Darwin and Chaucer, via rap
Baba Brinkman sings a few bars to Notorious B.I.G.’s Hypnotize – the perfect example of the meta-marriage between form and content in The Rap Guide to Evolution, one of Brinkman’s five hip hop shows that break down complex topics into remixes of popular rap songs.
“Doing a rap performance in a highly effective and sophisticated way has a direct impact on the psychology of prospective mates and that’s exactly what you would expect if you were describing a sexually-selected behaviour,” says the New York-based rapper, University of Victoria grad and playwright. “A peacock could be writing exactly the same song about his tail that Biggie wrote about his rap skills.”
It’s rap about the origins of rap, as the product of evolution, demonstrated through a performance which also communicates the gist of the theory – or what Brinkman calls “meta rap,” for its uber meta-qualities.
Next Wednesday, Brinkman, who graduated with a masters in English from UVic in 2003, will return to his alma mater for two shows: The Rap Guide to Evolution and The Canterbury Tales Remixed, an updated version of his first work based on Geoffrey Chaucer’s classics, which debuted at the Victoria International Fringe Theatre Festival and sold out shows at the Edinburgh festival that year.
A key player in the evolution of Brinkman’s career was Mark Pallen, a professor of microbial genomics at the University of Birmingham in the U.K.
After seeing Brinkman’s performance of The Rap Canterbury Tales, he commissioned Brinkman to do for Darwin what he did for Chaucer and create The Rap Guide to Evolution to coincide with the Darwin bicentenary in 2009.
Pallen was impressed with his ability to interweave rap and evolutionary thinking and has since incorporated Brinkman’s videos into his lessons.
“What most scientists watching this stuff don't realize is that many of the tracks are reworkings of established hip-hop tracks that Baba has adapted for the purposes of explaining evolution,” Pallen said. “So the rap sits in an authentic context too.”
Brinkman is open about his minimal formal education in science. All of his work is subject to a rigorous peer review and fact-checking process.
“You’ve got a three-and-a half-minute rap song,” Brinkman said.
“You can’t communicate the complexities of an entire textbook, but you can point people toward the relevant concepts and put them in the context that promotes curiosity.”
His next off-Broadway show in the hopper deals with the scientifically informed search for a mate in the modern world, based on the theory of evolution.
Following with his history of tackling controversial topics relatively well understood in the scientific community and that are misunderstood by the public, Brinkman is ready to take on climate change, bioengineering and religious behaviour in future works.
“There’s no way you can avoid being offensive, but you can at least try to offend people for the right reasons,” said Brinkman, who has endured unsurprizing criticism from creationists.
This is the first time the Vancouver-born troubadour will perform in Victoria since the beginning in 2004.
“In those days I was very green around the gills. This is me coming back after hundreds of shows and non-stop performing. I’m excited to come back to my own territory and validate the education I got there.”
Baba’s back Oct. 24
The Rap Guide to Evolution from 8 to 10 p.m.
The Canterbury Tales Remixed from 2 to 4 p.m.
Tickets need to be booked in advance. Call 250-721-8480, online at auditorium.uvic.ca or in person at the UVic Ticket Centre.