Rappin’ for Darwin

June 28, 2011 • 4:39 am

Today’s New York Times highlights Baba Brinkman—described as a “rap artist and Chaucer scholar”—and his new performance at the SoHo Playhouse in New York City, “The Rap Guide to Evolution.” It’s described “an hour-and-a-half lecture on Darwin and natural selection disguised as a rant on the history of rap, gangs and murder in Chicago, relations between the sexes and his own stubborn creationist cousins.”

Although the only example of lyrics given by the NYT may seem a tad sociobiological:

Don’t sleep with mean people, that’s the anthem

Please! Think about your granddaughters and grandsons

Don’t sleep with mean people, pretty or handsome

Mean people hold the gene pool for ransom,

the performance actually sounds pretty interesting.  Olivia Judson praised it lavishly in her NYT column last year, calling it “brilliant” and “astonishing.”

It is also, I suspect, the only hip-hop show to talk of mitochondria, genetic drift, sexual selection or memes. For Brinkman has taken Darwin’s exhortation seriously. He is a man on a mission to spread the word about evolution — how it works, what it means for our view of the world, and why it is something to be celebrated rather than feared.

Has anyone seen it?  Forget the “rock stars of evolution” nonsense; this is the kind of evolution-popularization I can get behind.  But, of course, it hasn’t gone down well everywhere:

Fittingly, the show itself evolves. What was once a line about not sleeping with mean people, for example, has been expanded to a whole section. But the road has not been without bumps. Mr. Brinkman said that in Texas people walked out on a section of the rap which features a call and response of “Creationism is” — “dead wrong!”

There’s more information about Brinkman at his website.  The performance runs through the summer and you can buy tickets here.  If you’re in NYC and love evolution, you could do worse.

8 thoughts on “Rappin’ for Darwin

  1. FOURTY DOLLARS! Not bad, but I may find other things to do in my 10 day séjour in NYC this summer. Like the AMNH, and Hayden Planetarium.

  2. A few years ago I came across something called “The Genomic Dub Collective” (http://pathogenomics.bham.ac.uk/Dub/origin.html), which set parts of the Origin of Species to Jamaican Dub reggae music. The group started out selling a record, but is now offering a DVD. Their manifesto reads:

    We aim to create a new musical genre, Genomic Dub, that celebrates recent successes in the field of genomics and evolutionary biology. We also aim to highlight common threads that link current scientific, artistic and social issues with the past (e.g. the Darwins’ involvement in the anti-slavery movement), and to explore the potential for encoding macromolecular (protein and DNA) sequence data into dub music.

    We aim to engage the interest of both the scientific and wider public, bringing an appreciation of science to sections of society who usually ignore or devalue it and an appreciation of reggae and of Jamaican culture to a scientific audience. We aim to stimulate interest in science and its impact on society through cover notes for our dub tracks.

    This project draws on the skills, knowledge and experience of an eclectic mix of individuals, united by a common love of science and music, including: a Professor of Microbial Genomics, a Jamaican scientist who is a native speaker of Jamaican Creole, a talented programmer with experience of organising student events and a clinical psychologist with extensive experience as a musician and events organiser.

    1. Imagine quotation marks before We aim to create … and after …musician and events organizer.

    1. I didn’t note University of Birmingham (UK) connection. It was stimulated by the same group!

  3. You’ve dragged me out of my lurking!

    I’ve got Baba’s album- I picked it up after reading Olivia Judson’s article. It’s legit. I don’t think you’ll find anything to complain about. If you can get into the style, I think you’ll enjoy.

  4. Lovely collection of his work! I have posted about his work in my blog too.. such works should be more publicized… thanks Jerry for introducing him 🙂

  5. I saw Baba Brinkman at Cal Acad — for a white Canadian rapper rapping about Darwin, it was pretty good actually. There was a lot of sociological commentary and some Darwin. But — and maybe this is just a personal thing — it bugged me in the same way that Christian heavy metal bugs me.

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