Hamilton Uses Hip-Hop to Fit More Than 20,000 Words Into 2.5 Hours
The smash hit Hamilton isn’t your typical Broadway show. Instead of the conventional ballads you might expect from a biographical musical, its soundtrack leans closer to rap and hip-hop. It was adapted from Ron Chernow’s comprehensive biography of the founding father, and the show’s creator credits the amount of content he was able to fit into its 150-minute run to its musical style.
In an interview with Grantland, composer, writer, lyricist, and star Lin-Manuel Miranda said the story would have been impossible to tell at a more conventional pace: “It would have to be 12 hours long, because the amount of words on the bars when you’re writing a typical song—that’s maybe got 10 words per line.”
Leah Libresco from FiveThirtyEight looked further into this claim by comparing Hamilton’s word count to a diverse sample of Broadway musicals. A total of 20,520 words are crammed into Hamilton’s two hour and 23 minute cast album. That’s 144 words per minute—nearly twice as many as the runner-up, Spring Awakening, which clocks in at 77 words per minute. Libresco concluded that if Hamilton were sung at the same pace of the other shows she analyzed, it would run somewhere between four and six hours.
Hamilton may possibly hold the title of fastest-paced Broadway show, but the distinction of single fastest song is still pretty much a toss-up. “Guns and Ships,” the fastest song in Miranda’s show, barrels along at 6.3 words per second, while “Not Getting Married Today” from the Sondheim musical Company comes in at 6.2. Libresco points out that the pacing in “Not Getting Married” is still more of a challenge, as the singer of “Guns and Ships” is granted more breaks to breathe while the ensemble chimes in.
Both songs are faster than The Pirates of Penzance’s “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General,” one of the best known patter songs of all time.