listened to the cast recording in October when a friend raved about it after having recently seen the show on Broadway. We were immediately hooked, and began introducing it to friends. As time went on, we were just like everyone else, listening to the music constantly but unable to get our hands on tickets.
Unable to watch the show, I decided I would create my own version, more or less. Using my recently acquired filmmaking skills and an addiction to taking on challenging projects, I created my own version of Right Hand Man. Fortunately, my dad has a really good ear and was able to simulate the backing tracks. To play multiple characters at once I used split-screen editing — the song requires Hamilton, Washington, Burr, and an entourage of soldiers to be on screen at the same time. I ended up using this video as my project sample as part of the application for Nueva, the project-based, art/tech high school I will be going to next year. Here’s the video:
I was overcome with joy and excitement when my parents surprised me with Hamilton tickets for my birthday in March! With nothing to do now but memorize more pieces from Hamilton as I waited to be in the room where it happens, my dad and I began to ponder an idea we had. At this point, Hamilton was everywhere and everyone was making videos of their personal performances of songs from the show or pieces of fan fiction. Wanting to create something new and original, we came up with the concept for Hamilton Fan NonFiction, a way to extend Lin-Manuel’s “world” in our style while remaining true to the original’s spirit. Here are the Eight Rules of Hamilton Fan NonFiction as detailed by my dad.
We were particularly interested in Benedict Arnold and how/why he became a turncoat. As we read about his heroic actions earlier on in the war and his struggle with debt, public shame, and crippling injuries, we decided his story needed to be told. Just like Aaron Burr, he is a misunderstood historical character.
We were inspired to look at Arnold through a sympathetic lens by the humanity that Lin-Manuel brought to Burr and similarly wanted to show Arnold’s human side (while not letting him off the hook for his treason). What better way to do this then with music? I mean, Lin-Manuel did it and look at how well it worked out! With a passion for history, music, and storytelling, we began assembling a rap mini musical together (roughly 5 individual pieces).
I had been reading the Ron Chernow biography of Alexander Hamilton at the time and as we began compiling research and ideas for this project, I came across the section where Chernow writes about Arnold’s plot and evacuation from West Point. Guess what? Hamilton was there! He was in the room when Arnold got a dispatch informing him that his British contact, John Andre, had been captured with plans signed by Benedict himself! Hamilton was there, preparing for Washington who was to arrive later that day. This was an amazing connection point between Hamilton’s story and Benedict Arnold’s and a perfect coincidence for us to exploit.
I’ll be sharing more about this project as it progresses, but for now, I’ve included a recording of a few teaser verses from our first song/rap which we are in the process of recording and mixing.