The Rap Guide to Evolution
nytheatre.com review by Shelley Molad
June 22, 2011
Who would have ever thought there was a correlation between Darwinism and hip hop? Apparently Baba Brinkman did, having created an entire show to prove it. Coined a Canadian "lit-hop" rapper, Brinkman is a former tree planter with a degree in Medieval Literature. In an interview with The Gothamist, Brinkman says he was born into a Canadian family of tree planters who also happened to be very loquacious. He started listening to rap at a young age and decided it was the best medium for making an impact on the world.
Here's how it all evolved: Brinkman made a show about The Canterbury Tales, combining his knowledge of hip-hop and Chaucer. When Dr. Mark Pallen, author of The Rough Guide to Evolution, saw him perform, he challenged Brinkman to "do for Darwin what he had done for Chaucer." Brinkman accepted the challenge and consulted with Pallen to create The Rap Guide to Evolution, a fascinating lecture-rap (if that's not a word, I think it is now) performance about Darwin's theories, including natural selection and survival of the fittest, to explain human behavior and a variety of other social issues such as the causes of violence in young men and teenage pregnancy in young women.
The show is a lesson not only on Darwinism but on the evolution of the genre of hip-hop. DJ Jamie Simmonds joins Brinkman on stage, spinning at a turntable with original mixes. Brinkman performs against an extremely entertaining and impressive projection backdrop by designer Wendall K. Harrington, which includes a picture of a white-bearded Darwin, quotes from The Origin of Species such as, "Whoever is led to believe that species are mutable, will do good service by conscientiously expressing his conviction, for only thus can the load of prejudice by which this subject is overwhelmed, be removed," and a slide show of rap artists, street culture, statistic charts, and photos of wild animals (think National Geographic) and rap artists displaying their "bling." The projections are half the fun of this show.
At first Brinkman comes across as a wannabe Eminem (which he later admits he knows many of us are thinking) with a less exciting voice, but he immediately fesses up to his "Whiteness," though he insists that we all evolved from Africa, leading the audience in a sing-along to the Dead Prez song "I'm a African." While some of his statements may seem controversial or debatable, Brinkman backs himself up with an impressive amount of knowledge on his subjects. His raps and rhymes are witty yet incredibly intelligent. The script is loaded with information that may go over your head, but Brinkman is unassuming and never egotistical despite his breadth of knowledge. He is almost immediately likeable and warm and comes across as fresh and inspiring in his willingness to communicate his points.
The Rap Guide to Evolution claims to be the first peer-reviewed hip-hop show because it includes a segment entitled "Performance, Feedback, Revision," in which the audience provides feedback. Brinkman answers any questions directly and then begins to freestyle, incorporating his response, which will influence future rewrites of the show. This may be the most gratifying part of the evening. I wanted to sum up why, but I think Brinkman's words do a better job of it: "A rap performance like this is the best illustration of the way descent with modification works 'cause the performance is necessary to change the words to decide which have an impact and which to send back to the drawing board." I certainly got a kick out of The Rap Guide to Evolution; for its sheer inventiveness as a concept, it's worth seeing.