Baba Brinkman is a rapper first and foremost, though you wouldn’t be wrong to label him an educator, performer or actor in the same breath. However, this is not a rapper who wants to educate you on the hardships of growing up in a deprived ghetto, bling, money or women. Originally from Vancouver, he has produced a hip hop theatre show that is based on Darwin’s theory of evolution.
It sounds an unusual, bold idea, but it has been well received; described as “astonishing and brilliant” by the New York Times,it has also received praise from Science magazine. The show, aptly titled The Rap Guide to Evolution, earned him a Scotsman Fringe First Award for Best New Theatre Writing after his 2009 performance at the Edinburgh Fringe. In a new video project which derives from the show, he combines original raps grounded in the psychological and physical theories of evolution, with remixes of well-known tracks.
The series of 12 videos “is about taking it out of the classroom, so it’s not just a science concept. Evolution is relevant and has an effect on everything we do today,” says Brinkman. And his motives go beyond the need to educate; he also loves the idea of ruffling the feathers of creationists. “I’m attracted to the controversy of it,” he admits. “I always got into debates with creationists. I enjoy being caught in the crossfire; I find it funny because it contradicts what so many people accept to be true.”
He mentions that he hopes to convert a few creationists who might come to the show or watch the videos. Evolution, in Brinkman’s opinion, is something we should be more aware of in modern society. Through his use of cultural references he makes his points: “‘Bling’ is like a peacock’s feathers,” he explains. “The logic is the same, because it’s looking for the same response from females.”
Brinkman’s forming of links between hip hop culture and the academic world did not begin with The Rap Guide to Evolution. “I’ve always respected rap,” he muses. “When I was younger I studied poetry out of interest and developed my rap skills by learning about how poets had rhymed with stories in the past.” For him the connections between the writers of the past and modern day rappers were clear to be seen: “I thought it was all linked; Shakespeare, Chaucer, Slick Rick and Notorious B.I.G were all part of one continuum.”
With his Masters thesis being based on The Canterbury Tales, his literature background gave him the inspiration to re-write some works into his lyrics. Finding that literary rap was not readily digested in the club scene, he began his work in hip hop theatre.
His well-known show, The Rap Canterbury Tales, prompted several people to pitch ideas to him about what he should rap about next. But “nothing ever felt right’”, he says. “I’m not interested in doing something just for the sake of doing it.” However, when Dr Pallen, author of The Rough Guide to Evolution challenged Brinkman to create a show based on Darwin’s theories, he felt compelled to do it. He says “I was always very interested in evolution. Putting [educational] things into rap creates a connection to inaccessible or boring things, as communication can be dry and boring and all about the knots and bolts.”
“‘It sounds really unusual”, Brinkman concludes. “But it really isn’t as unusual as you’d think, so come and see it.”