Review: West End London’s Hamilton

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I have been one of those irritating Hamilton fanboys for over two years now, despite not having seen the play (up until now). 

In 2015, I independently read Ron Chernow’s biography of The Hamilton and I instantly thought to make it into a play (or a musical). I had it thoroughly pictured too– Hamilton as the gifted politician matching wits with Jefferson on the constitutional convention floor, Hamilton resigning himself to private life for the first time after Phillip’s death. Like many people at their Eureka moment, I went straight to google and typed in “HAMILTON PLAY”. I was greeted with a silhouette of Hamilton thrusting his hand into the air with a black star behind me. Naturally, I was upset that someone had stolen my idea, but I was excited to see how the idea thief had put the story into musical form. By the time I made it out to Broadway, the ticket prices had made me less excited to see it. 

I told (and still tell) this story to everyone who mentions the show. I talk of Lin-Manuel Miranda and me as if we were equals, as if I — given three or so more years — could have produced an equally good (if not better) product. 

Today, after been given the tickets as a generous gift, I realized that even if I had Miranda’s connections and dedication, I could not have possibly dreamt of bringing Hamilton! to the stage as well as he has. Though at times somewhat historically misrepresentative of certain characters, these misrepresentations perhaps aid the story and bring out the most accurate story of the most inspirational true American story ever told. Horatio Alger is not needed to show young Americans and Englishmen alike how far hard work and pure dedication (combined with a bit of brilliance) can take a man in life. 

The music and the songs themselves are of course brilliant. Even the titles themselves subtly reappear throughout the musical, and subtly appeal to the audience. Eliza briefly reprises a lyric from one of the songs towards the beginning of the show, ask-singing, “Why are you writing like you’re running out of time?” the morning Hamilton furiously scribbles his will and testament before leaving for his duel with Aaron Burr. He is running out of time.”The Story of Tonight” is not only Hamilton and company meeting for the first time in a New York tavern, but also Hamilton! itself! 

The story is also pure perfection, most likely the best narrative I have ever seen in a live performance. The characters and actors are charismatic and (for the most part) instantly likable, even the “antagonist” Thomas Jefferson is lovable in the midst of his flamboyant and arrogant persona. Aaron Burr, the notoriously unbelieving politician, serves as a perfect foil to Hamilton to brilliantly expose both the strengths and flaws in both characters. Hamilton himself is somewhat oversimplified- but this is a necessary sacrifice in order to create fully coherent 2.5-3 hour playtime. He is young and brilliant, an orphan who carries with him a desperate need to prove himself to everyone he sees. These characters masterly needle through the script’s outrageously funny moments, and its chokingly tear-jerking moments, to weave together a thoroughly moving performance. A fascinating and capturing performance based off a man who could very well be described with the same words. 

10/10

 

Review: Kids See Ghosts, by Kanye West and Kid Cudi

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Kid Cudi and Kanye West are back together yet again, and their friendship proves to re-enforce their reputation as one of the best collaborations that have ever occurred in rap music. 

“Feel the Love” starts off the album on a fantastic note, with Cudi singing the simple yet epic chorus, his trademark. The beat seems to be made for Cudi’s voice, and together even the ultra-repetitive chorus sticks in a listener’s ears. Kanye drops the best onomatopoeic verse of his career in this song, firing vocal guns into the microphone. 

“Fire” continues with a strong, marching beat. While being more instrumentally focused with steady tambourine (and occasional flutes?), Cudi and Kanye both drop angry and somewhat psychedelic choruses and verses. It manages to be internally questioning and externally powerful and sassy. Perhaps this song serves to symbolize the personas of both Cudi and Kanye (neither have been seen as shy in their careers despite both suffering from severe mental issues and depression).

“4th Dimension” serves the best beat of the album and perhaps of the three albums Kanye has produced, sampling a Christmas song by Louis Prima. The song finds Cudi and Kanye at their collective sharpest wits as well. 

