Billboard is celebrating the 2010s with essays on the 100 songs that we feel most define the decade that was — the songs that both shaped and reflected the music and culture of the period — with help telling their stories from some of the artists, behind-the-scenes collaborators and industry insiders involved.
“My Shot” is the “I want” song in Hamilton. That’s the song in seemingly every successful musical –“Something’s Coming” in West Side Story, “Corner of the Sky” in Pippin — in which the lead character tells what he or she wants out of life. In this case, we have Founding Father Alexander Hamilton voicing his desires both for himself and for America. The key line: “I’m just like my country /I’m young, scrappy and hungry.”
Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote the book, music and lyrics to Hamilton, notes that “I want” songs aren’t the exclusive province of musical theater.
“My favorite hip-hop songs are secretly ‘I want’ songs,” he notes. “‘Lose Yourself’ by Eminem is an ‘I want’ song. ‘Juicy’ by The Notorious B.I.G. is an ‘I want’ song. Hip-hop is littered with ‘I want’ songs because it is so often written by artists who see the world around them and want something more.”
Miranda believes the yearning expressed in “My Shot” plays a big part in the song’s success. “I think the notion of ‘I’m not throwing away my shot’ has a sort of universal appeal,” he offers. “There is something about that line and that hook that got beyond the Arts & Leisure page.”
Unlike most of the songs on this list, “My Shot” wasn’t a hit in the traditional sense. It didn’t crack the Billboard Hot 100 or the R&B/Hip-Hop charts. Even so, it’s widely known because of the runaway success of the Broadway show, the show’s best-selling original cast album and a spin-off album, The Hamilton Mixtape, which entered the Billboard 200 at No. 1. Miranda even sang a parody version of the song when he hosted Saturday Night Live in 2016.
Mike Elizondo, whose many credits include Eminem’s “The Real Slim Shady” and 50 Cent’s “In Da Club,” produced “My Shot (Rise Up Remix)” for The Hamilton Mixtape, in which an array of contemporary artists performed the songs from the score. The Roots performed “My Shot,” which featured rappers Busta Rhymes and Joell Ortiz, and singer Nate Ruess of Fun.
“Lin gave me a lot of liberties to re-imagine what that song could be,” Elizondo notes. “The featured artists weren’t just reciting the lyrics of the Broadway version. We kept the hook and the spirit of it, but they brought in their modern-day version of what ‘My Shot’ means and can mean to this generation.” Miranda and Elizondo had been in touch for a decade, but this marked the first time they managed to work together. “I hold Lin in that sort of rare air of once-in-a-lifetime talents,” Elizondo says. “To get to be affiliated with anything that he created is a privilege.”
The original “My Shot” incorporates elements of two rap hits from the 1990s — Mobb Deep’s “Shook Ones Pt. II” and The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Going Back to Cali” — in addition to the title phrase from Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught,” from South Pacific. That mix of influences all but defines Miranda, who was born in January 1980, the very month that Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” became the first rap song to crack the top 40 on the Hot 100.
“There was never a time it wasn’t part of my musical vocabulary,” Miranda says. “[Loving both Broadway and hip-hop] is not unusual in my group of friends at all. It’s not unusual in my generation at all… We would make mixtapes and we would maybe have a song from Rent and a song from a Biggie album and a song from 2Pac.”
Hamilton’s blockbuster success accelerated the toppling of musical and cultural borders that have long separated the different factions of popular music. That cross-pollination may be this decade’s main musical storyline — from the hip-hop/country fusion that is “Old Town Road” to the Latin/pop blend that is “Despacito.”
“I actually think the success of Hamilton is owed to the vast majority of us who just like good music and don’t give a s–t where it comes from,” Miranda says.