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This story first appeared in Billboard magazine.
I don’t know how many really good ideas you get in a lifetime, but the idea of telling Hamilton as a hip-hop story was definitely one because you get to do everything: love and death and a war and duels and revenge and affairs and sex scandals. On opening night at the Public Theater in February, I remember thinking, “Soon everything will go back to normal” — and that just never happened.
The success of the show caught everyone off guard, and there were a lot of people pushing us: “Go to Broadway now, go sweep the Tonys, and you’ll run forever.” But they didn’t know that I had a better version of the show in my head. So we bet on ourselves. We took our time — and we didn’t lose any momentum. So that was a calculated risk that paid off.
Two things have saved me from having a swelled head: One, before we started rehearsals, my wife and I had our first child. And two, the show itself: I’m rapping for two hours and 45 minutes every night. Ask any MC — that is not easy. The discipline it takes to do that has kept my feet firmly on the ground, even when I’m in a hallway surrounded by Secret Service about to perform for President Obama at a fundraiser. That was a very full-circle moment: The first time I performed material from Hamilton was at the White House in 2009.
But I was most nervous to perform for Busta Rhymes since I remember getting in a fistfight with my middle school friend over the last cassette single of A Tribe Called Quest’s “Scenario,” featuring Busta. My hope was that the hip-hop community would embrace Hamilton for the love letter to the art form that it is, and Busta was the first real litmus test of that. He really flipped for the show.
It is a hit show, so your life changes, but I still live like a grad student. When the MacArthur Foundation called [to tell Miranda he had won a $625,000 “Genius Grant”], I thought it was the cable company I had just dumped because their service sucked. So I picked up the phone all mad, like: “What do you want? Your box breaks every 20 minutes!” “This is Christina from the MacArthur Foundation.” It was crazy.
Everyone who comes to the show says, “Why didn’t I learn about history like this?” So we’re going to have matinees for students from Title I high schools who are studying American history — 20,000 kids a year will attend for free. It’s really exciting. It tells them: “Even if the people who founded it don’t look like you, it’s your country. We get to tell this story, too, and we get to tell it our way.”
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