Lin-Manuel Miranda has consistently been between worlds.
Whether it was growing up spending the school year in Manhattan and summers in Puerto Rico; spending the early 2000s teaching seventh grade English by day while refining "In the Heights" at night; or translating parts of one of the most beloved musicals of all time into the language half of its characters would have actually spoken, Miranda has constantly been navigating a cultural and sonic divide.
But his most consistent bridging of worlds has been between Broadway and hip-hop, most notably via the groundbreaking "Hamilton." As someone equally well-versed in Sondheim and Biggie, Miranda is uniquely positioned to bring rapping to the stage, and vice-versa.
Miranda will expound on this best-of-both-worlds mindset during a special segment on the once-in-a-lifetime "A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop" live concert special in which he'll give both musical theater and rap fans an inside look at how and when he fell in love with hip-hop. Airing Sunday, Dec. 10, at 8:30 p.m. ET/8 p.m. PT on the CBS Television Network and streaming live and on demand on Paramount+, "A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop" features exclusive performances from Public Enemy, Rick Ross, 2 Chainz, T.I., Gunna, Tyga, Too $hort, Latto, E-40, Big Daddy Kane, GloRilla, Three 6 Mafia, a highly anticipated reunion from hip-hop pioneers DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, and many more. The two-hour special celebrates the impactful history of hip-hop and showcases the genre's monumental cultural influence around the world.
Below are five of the ways Lin-Manuel Miranda has bridged Broadway and hip-hop culture.
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Convincing Stephen Sondheim That Rap Is The Future Of Musical Theater
Yes, musical theater's Shakespeare was aware of rap before he met Miranda. His character of the Witch in "Into the Woods" — originally brought to life by Bernadette Peters — spits some rhymes (he respectfully called his efforts an "imitation" of the genre).
But in his 2011 memoir/book of lyrics Look, I Made a Hat, Sondheim revealed that Miranda was the one musical theater composer who might show others how to incorporate rap into the art form.
"I was never able to find another appropriate use for the technique [after 'Into the Woods'], or perhaps I didn't have the imagination to," he wrote. "Miranda does. Rap is a natural language for him and he is a master of the form, but enough of a traditionalist to know the way he can utilize its theatrical potential: he is already experimenting with it in a piece about Alexander Hamilton. This strikes me as a classic example of the way art moves forward: the blending of two conventional styles into something wholly original… It's one pathway to the future."
Starting Freestyle Love Supreme
Back in the early 2000s, during "In the Heights" rehearsals, then-recent college grads Miranda, Thomas Kail, and Anthony Veneziale used to loosen up by freestyling.
"Anthony would come in and distract us, 'Let's rap about our day!' . . . And we would just freestyle," Miranda recalled years later on "The Tonight Show." Soon, Veneziale had a second idea: they should do that in front of people. Thus, Freestyle Love Supreme was born.
The idea was simple: it was a mash-up (again with the bridge-building) between an improv troupe and a rap cipher. The extended crew of regulars and special guests eventually grew to include talents like "Hamilton" standouts Daveed Diggs and Christopher Jackson, and even Wayne Brady. The idea became so successful that FLS had its own Broadway show and Vegas residency, with Miranda still popping up frequently as a special guest.
Making The Hamilton Mixtape
Miranda teamed up with Questlove to make "Hamilton" even more hip-hop with The Hamilton Mixtape. The project features not just covers of "Hamilton" songs by well-known pop artists, which would have been noteworthy enough.
But more importantly for our concerns, it has a number of hip-hop reinterpretations of numbers from the show. Check out, for example, "Immigrants (We Get the Job Done)," by K'naan, Snow Tha Product, Riz MC, and Residente, which turns one line from the musical into an absolute banger.
The project also features Nas, the Roots, Joell Ortiz, Busta Rhymes, Dave East, and many more. To make the whole thing even more hip-hop, it's mixed together by an actual mixtape DJ, J.Period. You can listen to him discuss his role here.
Appearing On The Cover Of Complex With Chance The Rapper
By mid-2016, there were few rappers on the planet more perfectly positioned between success and innovation than Chance the Rapper. The Chicago emcee captured tastemakers with his exquisite 2013 mixtape Acid Rap, before jumping into the mainstream with the May 2016 release of Coloring Book. But before all that, he was just a kid who loved going to poetry open mics.
So it made a certain kind of sense when Complex decided to pair him with Miranda for their June/July 2016 cover story. The two had a ton in common (and Chance, it turned out, was a huge "Hamilton fan" who would soon cover "Dear Theodosia" for The Hamilton Mixtape). But even more than their conversation, it was the mere fact of its public existence that ended up drawing Broadway and hip-hop a little bit closer together than they had been before that issue hit the stands.
We saved the best — and most obvious — for last. Hamilton more than lived up to the potential to theatricalize rap that Sondheim saw in it. It showed that rapping could be a key, perhaps the key, part of a major musical, and that show could not only be great, but also be a giant, world-beating, Disney+-streaming hit.
Its quotations and interpolations of classic rap songs served multiple purposes. They were in-jokes for the rap fans in the audience, an acknowledgement that this theater guy was one of us. They also provided Easter eggs for the Broadway set, a hope that maybe one day they would figure out that it wasn't originally Alexander Hamilton who described himself by saying, "I'm only 19, but my mind is old" or Thomas Jefferson who boasted, "If you don't know, now you know."
Watch Backstage Interviews From "A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop" Featuring LL Cool J, Questlove, Warren G & E-40, And Many More