It is hard to describe Baba Brinkman with any word other than “unique.” His flow, his lyrics and his topics are all extremely rare in the modern-day hip-hop landscape. However, perhaps the most interesting aspect of Brinkman is the sub-genre to which he belongs. His music falls under a category of rap known as “lit-hop,” a style that aims to create educational music. Brinkman has written on subjects such as religion, evolution and even famous epics such as Beowulf. However, his focus on educating his audience never puts a damper on his product.
Last Friday night’s performance at the ’62 Center for Theater & Dance of Brinkman’s album, “Rap Guide to Climate Chaos,” focused on the controversial issue of climate change. For many, this would be a difficult topic, but Brinkman had no trouble spitting out tongue twister lyrics on subjects such as the International Plant Protection Convention. Additionally, humor is very present in his music. Brinkman opened the show with the line: “I’m straight outta Canada,” and later in the show performed a song entitled “Mo Carbon, Mo Problems.” These two examples showcase both his humor and his knowledge of hip-hop’s roots. Brinkman does not forget the history of his genre, as he is continuously referencing hip-hop’s storied past. His music oozes with 90s nostalgia, from Notorious B.I.G. to De La Soul. It is easy to space out and forget that you are listening to Brinkman’s rap in 2017 because of his masterful references to hip-hop’s roots. His flow, choice of beats, humor and knowledge of hip-hop – which take the form of playful covers – all make Brinkman a performer worth seeing.
One of the highlights of the show was when Brinkman unleashed his anger at the current attitude in the United States on climate change. In that moment, he displayed the most energy, targeting politicians and oil companies for what he views as their hypocrisy and lies. At the heart of his performance, Brinkman educated his audience, using words and rhythm to explain that Exxon Mobil moved the height of its offshore oil rigs up to avoid damage from rising sea levels. Brinkman’s strength over other political rappers is that his audience can learn from his anger. While groups like Run the Jewels are amazing in their criticism of corruption in Washington, we do not learn a lot of specifics from them. With Brinkman, we can use his music to become more informed citizens. His music is not only enjoyable, but it also makes a difference.
Furthermore, his music sheds light on the significance of rap, a genre that is at its best when rappers push their audiences out of their comfort zones. Vince Staples and Danny Brown provided commentary on depression through their releases in 2016. Kendrick Lamar talked about black America in “To Pimp a Butterfly.” Schoolboy Q rapped about urban poverty in “Oxymoron” and Brinkman focuses on climate change in “Rap Guide to Climate Chaos.” These artists force listeners to engage in dialogues on difficult subjects, even though much of the population has no desire to do so. With Donald Trump’s presidency, rap will only assume a more important role, as it will remain an outlet for criticism. In fact, Brinkman took aim at Trump in one of his songs, further proving the utility of rap as a tool to raise awareness.
Although I was skeptical of Brinkman and did not think that he would have the lyricism of Kendrick Lamar or the catchiness of Migos, he took me by surprise. When Brinkman started rapping, I set aside my reservations and ended up really enjoying his performance. In the end, the beauty of rap is that it does not conform to one sound. There are so many sub-genres which produce completely different sounds. Conscious rap and trap are opposites, yet we still consider them both to be part of the same genre. Baba Brinkman seems to mesh the two to create a powerful sound that has both sonic and political resonance, serving as a testament to the expansive nature of rap music.
Baba Brinkman’s rap music reflects a deep knowledge of both rap culture and climate change. Photo courtesy of WNYC.