by: Shirley Satterfield
Lin-Manuel Miranda: The Man Who Elevated Rap
Rap music, it seems that one either loves it or hates it, And I think that one is more apt to love it if you’re still in your youth. But Lin Manual Miranda, a Tony award winning lyricist and actor, elevated this fairly new genre to the realm of legitimate when he wrote the first Rap/ hip-hop opera for Broadway, Hamilton.
There has been a certain amount of controversy in recent years whether or not Rap is real poetry, but if it is not poetry it is a close cousin of poetry because it shares many of the characteristics of poetry such as rhyme, rhythmic speech, and the literary devices of assonance and alliteration. However, there is one minor difference between the two which is the characteristic accompaniment of a sound track making rap a genre which is meant to only be heard, whereas poetry is meant to be both heard and read.
Rap like poetry has its roots deeply embedded in history. Rap originated in the storytelling of West Africa’s village elders known as Griots,, the men who disseminated the village oral traditions, genealogies and the news of the day through their songs and stories. Then the African American slaves carried on this tradition by singing songs in order to cope with their work and the brutality of slavery. But the two main modern influences on Rap were soul singer James Brown with his between song interactions with the audience and the clever little rhythmic poems of Muhammad Ali. But modern Rap as we know it originated in Bronx New York where DJ Kool Herc and his sisters hosted after school parties during which Herc discovered that he could keep the party going through “looping” the songs and speaking in the mic. Thus, Rap was considered a street genre until Lin-Manuel Miranda elevated this new form of poetry/music to a legitimate art form through his play.
How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a
Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten
Spot in the Caribbean by Providence, impoverished, in squalor
Grow up to be a hero and a scholar?
The ten-dollar Founding Father without a father
Got a lot farther by workin’ a lot harder
By bein’ a lot smarter
By bein’ a self-starter
By fourteen, they placed him in charge of a trading charter
Here the writer relies heavily on a free verse type rhythm and a rhyme scheme of a,a in the two last lines of the first verse and b,b,b in the last three lines of the next verse and repetition in the same verse, and his skill in alliteration is self evident with the repetition of several hard consonant sounds throughout the piece aptly demonstrating his skill in poetic literary devices.
Miranda is a Puerto Rican American who himself grew up poor. But he got his big break when he was commissioned to write the lyrics for In the Heights for which he won a Tony award. Today he is also the winner of both the Emmy Grammy awards