When Lin Manuel Miranda read the real Alexander Hamilton’s letter in Ron Chernow’s biography, he was very impressed with the way the 14-year old Hamilton wrote “I wish there was a war” and also the fact that what he wrote got him off the island where he had been orphaned. Miranda interpreted that as being very hip-hop, in today’s language. Hip-hop is not a kind of music, although hip-hop music is often used as a vehicle for the hip-hop culture. Hip hop is a social-political movement created in the late 70s that gives people who grew up in the ghetto a voice; a lot of hip hop songs are written from personal experience. Break dancing, rap music, and graffiti art are all a part of hip-hop. Miranda Goggled “Alexander Hamilton hip-hop” and found no one had written in that vein yet, and he got to work. And he worked on it for 6 years. His original intention was to write a mix tape, which is how Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Evita and Jesus Christ Superstar were done; both were albums before they were musicals. Miranda has explained that he used rap to tell Hamilton’s story because rap has more words per measure than any other type of music. He explained that rap has density, and Alexander Hamilton’s voluminous writings were very dense. The Broadway show lasts 2 ½ hours, and over 20,000 words are packed into those hours – that’s a rapid-fire 144 words per minute. Successful young playwrights like Miranda believe that rap & hip-hop embody the revolutionary period. The song My Shot took Miranda a full year to write.
You probably know what to shoot is. It means to send or discharge something rapidly from a bow, firearm, a slingshot or to hit someone or something with a bow, firearm, slingshot or anything of that kind that is fast and probably dangerous.
Shot is the past tense of the verb to shoot and also a noun. That’s where it gets tricky. I especially liked the Lin Manuel Miranda song, “My Shot;” it has become an earworm for me. The song has a lot of nuances, but for language students, there are three essential things to understand. The word shot is included in many of the songs in Hamilton, and with different meanings.
Shot as a noun means a chance, attempt or opportunity: The ambitious immigrant Hamilton was determined not to throw away any of his shots.
Shot can be a nasty remark, usually derogatory and usually said when the person it is aimed at cannot immediately respond: Hamilton took innumerous public shots at Aaron Burr.
Shot can also mean ability: Lin-Manuel Miranda took his best shot by starring in his own show.
It can be a medical or narcotics injection: We wonder if Hamilton received a shot of some kind of painkiller when he lay dying.
It can mean the person who shoots, a marksman: Alexander Hamilton was known as a good shot and Aaron Burr was known as a poor shot.
It can mean something propelled by shooting: Alexander Hamilton was killed by a single shot.
It can mean an uninformed guess or an attempt with little chance for success: It was truly a shot in the dark that an impoverished immigrant could rise to such fame.
Shot can mean a small amount of liquor: Colonial Americans drank an average of 8 ounces of alcohol per day, most of it in small shots as they were planning wars and governments. (alcohol consumed at that time: fermented cider, rum, brandy & rum) (a US shot glass holds 30 ml or 1 fluid ounce)
Shot can mean a single appearance as an entertainer: Miranda has done several guest shots on SNL.
Shot can mean a single photographic exposure like a snapshot: No one got a shot of the Burr – Hamilton duel because cameras weren’t available in America until the mid 1800s.
I am not throwing away my shot
I am not throwing away my shot
Hey yo, I’m just like my country
I’m young, scrappy and hungry
And I’m not throwing away my shot.
Is it like a beat without a melody?