Questlove Pens A New Essay On The Hip-Hop x Broadway Brilliance Of 'Hamilton'
The world has been singing along to the cast album of Hamilton ever since it dropped late last month. Seriously–we’ve been belting in the car, in the shower, at home and even at work (sorry, OKP bosses). Gratitude is owed to the Broadway play’s writer, director and former star Lin-Manuel Miranda, but just as much goes to the man who manned the boards during its recording: Questlove.
With Hamilton, the worlds of hip-hop and high art theater are almost seamlessly integrated; race is a key topic of its narrative, hard-knocking beats underpin almost all of its songs, and the cast is almost entirely comprised of black and brown-skinned actors. All of these are deliberate choices, made in the hope of coloring in the chalky-white origin story that America tells itself. By all accounts, it’s an uproarious success.
Questlove homes in on these points and expands on many others in a new personal essay, which appeared this week in Rolling Stone. It opens with the Roots bandleader acknowledging the disconnect between, say, Broadway ave in Manhattan and Broadway ave in Brooklyn:
Broadway had its Chorus Line, Cats and West Side Story. Hip-hop had its Ready to Die, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back and 3 Feet High and Rising. But the two worlds turned independently of one another. When there was a seismic event on Broadway, the citizens of hip-hop nation didn’t feel the ground move under their feet. And when there was a major release or retrenchment in hip-hop, the dancers and directors and dramaturges didn’t experience an inner reawakening. Until now.
The piece goes on to extol the vision of Miranda, and conveys a strong sense of personal gratitude for being able to get involved with Hamilton on a very deep level. But here’s where Questo really seals the deal:
[Miranda] has brilliantly re-presented American history through the use of race-blind casting. Roles played in history by white people are, in Hamilton, played by Latino or African-American performers, without any explanation. Or rather: the lack of explanation is the explanation. That’s been the creative move that has powered much of the show’s critical attention, and it’s easy to see why: It’s audacious and funny and serious all at the same time. It’s radically democratic: The only thing that’s elitist is how hard it’s become to get a ticket. (Yes, even for me, and I work for them.)