Baba Brinkman entertains, but not without discomfort

Last weekend in the Adams Memorial Theatre at the ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance, many audience members who went to see The Rap Guide to Evolution were surprised at how literal the show actually was: Yes, the show was performed almost entirely through rap, and yes, it was actually about evolution. The star of the show, Canadian rap artist Baba Brinkman, began producing the show when he was asked by Mark Pallen of Birmingham University to celebrate Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday through hip-hop in 2009. The result was The Rap Guide to Evolution, which Brinkman and DJ Mr. Simmonds performed for the College on Friday and Saturday nights.

Brinkman’s zeal and energy were infectious as he opened his tribute to Darwin. His fast-paced beats and witty lyrics inspired cheering in the full theater. While many people attempted to have fun as Brinkman rapped about Darwin’s world-changing contributions to science and society at large, what started out as an amusing and keen interpretation of Darwin’s discoveries very quickly spiraled into an uncomfortable tirade against creationism.

To be fair, students at the College are not Brinkman’s usual target audience, but I simply felt that brinkman’s singling out of religious belief was an unnecessary tangent. Indeed, in the context of those sitting in the audience, it felt more like indulgent bashing in the company of fellow “enlightened” intellectuals than it felt educational. Don’t get me wrong: I think it is important to celebrate how knowledge has helped society dispel dogmas. It’s essential, even, to engage people directly about these issues. But maybe the rap defeated its own purpose, presumably to educate as well as to spread appreciation, via its harshness.

That being said, my qualms about the creationism lyrics should not detract from the show’s fun and inventive audial and visual aesthetic, which included a slideshow playing on a large screen that was coordinated to the performance. It’s also worth noting that Brinkman never attacked religion itself directly, so most audience members tried to move past the awkwardness and enjoy the show. While it was laid-back and sharp, his performance teetered between humorous bragging and subtle self-deprecation. He inspired genuine intellectual interest as his performance began exploring the possible impacts evolution might have in our understanding of current social and biological phenomena, ranging from violence and pregnancy rates among the urban poor and the possible evolutionary origins and advantages of homosexuality. He briefly rapped about how evolution has, indeed, been used to justify evil and has cynically turned on itself.

Brinkman’s performance has been peer-reviewed by genomics professors, so in theory one could what he had to say about evolution and the social impacts that could result from a more educated public. The possibilities are truly something great to think about. At least, I had this sentiment until Brinkman started advising girls to bear children only with “nice guys.” It was, superficially, a compliment to women: It is true that in the natural world of sexually reproducing organisms, it is the female that drives evolution.

Brinkman cited historical cases where women stopped wars by refusing their blood-lusting male counterparts a place in the coital bed. However, Brinkman also began rapping about how men think more with their genitals than with their heads and shrugged this off as a quirk of male biology: Guys will be guys, and it’s not our fault if we’re jerks – we will do anything to sleep with women. Ergo, women, it’s your job to exercise discretion in choosing a mate. Essentially, he shifted the blame in regard to social issues exclusively to women. The troubling implication was that as a society, we should focus not on making sure men don’t act like violent, murderous jerks, but instead shift our resources to teaching women how to properly choose a mate.

This might be too harsh. Maybe I lost some of Brinkman’s actual sentiment in his rap lyrics. I don’t want to convey the wrong impression of Brinkman, either – he made it extremely clear that he is completely open to any and all suggestions for his show, and I’ll make sure to get my feedback to him. His is an ambitious and truly admirable undertaking – and a fun and enjoyable one at that. But he still has more than a few hurdles to overcome.