If you asked the average rap fan what the biggest story in Hip Hop (culture) or hip-hop music for the past 12 months was, what would they say? They might mention Drake and Meek Mill. They might talk about Future’s status as the ‘trap-music king’. Maybe they would talk about Kendric’s awards or even Young Thug’s rise to acceptability in pop-rap music. To me however, it’s all about the phenomenon of Hamilton – An American Musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Single-handedly, this magnum opus of lyrical artistry by Miranda has not only generated millions of dollars and revolutionized the scope musical theater, but it did even more. The popularity of the play has created ripple effects that have now affected public policy. Yes, the hip hop musical by this Puerto Rican native of the Bronx has actually affected financial policy to some degree, if only a superficial one.
In June of 2015, Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew announced that a woman’s face would replace Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill. But then, over the course of the next 6 months, Hamilton – An American Musical happened. The phenomenon reignited an interest in the founding father and creator of the financial system who had long just been a face on money.
In April of 2016, Jacob Lew made an new announcement that reneged on his earlier statement and opted instead to change the face of the $20 bill, from slave-owner President Andrew Jackson to slavery abolitionist champion, Harriet Tubman. It is unquestionable that the excitement and interest for Alexander Hamilton, because of Miranda’s play, was the sole reason for the switch. In March 2016, Secretary Lew met with Hip Hop playwright, Miranda who stressed the importance of keeping Hamilton on the currency. After the meeting with Lew Miranda tweeted,
— Lin-Manuel Miranda (@Lin_Manuel) March 16, 2016
This remarkable news reveals the power of Hip Hop. Yes, it’s Miranda’s special gift of this particular story and execution, but it’s actually the format of hip-hop music that allowed it to happen. In a statement from the Treasury Department, they praised Miranda’s unique way of inspiring interest in Hamilton.
On Monday, Secretary Lew welcomed Lin-Manuel Miranda to the U.S. Department of the Treasury. The Secretary and Miranda talked about the enduring mark Alexander Hamilton left on our nation’s history and the Secretary provided a brief tour of Hamilton’s possessions and portraits on display at the Treasury Department. The Secretary thanked Miranda for the ingenious way in which he has been able to tell Hamilton’s story and ignite a renewed interest in one of our nation’s founding fathers. Secretary Lew also reiterated his commitment to continue to honor Alexander Hamilton on the 10 dollar bill. – Treasury Dept. Spokesman (Variety)
Miranda himself, had this to say about the influence of Hip Hop on his play:
I’m working on a Hip Hop concept album about the life of someone who embodies Hip Hop, Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton…My favorite hip-hop albums, I’m still getting things out of them…and I wanted to write something with that level of lyrical density and Hamilton’s story provided me with that opportunity… Hip Hop is writing about your struggle then writing about it so well that you transcend your struggle and go to this other place… I was born in 1980 so Hip Hop was always a part of my life. The first rap I ever learned was “Beef” by Boogie Down Productions KRSONE, and it was all about being a vegetarian. So I’m learning politically conscious raps by KRSONE from my bus driver.
How does a Broadway play about events that happened 230 years ago change perceptions of the masses in 2016? It’s simple; Hip Hop. This was the subject of my first discussion at the Plainfield Public Library Hip Hop Archive meeting. Join us for upcoming dates for interesting Hip Hop topics.