Alexander Hamilton: Hip-Hop Hero at the White House Poetry Evening

Recent­ly we brought you the sto­ry of the Alexan­der Hamil­ton-Aaron Burr duel, as told in a drunk­en stu­por by Mark Gagliar­di and star­ring Zom­bieland’s Michael Cera as Hamil­ton. Now we have anoth­er unusu­al nar­ra­tor of the life of Amer­i­ca’s first Trea­sury Sec­re­tary. Lin-Manuel Miran­da, Tony award-win­ning writer and star of the Broad­way musi­cal In the Heights, com­posed “The Hamil­ton Mix­tape,” a song detail­ing the found­ing father’s rise from hum­ble begin­nings as (in the words of John Adams) “the bas­tard brat of a Scot­tish ped­dler,” to the upper ech­e­lons of the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion­ary gov­ern­ment. Born on the Caribbean island of Nevis, Hamilton’s sto­ry is as boot­strap as they come, and Miran­da took his ver­sion all the way to the top. In the video above, he per­forms “The Hamil­ton Mix­tape” for Barack and Michelle Oba­ma at the White House Evening of Poet­ry, Music, and the Spo­ken Word, held on May 12, 2009.

To learn more about Alexan­der Hamil­ton, vis­it

And check out Miran­da’s lyrics below the jump.

“The Hamil­ton Mix­tape”

How does a bas­tard, orphan, son of a whore
And a Scots­man, dropped in the mid­dle of a for­got­ten spot
In the Caribbean, 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 while slaves were being slaugh­tered
And cart­ed away across the waves
Our Hamil­ton kept his guard up
Inside he was long­ing for some­thing to be a part of
The broth­er was ready to beg steal bor­row or barter
Then a hur­ri­cane came and
Dev­as­ta­tion reigned and
Our man saw his future drip drip­pin’ down the drain
Put a pen­cil to his tem­ple
Con­nect­ed it to his brain
And he wrote his first refrain
A tes­ta­ment to his pain
When 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
And there’s a mil­lion things he hasn’t done
But just you wait. Just you wait

[Verse 2]
When he was 10, his father split
Full of it, debt-rid­den
Two years lat­er, see Alex and his moth­er, bed-rid­den
Half-dead, sit­tin’ in their own sick
The scent thick
And 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, a voice
Say­ing Alex, you got­ta fend for your­self
He start­ed retreatin’
And readin’
Every trea­tise on the shelf
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
Scan­nin’ 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

h/t @ashleyfmiller


Josh Jones is a doc­tor­al can­di­date in Eng­lish at Ford­ham Uni­ver­si­ty and a co-founder and for­mer man­ag­ing edi­tor of Guer­ni­ca / A Mag­a­zine of Arts and Pol­i­tics.

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Comments (7)
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  • ruthie says:

    Wow, thanks for shar­ing that! Can’t help but won­der how much more his­to­ry kids would learn if pre­sent­ed like this…

  • Aerin says:

    I hate to only post a com­ment that points out a cor­rec­tion but Micheal Cera was not the actor in Zom­bieland. It was Jesse Eisen­berg (who admit­ted­ly looks sim­i­lar to Cera).

  • Alessandro says:

    “the bas­tard brat of a Scot­tish ped­dler”

    Its a strange thing that peo­ple who would buy and sell peo­ple looked down on peo­ple who, in con­trast, just bought and sell things.

  • Alexan­der Hamil­ton I nev­er real­ly cared who he was but I know now, and that poem was very cre­ative.

  • You tru­ly con­struct­ed sev­er­al good items with­in ur arti­cle, “Alexan­der Hamil­ton: Hip-Hop Hero at the White House Poet­ry Evening |
    Open Cul­ture”. I may end up com­ing back again to ur page even­tu­al­ly.

    Thx ‑Rashad

  • asdf asdf says:

    my teacher showed us this is class.People were either laugh­ing or lis­ten­ing and tak­ing notes. Our teacher also told us that ppl with george wash­ing­ton either want­ed to be him or date him :)

  • Larry says:

    What song was the beat from? It’s sounds famil­iar

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