“Freeee (Ghost Town Pt. 2)” truly is a sequel in every way to the original “Ghost Town” from Kanye’s “ye” album, a victorious anthem dedicated to psychological liberation. Anyone who has ever accomplished something difficult would quickly come to know and love this song. 

“Reborn” is a song straight out of Cudi’s debut album “Man on the Moon” all the way back in 2008. From the light pianos to Cudi’s repetitive hooks and (somewhat annoying moaning), everything about this song is a time capsule to a decade ago. Appropriately, this song is about moving forward and finding peace in acknowledging the past and issues and rolling with them. Again, both Kanye and Cudi achieve every goal they set out on this song, acknowledging each of their personal struggles but putting forward a tone of firm acceptance and picking oneself up and moving on, no matter where. The song is somewhat therapeutic. 

“Kids See Ghosts” is an extraterrestrial song. The entire song is completely unorthodox. Cudi mumbles quietly in his verse, but his lyrics come across completely clearly, and so does his even quieter chorus. Kanye’s verse comes in as a saving return to form, and his verse talks about the confidence depletion that ironically comes with being successful. Perhaps this song is about seeing spirits and ghosts, things that shouldn’t exist but still do. Mos Def (or Yasiin Bey) continues on this theme, coldly describing a world with “stability but no stasis”, a confused world where synonyms may not exist at the same time. 

“Cudi Montage” is the last song finally is the external song on the album. Cudi speaks of the difficulty of bearing the weight of the world on his shoulders, and wonders what light he could possibly shed on the world. But Kanye already knows what light he has to shine. After enough introspection, Kanye West talks about what bothers him in the world. What bothers him in 2018? The worldwide desire for peace growing as a trend, yet the quintessential unending cycle of violence and revenge, a positive loop of death, continuing to exist. The chorus matches the spiritual moments of “Ultralight Beam” from 2016, a hymn-like refrain sung by Mr. Hudson, Kanye, and Cudi, taking turns singing different parts each time the chorus comes around. It is ingenious and amazing, and without a doubt the best song on the album. 

Overall I could not recommend the album enough. It is a brisk and well-selected psychedelic rock/rap masterpiece that’s brilliance cannot be denied. 

9/10.

Review: Avengers: Infinity War

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Chris Hemsworth’s Thor.

There is a spoiler alert in effect.

Avengers: Infinity War is Disney/Marvel’s new bid for a summer blockbuster in 2018, and it has without question succeeded. The movie has made nearly $2 billion globally so far, making it second in total gross to only Avatar. 

I myself saw the movie a few weeks ago, and thoroughly enjoyed it. The movie combines dozens of characters who I and many Americans have come to know and love, such as Chris Hemsworth’s hilariously charming and witty Thor, Chris Pratt’s loveable Star Lord, and of course Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man. The script for this movie combines the characters that were previously light years apart smoothly, and they all interact with each other on screen better than anyone could have imagined. 

The villain in this movie, Thanos, is also one of the best the Marvel Cinematic Universe has seen so far. His power his unquestionable, but his interactions with Gamora, his adopted daughter, serve to reveal both his conflict and a pretty interesting argument behind his drive to destroy (half) the universe. 

Each of the infinity stones also play a crucial role in the plot. In fact, they almost are the driving elements of the movie, in addition to being the driving elements of the universe. As Thanos continues his quest to gain each stone, the ones he has help both him and the heroes in different ways. 

The fight scenes in this movie are breathtaking, and the special effects are better than almost any movie I’ve ever seen. 

However, the ending of the movie is frankly awful. Essentially, the movie ends with Thanos winning, or eliminating half of the universe. Of course, this means some key characters die in this movie. The ones who do die include: Black Panther, Nick Fury, Spider-Man, Star Lord and all of the Guardians of the Galaxy, Gamora, Dr. Strange, and a handful of others. However, there is frankly no way that Disney would allow these characters to actually be dead. For example: Guardians of the Galaxy is a billion dollar franchise, that actually has a third movie in the works. How can there be a Guardians of the Galaxy movie with the entire cast of Guardians of the Galaxy dead? Black Panther is the second highest grossing film ever released by Disney, and it is still in theaters. It is also highly unlikely that they will simply let the Black Panther die. 

