It’s not every day Busta Rhymes comes to a Broadway opening, but Hamilton has proven to be the exception to many rules. Not only that, but artists like Busta and his contemporaries served as inspiration for characters and songs in the sung-through, hip-hop- and R&B-infused musical about the rise and fall of the “10-dollar founding father.”
“Busta Rhymes was at our show tonight, and he was in my head for Hercules Mulligan,” Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote the show and stars as the title character, tells Billboard. “When he goes on those long streaks where everything rhymes — he’s such a master of the form so that was a nod to him… The hope is always that people who think musicals or theater aren’t for them find a way in. That’s the way our art form lives and thrives.”
The musical opened on Thursday night at the Richard Rodgers Theatre to revelatory reviews, and swarms of bold-faced names — like Jake Gyllenhaal, Laverne Cox, Samuel L. Jackson, Peter Dinklage, Sarah Jessica Parker and more — joined the cast and crew for the show and afterparty at Chelsea Piers in New York City.
But Busta wasn’t the only artist who influenced the musical’s score, as a page in the Playbill notes several songs from Gilbert and Sullivan to The Notorious B.I.G. that directly inspired lyrics in the show. The musical tribute that everyone keeps citing on opening night, however, was the Schuyler sisters. Alexander Hamilton married Elizabeth Schuyler, a well-bred women from upstate New York, and in their number in the show, the three sisters emulate some of the most notable female groups, such as the Emotions, TLC and Destiny’s Child.
“Tonight, I said to my two sisters, ‘Let’s do this number the way we used to put on shows for our parents when we were kids,’ because all of our parents are here tonight,” Renée Elise Goldsberry, who plays the eldest Schuyler sister, Angelica, says. “For me, honestly that was listening to Donna Summer, Diana Ross, Destiny’s Child, TLC, MC Lyte, Queen Latifah, Run-D.M.C., Busta Rhymes. The list is so long. Like, every LL Cool J song that I know by heart has come back to serve me in this part. I grew up rapping because I know all the words to my favorite rap songs.”
Not every member of the cast and crew was a member of the ’90s hip-hop generation like Miranda, but luckily, not all of the tunes are rap. Jonathan Groff, who plays King George III in the show, sings a song that is more of an ode to ’60s Brit pop.
“I think about the Beatles,” Groff says of an artist he channels during his performance, admitting that he didn’t know much about hip-hop and R&B before joining the cast. “I feel like I’m getting an education being in the show.”
“There’s a weird gap in my hip-hop history. I started to rediscover hip-hop for myself because of Lin,” echoes music director and orchestrator Alex Lacamoire. He says one of his favorite homages to the genre is the drum and base pattern in the orchestrations to “Washington on Your Side,” which is inspired by D’Angelo and the way he “sits behind the beat.”
One of Miranda’s favorites is the tribute to DMX’s “Party Up (Up In Here),” where the cast chants “Meet him inside” instead of “Meet me outside.” “That’s a sneaky one I really like,” he adds.
A more overt nod is “The 10 Duel Commandments,” which is taken from Biggie’s “10 Crack Commandments.” “It was my favorite record on that Biggie album,” says Christopher Jackson, who plays George Washington. “It really upped the stakes storytelling wise. I think Lin does a great homage to it without trying to make it so different that you don’t hear it.”
And with the plethora of throwback references in the show, it wouldn’t be an opening night party without some retro hits on the dance playlist, curated by DJs Andrew/Andrew. One of the pair’s favorite songs they selected for the night was Puff Daddy’s “It’s All About the Benjamins” — since Hamilton was the first treasury secretary, it seemed like his theme song.
The DJs also collaborated with Miranda and Lacamoire for a fireworks playlist, as at 10:45, a 20-minute display of fireworks exploded over the Hudson River by Pier 60. Everything from Katy Perry’s “Firework” to “America, Fuck Yeah!” to “New York, New York” made the cut, but one of the most notable songs on the list was the fireworks refrain in “Blackout,” a song from Miranda’s first Broadway musical In the Heights. Cast members from that show were celebrating with their friends at the party, and when “Look at the fireworks” started to play, a nearby Andréa Burns, who was in the original cast, shouted “I knew it!”
However, the party didn’t stop there. As soon as the fireworks concluded, everyone heard “Roots crew to the stage, please” and a surprised concert from The Roots started. Questlove and Black Thought are executive producing the original cast recording of Hamilton on Atlantic Records, and the group played an hour-long set. Cast members like Daveed Diggs, who plays Thomas Jefferson, and Leslie Odom, Jr., who plays Hamilton’s nemesis Aaron Burr, rocked out in the front row of a massive crowd.
At the end of the set, the group started calling for Miranda, who pushed his way across dance floor to get to the stage, where The Roots laid down a beat for him to freestyle his feelings.
“I’m not throwing away my shot!” Miranda started, a nod to the song from Hamilton “My Shot.” “This party’s going to go ’til like half-past seven. I swear to fucking God, I died and went to heaven.”