Lots of people are head over heels for Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton,” the hip-hop reimagination of the origin story behind American history’s most bad ass Founding Father. For a Broadway play, it’s been receiving nearly unprecedented popular attention in all kinds of media, and it’s almost certainly going to clean up at the Tony Awards this coming weekend, too. That in turn will probably only increase the outrageous premium that tickets are commanding on StubHub—you’d be lucky to get a seat for a cool US$1,000. I was lucky enough to see it last winter when buzz was high though not yet insane. Whether I personally liked it or not is practically irrelevant as all three of my kids are addicted to the soundtrack and it’s on extremely heavy rotation in our house.
My wife is a fan, too, and what’s more, in her role on the design team over at WSJ.com, she happened to be involved in designing this extensive analysis of Miranda’s complex and, apparently, crowd-pleasing lyrics. She and her colleagues trained an algorithm to understand the musical’s rhyme patterns, analyzing its phonetics, use of vowel sounds, the emphasis on various syllables and even the strategic usage of various suffixes. Their interactive project lets you listen to the vocals as the algorithm visually maps each fragment against the patterns it has identified. This isn’t just an academic dissection, either; the project also highlights the various influences on Miranda’s writing style, showing how specific lines echo the work of rap luminaries like Rakim, Nas, Lauryn Hill and Kendrick Lamar. If you’re a fan of this play, you’re going to find this fascinating.