Rolling Stone Breaks Down the Success of “Hamilton”

Mark Binelli of Rolling Stone talks about why the Hip Hop-inspired musical has struck a chord.

There’s a ticket on Broadway that’s nearly impossible to get at a reasonable price; “Hamilton“. 

“Hamilton” is a Hip-Hop-inspired telling of the life and legacy of Alexander Hamilton, the founding father assassinated by Vice President Aaron Burr. Tickets are so hard to get for the show, a theatergoer’s best bet is to find them on the secondary market. But the show creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda,  also carved out free shows for public school students, and cheap seats through a daily lottery called #Ham4Ham, where the price of a ticket is $10 a.k.a. a Hamilton. 


“Hamilton” nearly swept the Tony Awards last Sunday, and the story of the show’s popularity is the cover story of Rolling Stone this month with an interview between Miranda and RS contributing editor and author Mark Binelli. Binelli tells Detroit Today host Stephen Henderson he saw the musical this spring.

“[I thought] there was no possible way it would live up to the hype,” says Binelli, “And yet one or two songs in I was completely blown away.”

Miranda says he was inspired to write the musical with a Hip-Hop influence while reading a biography of Hamilton and realizing the founding father came from poverty and wrote his way to fame; a through-line with many rappers.

“Lin told me that’s when the Hip-Hop part of the equation clicked in his mind,” says Binelli. “He no longer thought of the founding fathers as the guys on our money… he was thinking of them as these people who could perform these Hip-Hop songs.”

The use of Hip-Hop on Broadway has been done with little success in the past. Binelli says people who tried to bring rap into shows before did it with a “wink” and a “nudge” and not with authenticity. But, he says, “Hamilton” rewrote a lot of rules for Broadway and has given credibility where it was due. The musical is also cast with people of color playing characters in a historically white and male world. Binelli says the huge success of “Hamilton” has opened the door for many black and Hispanic performers and playwrights. 

To hear more of Binelli’s conversation with Henderson on Detroit Today, click on the audio player above.

Here are Henderson’s thoughts on “Hamilton”:

“I first saw this musical last fall before it even opened at the recommendation of a friend who writes for the business section of the New York Times, and I was immediately transfixed. I pre-ordered the soundtrack, I listened to it almost every day, and I even went back in March to see it again.

“The story of the musical is one of the least among them of the founding fathers; Alexander Hamilton, born to extreme poverty in the Caribbean, writes his way into the Revolutionary War, the framing of the Constitution, and the creation of our Treasury and banking system. A longtime personal and political rivalry with Aaron Burr culminates in a duel between the two that left Hamilton dead. But the musical takes that narrative and churns it through many many layers of culture; Hamilton as an urban Heracles akin to Jay-Z or Eminem.

“The lyrics are set to rap or other Hip-Hop forms, taking Hamilton’s prolific words and spinning them into modern form. Other founders like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson are voiced by Black and Hispanic actors whose ethnic background evoke historic and present tensions around race that are woven throughout the narrative… The mash-up of past and present, black and white, poverty and privilege is probably best showcased in a cabinet meeting set as rap battle between Hamilton and Jefferson.”

Cabinet Battle No. 1 lyrics:

‘Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’
We fought for these ideals; we shouldn’t settle for less
These are wise words, enterprising men quote ‘em
Don’t act surprised, you guys, cuz I wrote ‘em
But Hamilton forgets
His plan would have the government assume state’s debts
Now, place your bets as to who that benefits:
The very seat of government where Hamilton sits

Not true!

Ooh, if the shoe fits, wear it
If New York’s in debt—
Why should Virginia bear it? Uh! Our debts are paid, I’m afraid
Don’t tax the South cuz we got it made in the shade
In Virginia, we plant seeds in the ground
We create. You just wanna move our money around
This financial plan is an outrageous demand
And it’s too many damn pages for any man to understand
Stand with me in the land of the free
And pray to God we never see Hamilton’s candidacy
Look, when Britain taxed our tea, we got frisky
Imagine what gon’ happen when you try to tax our whisky

Thank you, Secretary Jefferson
Secretary Hamilton, your response

Thomas. That was a real nice declaration
Welcome to the present, we’re running a real nation
Would you like to join us, or stay mellow
Doin’ whatever the hell it is you do in Monticello?
If we assume the debts, the union gets
A new line of credit, a financial diuretic
How do you not get it? If we’re aggressive and competitive
The union gets a boost. You’d rather give it a sedative?
A civics lesson from a slaver. Hey neighbor
Your debts are paid cuz you don’t pay for labor
“We plant seeds in the South. We create.”
Yeah, keep ranting
We know who’s really doing the planting
And another thing, Mr. Age of Enlightenment
Don’t lecture me about the war, you didn’t fight in it
You think I’m frightened of you, man?
We almost died in a trench
While you were off getting high with the French
Thomas Jefferson, always hesitant with the President
Reticent—there isn’t a plan he doesn’t jettison
Madison, you’re mad as a hatter, son, take your medicine
Damn, you’re in worse shape than the national debt is in
Sittin’ there useless as two s***s
Hey, turn around, bend over, I’ll show you
Where my shoe fits