Hamilton Mixtape: Inside the making
When Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter of The Roots was tasked with breathing new life into one of Hamilton‘s most recognizable songs, “My Shot,” for a new project based on the Broadway smash he was excited — but nervous.
“It felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders the day I finally finished both verses for ‘My Shot’,” he says. “It’s such an iconic song, and it plays such an integral part in the Broadway production that I didn’t want to do it a disservice. I felt like it wasn’t broken, so it didn’t necessarily need fixing.” So why, exactly, was one of the producers of Hamilton’s chart-topping cast album tinkering with one of its standout tracks? For The Hamilton Mixtape, of course: A collection of covers, remixes, and “inspired-by” versions of songs on the Broadway soundtrack, performed and re-imagined by some of the biggest musical artists working today.
Hamilton fans have been eagerly awaiting The Hamilton Mixtape — the latest way the Broadway smash is continuing to reinvent itself — since creator Lin-Manuel Miranda first announced the collection last October. While it still doesn’t have an official release date, Trotter, who, along with his Roots bandmate Questlove, helped produce both The Hamilton Mixtape and the official Broadway cast album, promises fans have a lot to look forward to. “You can expect [Mixtape] to be as musically dynamic and to include as wide a range of inspirations as the [show],” Trotter says. “But we’re not putting this out for comparison’s sake… they both have a life of their own.”
When the idea for Mixtape came about, Trotter says, he, Miranda, Questlove, and Atlantic Records VP Riggs Morales had a series of meetings where they devised their “dream team” of artists, and who they’d ideally assign to each Hamilton song — whether it would be a cover, a remix, the artist putting his or her own spin on a character, or a new song “inspired by” the show. “Many of the artists on the dream team, we were able to get,” Trotter says. “[It’s] a pretty brilliant cast of characters.” The current roster includes Busta Rhymes, Common, Chance the Rapper, Sia, Alicia Keys, Regina Spektor, Queen Latifah, Usher, and even Jimmy Fallon.
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In the end, some artists were given the choice whether to cover a song or do their own thing. But no matter whether they had plans for a song initially or not, “everyone wanted to be a part of it,” Trotter says. “Everyone who we approached [wanted to be involved], whether it worked out schedule-wise or not. No one said no.”
“The mixtape is sort of a love letter from both sides,” Trotter explains. “One from Lin to the artists and M.C.s who inspired the songs that were part of the Broadway production”—like Busta Rhymes and Common—”and then on the other [side], from the artists who were inspired by Hamilton, and who were massively affected in a great way by the experience of the play.”
Trotter is hesitant to tease anything that Miranda himself hasn’t announced, but he will say that Sia’s contribution probably needed the least amount of tweaking on the producers’ part, while a new version of “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story,” which Trotter worked on with Common, took some “back and forth” before it was perfected. The Mixtape will also include early demos and songs that were part of Hamilton’s Off-Broadway run at Manhattan’s Public Theater in 2015: “You might hear a little ‘No John Trumbull’ in there relatively close to the way it appeared onstage,” Trotter hints.
For all the widespread excitement over both the show and the Mixtape, Trotter actually counts himself as one of the show’s biggest fans. “I wanted to join the cast!” he says. He might even get a chance when The Hamilton Mixtape eventually gets performed live. “I can’t say when or where,” he says, “But you can expect Hamilton Mixtape performances probably sooner than later. That’s all I can say.”