By Rahul Lal
“I was really grateful he stopped to listen,” said actor, playwright and rapper Lin-Manuel Miranda about Vice-President elect Mike Pence. He was, of course, referring to Pence’s response to being addressed by the cast of the Broadway hit Hamilton during the curtain call following the show’s November 18 performance. controversy behind Miranda’s play Hamilton directly taking time to voice concerns about the upcoming presidency. “He didn’t have to stop, he stopped and he listened and he spoke to specifically what we said and I’ll always be grateful to him for having that dialogue with us regardless of the noise around it.”
Actor Victor Dixon acknowledged Pence for coming to the show and mentioned that a large portion of the country had anxiety about some of the ideals and statements made by Pence and president-elect Donald Trump throughout the duration of the election. Miranda went on Play.it’s Rap Radar podcast to speak with Elliott Wilson and Brian “B.Dot” Miller about the play and its hip-hop influences.
“Listen, our country’s history is really complicated,” he continued. “There’s a lot of really dark chapters to it, but we all live here now so I think it’s important to talk about how we got here and what we want the best version of it to be going forward, and we’ll make steps forward to some people and sideways to some people and backwards to some people but we all live here now and it’s our responsibility to enact the best of our ideals and work through the contradictions and obstacles that were present at the founding. I think that’s what people respond to regardless of political strife, I would hate to see the show politicized because it is an origin story in a weird way.”
The play is unlike traditional Broadway plays, as it details the life of founding father Alexander Hamilton through hip-hop. Following the hit original cast recording, a mixtape for the play—essentially a tribute to the cast recording, by some major artists—features Nas, Miguel, Wiz Khalifa, Common, Chance the Rapper and even reunited Ja Rule and Ashanti on a track. Miranda said the mixtape, and the show itself, was borne out of his deep admiration for hip-hop growing up in New York City during the classic age of of the genre.
“The goal when I was writing [Hamilton] was to just write a mixtape,” he said. “I don’t have to worry about everyone getting it the first time, it’s an album and they’re going to be able to listen to it again and they’ll catch stuff they didn’t catch the first time. If you tell your story well enough, it transcends your block and your neighborhood. We all feel like we know a little bit about Queensbridge thanks to Nas. He made Queensbridge a universal experience the same way Biggie did. It was KRS-One before that. When you rep your neighborhood so well that everyone feels like that’s a shared experience, that’s what a really amazing hip-hop writing can do. That’s Jay Z in Marcy, that’s Eminem in Detroit, that’s Lil’ Wayne down south.”
While it’s a different approach from most Broadway plays, Miranda was able to turn it into a hit, though the typical Broadway attendee isn’t the typical hip-hop fan. Miranda pointed out that it’s an evolution of the stage: plays used to be written in verse, but now many plays are written more conversationally. Using hip-hop is just another evolution.
“Shakespeare wrote in verse, Ibsen wrote in verse, the Greeks wrote in verse,” he explained. “What’s more new is actually people talking to each other normally and trying to capture that. Verse was the dominant form of drama so we’re actually in a weird way connecting with something way beyond hip-hop. I think the way people feel when they see the show if they don’t listen to a lot of hip-hop is they’re panicked for the first few minutes, they go ‘Oh s—-, but also we’re really going to have to focus to get it.’ Because it is in verse, you get into the rhythm of it and by the end you’re like ‘Alright, I’m hip to what’s going on,’ and you’re swept in.’”
Miranda flexed his hip-hop knowledge as he discussed some of his favorite artists, rapping along with multiple tracks on the mixtape. He also revealed that there were plenty of songs that weren’t even released that could be released in the future.
“The whole show is such a love letter to hip-hop and everything I love about hip-hop that it was really important to me that the community come see it and, whether they love it or hate it, see what it is. I was thinking what rapper or what R&B artist is most like George Washington. Not what he is physically or what he would sound like but who’s that spirit? That was the fun for me, casting the founders as our hip-hop founders.”
To hear to the full interview with Lin-Manuel Miranda, listen to the latest episode of Rap Radar below.