But the reason for such a terrible ending to the movie is simple: so that Disney and Marvel can turn every moviegoer of Infinity War: Part 1 into a moviegoer of Infinity War: Part 2. No one can stand to see the family friendly movie-maker end the film on such a low note, and the second Infinity War will be the only solution to the bitter and lost feeling that comes at the end of Infinity War. Though eventually I am sure the bitter feeling will be a thing of the past, it will still definitely be with me for at least another year. 

6/10.

 

Review: “ye” by Kanye West

Master producer and MC Kanye West is back with an album after two years. The album has what can be expected from Kanye in terms of production; extraordinarily refreshing and well thought out music. In terms of lyrics, what Kanye has to say is also to some extent expected: the album opens with “I Thought About Killing You”, a track that finds Kanye confused, to some extent violent, yet his voice remains measured and peaceful. Suddenly, his voice begins to fuse with the vocoder that was made famous from a previous album, “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”. On the album cover, a picture of Wyomingite mountains is tagged with the words “I hate being Bi-Polar its awesome”; perhaps the best way the album can be described is as bipolar. The production is always fresh, but also oscillates between maximalist and minimalist styles. 

“All Mine” is a fully minimalist song, with some moments of synth, but generally relies on 808s and Kanye’s voice, which is more than enough to capture a listener’s attention. Kanye is at times philosophical, at other times hilariously childish; he raps “Let me hit it raw fuck the outcome/none of us would be here without come”. 

“Wouldn’t Leave” is a much more mature refrain. Backed by a gorgeous sampling track, Kanye reminds listeners that he is still himself and he still would never abandon those who he loves and those who love him. 

“No Mistakes” is without a doubt the high point of the album, and to some continuation. It is a pure victory anthem, as Charlie Wilson and Kid Cudi both triumphantly sing the chorus that reminds listeners and Kanye’s subject that he still loves them. Kanye throws shots at Drake, sheds failures he had over the course of the last year, and pronounces himself as fresh and triumphant. His happiness and sense of victory is contagious. 

“Ghost Town” finds that Kanye is on a high that is not coming down. Kid Cudi sings the chorus perfectly, with epic electric guitars that excellently back Cudi’s epic style of singing. Young singer “070 Shake” sings the outro, which is also very well done and continues the epic feeling that Kanye’s music has the tendency to bring out. 

“Violent Crimes” has a minimalist beat and finds Kanye completely sober and reflective. Lyrically, this is perhaps one of Kanye’s most interesting songs yet. Kanye raps about how the way he sees women has transformed after having two daughters, and he spends the song trying to readjust himself to the life of a father above a rapper, arguably one of the most explicit careers a person can pursue. Kanye is hopeful for the future yet scared at the same time of what his daughters will become, and if he will have properly prepared them for that future. 070 Shake and Ty Dolla $ign finish the song and the album with a harmonized duet reaffirming Kanye’s desire to slow his daughter’s maturation and path towards independence, fearful of the fading of the “lie”, or his daughters’ exposure to the reality of the world outside of the protective West home. 

Overall, this album to me is a 9/10. Though at times  the minimalist beats were somewhat unnecessary and detracted from the listening experience, the album overall finds Kanye at his most mature and reflective. He is 40 years old now, so this makes sense. His perspective has dramatically shifted since 2016, and it is fascinating to see it musically expressed. Kanye is now unwilling or perhaps unable to write hits like “Gold Digger”, “Stronger”, or “Power”, and as a result there is no one track in this album that stands out from the others. Together however, the album truly stands out as a musical and lyrical expression of a very charismatic and controversial person’s life, thoughts, and ideals.