Lin-Manuel Miranda’s ‘Hamilton’ Was First a Mixtape, Not a Musical

The Broadway musical Hamilton has been a phenomenal success. Before it debuted, not many people would have expected a show that featured the founding fathers rapping would stir up such fanatical enthusiasm. Now that it has come to Disney+ even more people have fallen in love with it. But when Hamilton was first conceived, its creator Lin-Manuel Miranda wasn’t picturing it as a musical at all. He had in mind a simple mixtape. 

A fresh take on history

When Miranda picked up a biography, written by Ron Chernow, about Alexander Hamilton, he didn’t know very much about the founding father. He’d written a paper in high school about the duel that took Hamilton’s life, so he figured he’d at least know how the story ended. But that book that was just meant to be something to read on the beach surprised him.

Miranda found Hamilton to be an inspiring figure. He was an immigrant, much like people in Miranda’s own family. He was fascinated by the man’s struggle and his role in history. 

Miranda wrote Hamilton to explore his life, and the show is reasonably historically accurate — he even hired Chernow as a consultant. However, there are many anachronistic elements. There are references to modern things, such as the television show The West Wing. Although the historical figures featured in the musical were almost all white, many are played by actors of color. 

And of course, none of the founding fathers were known to be able to rap. The unusual juxtaposition of new and old elements was a hit. 

Success took the show far

In 2015, Hamilton debuted on Broadway, and people loved it. By the next year, it had won the Pulitzer Prize in drama and a Tony Award for best new musical. Shows in New York and London were regularly sold out, with seat prices going as high as $847 — before they hit the resale market. 

When the cast album of the original production was released the response was equally enthusiastic. Since its release, the album has stayed on the Billboard 200 chart. It’s now been there for 250 weeks and counting. 

With all the demand to experience the musical and a limited number of theater seats to sell, the idea came up to release it as a movie. The show was filmed, and a deal was reached with Disney to release the show in theaters in October 2021.

But then the pandemic hit. Theaters closed, and no one was able to see the show. The decision was made to release Hamilton on Disney+, and fans were overjoyed. 

It was originally a mixtape

Actor, composer Lin-Manuel Miranda is seen on stage during "Hamilton" GRAMMY performance for The 58th GRAMMY Awards at Richard Rodgers Theater on February 15, 2016 in New York City
Actor, composer Lin-Manuel Miranda is seen on stage during “Hamilton” GRAMMY performance for The 58th GRAMMY Awards at Richard Rodgers Theater on February 15, 2016 in New York City | Theo Wargo/WireImage

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When Miranda first began composing Hamilton, he thought of it as a mixtape. He always intended it to be a musical eventually, but he was inspired by other musicals. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Evita and Jesus Christs Super Star both began life as concept albums, and that approach appealed to Miranda. 

“I wanted to be a little more selfish with this—I wanted the lyrics to have the density that my favorite hip-hop albums have, he said. “It was easier to think of it as a hip-hop album, because then I could really just pack the lyrics.” 

In January 2012 he performed 12 musical numbers from The Hamilton Mixtape. Within two years, the show was being workshopped, and the next year the curtain was raised, and history was made. 

Hamilton fans know that the music is what gives the show its power. Miranda clearly knew that would be true, even before the show existed.