Why Lin-Manuel Miranda's Freestyle Rap On 'Jimmy Fallon' Isn't Actually Strange At All — VIDEO
Lin-Manuel Miranda appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon on Tuesday, Oct. 4, and it was delightful, obviously, because Miranda is basically pure charisma personified. But it was extra delightful because the playwright took part in a game that required him to improvise a rap based on randomly generated phrases in a competition against (gulp) incredibly-accomplished rapper, the Roots’ Tariq Trotter. For reference for those unfamiliar with the name, this is a little like taking part in a painting competition against Picasso. Still. The Miranda's freestyle rap on Jimmy Fallon is everything my heart has yearned for and probably yours, too. There are never enough raps about Harry Potter and unicorns and raps that rhyme the word "erection" with Election Day. But it's bigger than that.
Yes, the topics the rap covered were produced by a random word generator. And yet, all the same, it strikes me that his rap is weird because it isn't that weird. In fact, it sounds like a lot of rap from the past few years. I'd even go so far as to say that his rap is fairly representative of 2016 rap in its diversity and ease in yoking together topics, from the political process to getting sexually excited.
Let's rewind way back to the '90s rap scene. Back then, rap was notable for its lack of breadth in terms of topics. With the obvious exception of rappers like Nas, Redman, and Andre 3000, who stood out for their lyrical gymnastics, many of the rap superstars of the decade made their names with tracks that stuck to a fairly limited range of topics: street cred, money, hustling, women, partying and bragging — tracks like Jay Z's "Ain't No N*gga," Ice Cube's "True To The Game," and Snoop Dogg and Dr Dre's "Nuthin' But A G' Thang."
Now skip forward to 2016. Arguably the biggest rap albums of the year so far were Kanye West's The Life Of Pablo and Drake's Views, both of which were loose bag monsters when it came to their lyrics. The Life Of Pablo touches on the act of artistic creation, dreams, fatherhood, his psychiatrist, cereal, sleeping, laptops, jets, while Views boasted Drake's own opinions on being single, being in relationships, friendship, fame, Cheesecake Factory, the dark side of hype, loneliness. None of which was all that surprising or commented on when either album dropped; in 2016, this diversity of topic is business as usual.
Which is what makes Lin-Manuel Miranda's rap so peculiarly unweird. It could be a track from pretty much any major 2016 rap album; it's smart, accomplished, and winky about pop culture (see the Harry Potter line). In 2016, the weirdest thing of all would be for Miranda to try and put together a rap with any sort of one coherent focus. So sure, it's funny: mainly 'cause it rhymes the word "erection" with "election." But odd? Nope.
Images: NBC; The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon/YouTube; Giphy