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kottke.org posts about Lin-Manuel Miranda

The history of New Jack Swing, from Keith Sweat to Mary J. Blige

posted by Tim Carmody   Jan 05, 2018

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Bruno Mars is amazing: a shapeshifting artist seemingly engineered to synthesize the history of pop music and overcome all critical resistance. His latest single with Cardi B, “Finesse,” is a perfect pastiche of the aesthetics of early 1990s pop radio R&B, from TLC videos to In Living Color’s Fly Girls and that Bell Biv Devoe snare drum.

I should say, it’s a pastiche of a particular subgenre of R&B — remember when R&B was dominant enough to have subgenres? — and hip-hop, one called New Jack Swing. New Jack Swing sort of emerged from the Minneapolis sound of Prince and Janet Jackson in the late 1980s, borrowing turntable scratching, stop-start percussive beats, and especially dancing and dance beats from hip-hop.

New Jack Swing helped break R&B out of its respectability ethos — think Whitney Houston, Anita Baker, etc. — and its reliance on tropes from soul, funk, and gospel music. It also had a transformative effect on hip-hop, helping it find a place on R&B radio, then dance shows, MTV, and the Top 40 charts. It was arguably even more successful at changing pop music in that period than alternative and grunge music were. And it’s some of the best pop music you’ve ever heard, music that turned producers like Teddy Riley and Bernard Belle, Babyface and LA Reid, and Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis into stars.

Inspired by Mars’s callback, MacArthur genius Lin-Manuel Miranda and Prince superfan Anil Dash teamed up to create a short primer to New Jack Swing. It’s a Spotify playlist, and despite its overlooking the later Teddy Riley work with Wreckz-n-Effect and Blackstreet, it’s magnificent. It certainly gives you all the tools to properly appreciate / hate on Mars’s appropriation of the genre.

Listen to early drafts of Hamilton songs

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 26, 2017

Lin-Manuel Miranda recently released the early drafts of eight Hamilton songs on Soundcloud. Miranda sings all the parts himself and they’re a lot less showtuney and more hip-hoppy than the finished product. Worth a listen for fans of process.

The Hamilton Mixtape

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 04, 2016

Hamilton Mixtape

The original cast recording of Hamilton has been on heavy rotation in our house since the early summer. The kids know several of the songs by heart and Minna can get through Aaron Burr, Sir in about 45 seconds, so watch out Daveed Diggs.

As an accompaniment to the main album, Lin-Manuel Miranda and his collaborators are releasing The Hamilton Mixtape. It features a couple of unused songs and the rest of the album is covers of songs from the musical by rappers, pop artists, and hip-hop stars like Kelly Clarkson, Usher, The Roots, Alicia Keys, and Chance the Rapper. I mean, check out the track listing…what an all-star cast. Available for pre-order now, it’ll be released on Dec 2.

Update: Two of the songs from the album were on Spotify but they got pulled. Except that if I go to this playlist, I can still play them. Maybe they’re cached somehow?

Update: The two songs are available on YouTube (My Shot & It’s Quiet Uptown) and Apple Music/iTunes. (via @mattgrieser & @scojjac)

Update: The entire mixtape is now out. Huzzah!

Hamilton: now in book form

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 13, 2016

Hamilton The Book

The Broadway musical Hamilton is having a bit of a moment right now. Ok, not really. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s smash hit has seemingly had one loooong moment since he performed “Alexander Hamilton” in front of the President and Mrs. Obama at the White House in 2009.

The show is sold out1 until who knows when, the original cast album went gold and won a Grammy, and they’re doing spin-off productions in Chicago, LA, and SF — all this scarcely more than a year since Rebecca Mead wrote up Miranda and Hamilton in the New Yorker.2 Bernie Sanders took in the show last week. And this week, a book about the production of the play came out.

Hamilton: The Revolution gives readers an unprecedented view of both revolutions, from the only two writers able to provide it. Miranda, along with Jeremy McCarter, a cultural critic and theater artist who was involved in the project from its earliest stages — “since before this was even a show,” according to Miranda — traces its development from an improbable performance at the White House to its landmark opening night on Broadway six years later. In addition, Miranda has written more than 200 funny, revealing footnotes for his award-winning libretto, the full text of which is published here.

Add to that a flurry of articles (several from the NY Times, which has a dedicated staff of 162 reporters on the beat) that came out in the past week or so: Why Hamilton Matters, Lin-Manuel Miranda: By the Book (he’s never finished Infinite Jest), ‘Hamilton’ and History: Are They in Sync?, A Hamilton Skeptic on Why the Show Isn’t As Revolutionary As It Seems, and The C.E.O. of ‘Hamilton’ Inc. How much bigger can this thing get?

Update: And now Miranda has won a Pulitzer.

  1. Hey, if anyone’s got a ticket and wants to take me, I’m free literally any time/day/year. Hahahaha. No seriously, email me. Hahaha. (No, really. AFTER ALL I’VE DONE FOR YOU UNGRATEFUL MOTH

  2. You know who else Mead wrote up in the New Yorker many years ago?! Hint: it’s not actually Hitler this time…