Hip hop history…*
Back in 2014, I wrote about Pentecostal Pedagogy and the idea that we can increase learner engagement by relating to students — particularly urban students — through modes of communication that they relate to, such as rap. This was at the forefront of my mind earlier this month when I went to see Hamilton: The Musical – a new broadway musical that tells the story of Alexander Hamilton and the “making of America”… through hip hop music.
The play was by far one of the best Broadway shows I’ve ever seen. An educational, witty, and fairly accurate portrayal of the beginning of our nation, Hamilton converts what could feel like a very dry topic and put a fresh spin on it, communicating through a fusion of hip hop, jazz, and broadway music that is fun and relatable. The writer Lin-Manual Miranda chose Alexander Hamilton – an immigrant and orphan – as the protagonist of this historical play. He cast himself – a man of color – as Hamilton, and overall the cast is far more diverse than one might expect for a story about a bunch of old white men. In doing so, he creates a relatable story for many Americans who may have trouble empathizing with the old white men that dominate our history books.
With verses like the one below, he paints the picture of a man born without privilege, who succeeded through hard work and beat the odds to become a founding father of our nation:
The ten-dollar founding father without a father
Got a lot farther by working a lot harder
By being a lot smarter
By being a self-starter
By fourteen, they placed him in charge of a trading charter.
One of the repeating lines of the play — “I’m just like my country – I’m young, scrappy, and hungry. And I’m not throwin’ away my shot” — speaks to the timeless passion of ambitious youth.
The play uses rap battles for cabinet meetings, succinctly explaining Jefferson and Hamilton’s differing opinions on monetary policy or whether or not to send aid to the French Revolution.
The musical also approaches high-level issues, such as the way in which history is spun by those who live to tell the story. It develops multidimensional characters, such as Aaron Burr, displaying the complexity of politics and “right” and “wrong”.
Hamilton serves as a wonderful example of how to make history approachable and engaging for students. This play could be an excellent Preparation for Future Learning activity that would set the stage for a more traditional classroom discussion about the revolutionary war, our founding fathers, and the subjective nature of history.
While you are waiting to get your hands on tickets to this incredible performance, I’d highly recommend checking out the soundtrack, available on NPR FIRST LISTEN and also available for purchase on iTunes.