Right now the biggest gainer in rap album sales on Billboard is the #3 position held by Lin-Manuel Miranda’s cast recording of the Broadway musical Hamilton. Alone that statistic is impressive, but consider this…the Pinkprint World Tour by Nicki Minaj this year grossed $13M. Since July of 2015, Hamilton has been grossing about $1.5M per week in NYC alone, for a total gross ticket sale of $35.46M to date. The show is sold out until after January and has yet to tour the rest of the country, not to mention an extended run on Broadway for years to come. But it’s not just the numbers that make Hamilton a phenomenon in hip-hop music this year; it’s the concept and execution.
Lin-Manuel Miranda did something that was amazing to many, but evidently, within the realm of possibilities for Hip Hop as a cultural learning device to transform perceptions. The ability to transform perceptions is a unique and valuable tool in music and, to me, Hip Hop in particular. When I studied Hiphop consciousness with KRSONE some years ago, we discussed Hiphop as
the perceptual ability to change subjects and objects in an attempt to express ones inner being.
The concept of taking an historical figure like Alexander Hamilton from relative obscurity and propel his story to the front of 2015 pop culture, is in fact a Hip Hop concept. Hip Hop has an innate ability to take something old, lost and forgotten to make it new again. It has a way of flipping old ideas in a new way; retelling a story with more intrigue and flair or making something uninteresting sound ‘cool’. Often, in interviews, Miranda recounts reading the Hamilton biography by Ron Chernow, and thinking of it as a “Hip Hop story of someone coming up from the bottom.” The connection may even be deeper in that, the story of America is a story of coming up from the bottom. That American ‘underdog’ ideal may have been embedded in Hiphop sub-consciously from the start.
As a New Yorker of Puerto-Rican descent, raised during the Golden-Age of Hip Hop/Rap in the 1990’s Miranda was able to absorb the full impact of Hip Hop edutainment. It shows in this skillfully written history lesson set to hip-hop, R&B and pop music beats. It is clear to any True Hiphoppa that Miranda has respect and overstanding of Hip Hop Kulture on a level beyond most pop rappers of today. His genius shows not as much in the rhyme skill as the depth of concept and execution of the final product which elicits emotions that most rappers can’t duplicate in the songs. The other major factor to note is just how skilled one has to be to tackle this subject matter and pull it off with such success. Any rapper with skill could have written about Alexander Hamilton, the face on the $10. How many could have made $35 million off of the concept in 7 months?
Yet, completely discounting the money, the biggest impact of the concept, which took about 6 years to write, is its ability to educate while entertaining its audience. The lyrics are so well-written that they have audiences jamming to hip-hop music and crying to soulful ballads all while learning American history. The ability of rap music to transmit so many words at any vocabulary level on beat and in pleasing rhyme patterns, has audiences questioning why they weren’t taught like this in school. This is exactly what people like myself have been advocating for years. College courses are one thing, but what Lin-Manuel Miranda did with this 2 1/2 hour long musical is the other level of Hip Hop education. In my first piece about Hamilton in September, I summed up why I really love this concept and execution…
I guess the main reason I liked the play so much, is that it reaffirms something that I’ve believed for a long time. That is that the language format of Hip Hop speak is a better tool for education than mainstream American speech. The tone and points of concentration in a Hip Hop lesson connect more with the listener because it leaves in the rawness and clarity of unrefined manners while taking out the pretentiousness of polite speech or unnecessarily flowery rhetoric. Hip Hop has a way of telling a story with more grit and gristle left in for people’s consumption. I believe people like grit and gristle in their stories; it makes them more believable and realistic.
There is also something to be said about the fact that the Hamilton musical debut and peak on Billboard’s #1 Rap Album chart was not covered heavily in so-called Hip Hop media. On most sites that claim to be Hip Hop, you will find no stories about Hamilton or its significance. However, True Hiphoppas will have at some point discussed it. Sway and Heather B spoke about it while QuestLove and Black Thought of the Roots co-signed Miranda in the video clip from Billboard’s YouTube Channel.