The Hamilton Mixtape is a project Lin-Manuel Miranda worked on since 2009 while writing the award-winning broadway musical Hamilton. Since its release in December 2016, its impact is still very present. In June of this year, the single “Immigrants (We Get The Job Done)” of the album received a music video directed by Thomas Whitmore. No matter how late to the party, this deserves to be talked about over and over.
The Hamilton Mixtape / Lin-Manuel Miranda executive producer; dir. Thomas Whitmore Atlantic Records
Album Dec 2, 2016 / Video Jun 28 2017 / track 11
The video starts with refugees on a boat, unsure of their future. Over the radio, they hear DJ J.Period who says, “It’s really astounding that in a country founded by immigrants, immigrant has somehow become a bad word.” We then switch over to a train which serves as the main location for the video. The Somali-Canadian K’Naan is the first to lend his voice. His lyrics are about the struggle to balance 2, sometimes 3, jobs and the yearn to chase the dreams that America, the country of liberty, had promised. He also mentions the experience of trying to escape over “tombstones disguised as waves”.
Next, the Mexican-American hip hop artist Snow tha Product delivers one of the best and recurring lines in the song: “It’s America’s ghostwriters, the credit’s only borrowed.” Constantly, immigrants are shunned and judged while people don’t even care to see the incredible things they’ve achieved. Snow tha Product tells those people to “walk a mile in our shoes” as she mixes English with Spanish lyrics, creating an amazing blend and reflecting the beauty of collaborating and unified cultures.
British Riz Ahmed aka Riz MC, who has Pakistani roots, follows with addressing colonialism, the British Empire and cultural influences. The train has transformed into a tube compartment and several people are censored with black bars across their eyes. Riz MC removes his bar and through that, gives a face to immigrants. And a well-known face that is. The musician and actor has recently gained a bigger presence in the showbiz through his part in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. He not only indirectly implies that famous, celebrated people can be immigrants too and that one doesn’t exclude the other, he directly plays on his Star Wars involvement with the line, “British Empire strikes back”.
“Who these fugees what did they do for me
But contribute new dreams
Taxes and tools, swagger and food to eat”
Lastly, the Puerto Rican rapper Residente performs over hard beats and sequences of policemen violently searching and seizing people. He talks about re-claiming lands and crossing borders, “We plant the tree and they reap the fruit.” As we get a glimpse of every performer and we slowly zoom out of a train window, the credits start rolling over the backdrop of planet earth, covered in constantly occupied train tracks. This is followed by the actor and singer Daveed Diggs slowly stepping out of the dark, leading a group of young people who are representatives of the Get Lit organization, which spreads knowledge and education through words.
“We use poetry to increase literacy, empower youth, and inspire communities.”
The cinematography in this video is dark and dreary but has invasive flashes of light which underline certain lyrics very well. Quick-moving tracking shots, dynamic camera movements and varying angles reflect the rattling and shifting of the train. Intense lyrics are supported by quick editing with jump cuts and close ups. As the audience is taken through the train, we travel through history, time, cultures, countries and different lives of different individuals. It represents an immigrant narrative and exemplifies the world’s vast diversity, bound to such a comprised location. That is really impressive and might also comment on the invisibility of or certain people’s blindness to immigrants and their experiences and achievements despite them fueling the ‘train’ of progress.
As usual, Lin-Manuel Miranda delivers a powerful creation which is supported by incredible artists and people who are constantly advocating for acceptance. You can watch the video below and share it with anyone who hasn’t heard of it yet!