Dear, sir, I hope this letter finds you in good health; I write to you to thank you for your work. I've composed this letter on foreign shores as an American citizen born to exiled immigrant parents. Before leaving my teaching career to pursue other passions — primarily writing — I spent the majority of my time as an educator teaching Advanced Placement English Literature and Composition. It was one of my colleagues, and lifelong friend, that first introduced me to "Hamilton" — “Sosa, you’ve got to listen to this, Hamilton’s life story is quintessentially a hip-hop narrative…writing your way out of your circumstances and surroundings, escaping poverty and oppression through writing.” I made a note of the recommendation and having never gotten around to listening to the original Broadcast recording that I downloaded from Spotify, I made sure it was one of the albums available to me offline while I explored Australia and documented my journey. My partner and I have listened to your masterpiece several times, most recently in silent support of you and yours in the wake of the embarrassing absurdity of the call to boycott Hamilton. Again, I thank you, for you and your words flooded my senses; I shake my head in disbelief, I chuckle, I swell with pride, I feel my skin tighten as all my hairs stand at terrified attention, I exhale softly as I dry my eyes.
Within your work, you have managed to capture and effectively demonstrate the lessons I struggled, on a daily basis, to impart onto my students — the undeniable power of literature, specifically, the herculean impact that words can have in affecting your life and ultimately, history. Having been shaped by both, I attempted to open my students to poetry through the musical genre of hip-hop. From the employment of rhythm to repetition to wordplay, and the self-referential density of hip-hop, it was easy to identify the plethora of poetic devices employed by modern day artists and then make the connection to those whom academia have deemed the poetic greats. Whether it’s the Nymph’s reply to the Passionate Shepherd or Allen Ginsburg’s apostrophe to Walt Whitman in a supermarket, poets have picked up on and further developed the themes of their predecessors; the same can be said of hip-hop during its short, but culturally influential, existence.
It is primarily the references in “Take a Break” that spurred me to write to you. Macbeth has always been on my Advanced Placement syllabus (for what it’s worth, I would have caught the original and better suited “tied to a stake” reference) and all of my former students know the importance of allusions and how they can enhance meaning. But it is Angelica’s obsession with the placement of a comma, the changed meaning of the phrase, and whether it was intentional or not, that causes the track to overleap all other. In under five minutes, you succinctly and persuasively demonstrate what the majority of my time in the classroom was spent on. And while I have decided to take a break from teaching, I am excited at the possibility of one day being in the room where the study of Shakespeare is paired with your work.
The layers and density of Hamilton are overwhelming, the manner in which you crafted certain songs to be reminiscent of the early stages of rap, then as Hamilton’s world expands so too do the rhymes, becoming increasingly complex and multisyllabic — I could go on and try to document and analyze all references from Biggie to Mobb Deep to "Pirates of Penzance" but this is not a dissertation, just a simple letter from a fan and, more importantly, an educator that has found validation of his work through yours. While I do not know when I will be in a classroom again, I take great pride in knowing that what I’ve preached to my students is alive and well — the importance of reading and the power of words. And if the lessons I taught share a fraction of the inspiration you’ve given me and others, that would be enough.
And now with the upcoming release of "The Hamilton Mixtape," I am absolutely floored and excited by the enrichment of our collective lives just because you made the conscious choice to enrich yours through reading. You randomly picked up Chernow’s biography on Alexander Hamilton and as a result, you’ve had a significant impact on how a new generation of artists and influencers think and create. Again, I thank you, thank you for the creativity of your couplets, for not throwing away your shot, and for blowing us all away.