Lin-Manuel Miranda is fresh off the release of Tick, Tick…Boom!, his official feature film directorial debut. To promote the film — which follows the life of Rent composer Jonathan Larson — Miranda stopped by The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and played Wheel of Freestyle against Black Thought (The Roots’ Tariq Trotter), who stars in Tick, Tick…Boom! as H.A.W.K. Smooth. The musicians pressed a button on a random word generator and had to come up with a freestyle using the words.
Miranda went first and had a random assortment of words, which consisted of NFT, Taylor’s Version and the phrase “build back better.” Stepping up to the mic, he sang, “I’m not nervous, but I took some ecstasy/ Imma sell it one time as an NFT/ Yeah, then I’ll freestyle and kill ’em all/ Just like Taylor’s Version did to Jake Gyllenhaal/ Oh, in my real black sweater/ I’ll give you $1,000, you can build back better.”
Trotter was next, and according to Fallon, got an unfair trio of words to work with. Jell-O shots, Spider-Man and Rumpelstiltskin were his words, but he was able to come up with a remarkable set of rhymes.
“Should I be mellow or mellow not/ Because Lin, you came out like hello, hot/ I’m tryna understand the energy this fellow’s got/ Must have been the alcohol inside those Jell-O shots/ Look, call your insurance provider, man/ ‘Cause I’m the neighborhood hero, not Spider-Man/ And we still friends, but y’all know who still wins/ This is leader run anew, this is Rumpelstiltskin,” he spit against the band’s live instrumentals.
The two men then collaborated on the last set of words — leaf peeping, memory foam and Tick, Tick…Boom! — and created magic in the final moments of the segment: “This is a collabo, keep creeping/ Every autumn, we got ’em, we leaf peeping/ I keep creeping Tariq, I keep teaching/ So these fools know that I’mma keep reaching/ You keep reaching and you never let him alone/ They’ll never forget you, that s–t like memory foam/ Give me the throne and let me alone/ I remember it all, my mic is memory phone/ When I stepped into the party, I stepped into the room/ Yo, I think I heard something go ‘Tick, Tick…Boom!'”
Following the freestyle battle, Miranda sat down to speak about how Larson’s Rent impacted his life. “Johnathan Larson is the composer of Rent, which knocked me out flat when I saw it for my 17th birthday,” he explained. “It was the most contemporary musical I’d ever heard. It was the most diverse cast I’d ever seen on Broadway. It gave me hope that I could maybe be in a Broadway show because it looked like the New York I actually lived in, and it was about artists struggling to survive and I knew I wanted that life for myself. I started writing musicals because I saw Rent.”
By the late 2000s to 2010s, Miranda was writing music for and starring in several Broadway productions, including In the Heights, Bring It On, and most notably Hamilton. The original Broadway cast recording of Hamilton: An American Musical peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 chart following the musical’s release on Disney+, a feat that was last achieved with the original cast album of Hair, which spent 13 weeks at No. 1 in 1969.
Watch Miranda on Fallon below.