Songwriter-performer and Twitterico presidente-for-life Lin-Manuel Miranda looms large in New York theater. He has helped bring the sound of Broadway up to date in his scores for In the Heights and Bring It On. He is now at work on The Hamilton Mixtape, which sets the story of founding father Alexander Hamilton to hip-hop and R&B grooves.
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Time Out New York: Why Hamilton, and why hip-hop?
Lin-Manuel Miranda: I fell in love with the Hamilton story while I was still in Heights. It’s an American immigrant story: Immigrant comes to this country, makes good, is not trusted because he is an immigrant, but actually changes our country for the better—and is gunned down by the Vice President in New Jersey. And all of his successes—and all of his failures—were due to his verbosity, his ability to argue and debate and use his words. So I was like, This is a proto–hip-hop story!
Time Out New York: I feel like hip-hop is bringing back a kind of ostentatious wit and rhyme that has a long history in traditional musical theater.
Lin-Manuel Miranda: Yeah—I mean, the opening number of The Music Man is a hip-hop number. Like, I don’t know why more people don’t acknowledge this! It is a percussive, spoken, stylized number. For me the fun is finding those moments where that works onstage. Because the difference between hip-hop and musical theater is that if you’re seeing a musical, you have to understand this shit in real time. And that’s the challenge of any lyricist worth his salt: being able to dizzy the audience but also keep them up with what’s going on.
Time Out New York: Has your experience performing with the Freestyle Love Supreme improv hip-hop group informed your writing?
Lin-Manuel Miranda: Creating lyrical stories and songs out of audience suggestions fed the kind of hip-hop that we used in In the Heights, which I wanted to feel like guys jamming on the street corner. It’s not superpolished, Eminemish rap; I wanted it to feel like these guys were saying this for the first time. And from doing Freestyle, I very much knew what that sounded like.
Time Out New York: Is it different in that way from Hamilton?
Lin-Manuel Miranda: Well, Hamilton is a story with much more of an epic scope, so it’s much more intricate. I’m going for broke in terms of how much lyrical intricacy I can get away with and still be telling a story.