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'Hamilton' Creator Lin-Manuel Miranda on His Massive 2015: 'I'm Trying Not to Let It Change Me Too Much'

Lin-Manuel Miranda
Joan Marcus

Miranda (center), 35, stars as Alexander Hamilton in the hip-hop Broadway Musical. 

I don't know how many really good ideas you get in a lifetime, but the idea of telling Hamilton as a hip-hop story was definitely one. Because you get to do everything: love and death and a war and duels and revenge and affairs and sex scandals. At opening night at the Public Theater in February, I remember thinking, "Soon everything will go back to normal" -- and that just never happened.

Two things have saved me from having a swelled head: One, before we started rehearsals, my wife and I had our first child. And two, the show itself: I'm rapping for two hours and 45 minutes every night. Ask any MC -- that is not easy. The discipline it takes to do that has kept my feet firmly on the ground even when I'm in a hallway surrounded by Secret Service about to perform for President Barack Obama at a fundraiser. Which was a very full-circle moment -- the first time I performed material from Hamilton was at the White House in 2009.

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But the person in the audience I was most nervous to perform for was Busta Rhymes -- another full-circle moment, since I remember getting in a fist fight with my middle-school friend at a Nobody Beats the Wiz over the last cassette single of A Tribe Called Quest's "Scenario," featuring Busta. And then years later, Busta is in the front row at the show. My hope was that the hip-hop community would embrace Hamilton for the love letter to the art form that it is, and Busta was the first real litmus test of that. He really flipped for the show and has been in touch ever since.

It is a hit show, so your life changes, but I'm trying not to let it change me too much. I still live like a grad student. When the MacArthur Foundation called me [to inform Miranda he had won a $625,000 "Genius grant"], I picked up the phone thinking it was the cable company. I had just dumped them because their service sucked, and I thought, "This is probably them trying to get me back." So I picked up the phone just mad, like, "What do you want? Your box breaks every 20 minutes!" "Hi. This is Christina from the MacArthur Foundation." It was crazy.

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Since we opened, everyone who comes to the show says, "Why didn't I learn about history like this?" So that has been a priority for us. We're going to have matinees for students from Title 1 high schools who are studying American history -- 20,000 kids a year will attend for free. It's really exciting: These kids are going to grow up in a world in which Hamilton existed, and this is just what a musical sounds like. It tells them, "Even if the people who founded it don't look like you, it's your country. We get to tell this story, too, and we get to tell it our way."

*As told to Alex Gale

Billboard Year in Music 2015

This story originally appeared in the Dec. 19 issue of Billboard.

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