Lin-Manuel Miranda Breaks Down How He Wrote Hamilton’s Big Hit, “My Shot”

The cur­rent moment has forced the orig­i­nal cast and crew of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s mas­sive hit musi­cal Hamil­ton to revis­it and reeval­u­ate the sto­ry it tells about America’s found­ing. As Miran­da him­self told The Root’s Ton­ja Renée Stid­hum, “All of these guys are com­plic­it in the bru­tal prac­tice of slav­ery, slav­ery is the third line of our show… that is just a pre­req­ui­site for the sto­ry we’re telling.” But he didn’t first set out to write his­to­ry. “Orig­i­nal­ly, this was a con­cept album. I want­ed to write a hip hop album, so I was nev­er pic­tur­ing the guys on the stat­ues that are being torn down right now. I was pic­tur­ing, ‘What are the voic­es that are best suit­ed to tell the sto­ry.’”

Debut­ing in more opti­mistic times, when the coun­try had its first Black pres­i­dent, Hamil­ton declared, says Leslie Odom, Jr. (who played Aaron Burr) that “if this his­to­ry belongs to all of us… then we’re going to take it and we’re going to say it and use our own words to tell it!” Con­tro­ver­sy and cri­tique aside, there’s no deny­ing Miranda’s tremen­dous gifts as a drama­tist and song­writer, on dis­play not only in Hamil­ton but in the Moana sound­track.

How does he do it? Rid­ing the wave of renewed Hamil­ton fan­dom after the Dis­ney release of the orig­i­nal cast film, Miran­da recent­ly sat down with Rot­ten Toma­toes to dis­cuss his process. When he gets to Hamil­ton, he gives us a detailed break­down of “My Shot,” which, he says, took him a year to write.

“It was not only writ­ing Hamil­ton’s ‘I want’ song,” says Miran­da, “although it cer­tain­ly is that. It was also prov­ing my the­sis that Hamilton’s intel­lect is what allows him to pro­pel through the nar­ra­tive of the sto­ry.” The play’s pro­tag­o­nist proves his intel­lec­tu­al wor­thi­ness by mas­ter­ing and mak­ing his own the styles of Miranda’s favorite rap­pers, from Big Pun to Jay Z to Big­gie to Mobb Deep. “I’m grab­bing from the influ­ences and pay­ing homage to those influ­ences. …I’m lit­er­al­ly call­ing on the ances­tors of this flow. …The ‘Whoah’ sec­tion, I’ll just say, is based on the AOL start­up sound because I want­ed it to feel like …his words are con­nect­ing with the world.”

Whether or not any of Hamil­ton’s younger view­ers have ever heard the AOL start­up sound, the detail reveals how Miranda’s mind works. His cre­ations emerge from a matrix of ref­er­ences and allu­sions, each one cho­sen for its spe­cif­ic rela­tion to the sto­ry. Many of these call­backs go over the audience’s heads, but they still have their intend­ed effect, cre­at­ing ten­sion in “the dens­est cou­plets that I could write,” Miran­da says. The mes­sage in “My Shot,” with­in the con­text of the musi­cal itself, is that “Hamil­ton is the future with­in this group of friends.” But the mes­sage of Hamil­ton has noth­ing to do with the 18th cen­tu­ry and every­thing to do with the 21st. Per­haps its most sub­ver­sive idea is that the high­est lead­er­ship in the U.S. might just as well look like Hamil­ton as Hamil­ton. See Miran­da and the Hamil­ton cast per­form “My Shot” at the White House just below.

via Laugh­ing Squid

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch Lin-Manuel Miran­da Per­form the Ear­li­est Ver­sion of Hamil­ton at the White House, Six Years Before the Play Hit the Broad­way Stage (2009)

A Whiskey-Fueled Lin-Manuel Miran­da Reimag­ines Hamil­ton as a Girl on Drunk His­to­ry

The Mup­pets Sing the First Act of Hamil­ton

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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