On a quiet Sunday morning, I had the chance to meet up with Baba Brinkman, the sole peer-reviewed rapper in the world. Between sips of one-sugared coffees we discussed his life, but mostly his work which he promotes as consciousness-raising, provocative and irreverent. In fact, irreverent is his favorite word, and it describes everything he does.
The night before, Baba was at a fundraising cocktail full of 50-year-old doctors and lawyers, introducing himself not only as Joyce Murray’s son (his politician mother who was running for the Liberal Party of Canada’s leadership), but as a playwright who uses rap as his verse form. If he had been with a bunch of 17-years-old, he would simply have said he’s a rapper. That’s what I call adapting to the environment in the true spirit of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution (on which he created a complete album that includes Performance, Feedback, Revision).
Baba’s road to peer-reviewed rap wasn’t planned; it happened accidentally through his studies. As a young aspiring rapper, Baba went to Simon Fraser University (in Vancouver), where he completed his education with a Masters in Medieval and Renaissance English Literature. His thesis compared modern freestyle hip-hop battling with The Canterbury Tales. As his thesis, he produced an entire rap show on a 14th century collection of stories that is considered to be the foundation of English literature.
Here’s one of the songs, The Pardoner’s Tale:
With The Rap Canterbury Tales, which he described as lit-hop, he had the chance to tour the world. He performed in Montreal in front of a crowd made solely of four reviewers that were just constantly writing in their notepads: no laugh, no smile, no response (which is one of his worst live experiences) and also at the prestigious Edinburgh Free Fringe Festival, where he met great success. The show was sponsored by Cambridge University which gave the occasion to Mr. Brinkman to tour British secondary schools.
He still plays The Rap Canterbury Tales, but a remixed version of it. Here’s the trailer:
That’s how Dr. Mark Pallen, author of The Rough Guide to Evolution, heard of his works and asked him to create a rap version of his book for Charles Darwin’s 200th anniversary (in 2009). Baba accepted with excitement and felt confident writing about science because of his extensive reading on the subject (he even studied biology in university before devoting himself solely to literature courses). He succeeded at the challenge and it was a big success.
According to Wikipedia: “The Rap Guide to Evolution premiered at the 2009 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, winning a Fringe First Award from The Scotsman for best new theatre writing. In 2010 the UK’s largest biomedical charity, the Wellcome Trust, provided grant funding for Brinkman to make a series of educational music videos based on the show, as a resource for biology teachers. The Rap Guide to Evolution completed a five-month Off-Broadway theatre run in November 2011, for which Brinkman received a 2012 Drama Desk Award nomination for Outstanding Solo Performance, losing to Irish actor Cillian Murphy [which he admired].”
Here’s the music video for Natural Selection:
Since then he’s touring and doing some TED talks, meeting famous minds such as Stephen Hawking and Jack Horner (the Jurassic Park paleontologist) along the way. But he mostly produces himself off-Broadway; showcasing of course, The Rap Canterbury Tales Remixed and The Rap Guide to Evolution, as well as his new show about human nature titled Ingenious Nature (which premiered also at Edinburgh Fringe).
Nowadays Baba has a new EP called The Infomatic (containing the song Mad Scientist (Talkin’ Nerdy)), which is about “allo-parenting, prosimians, oxytocin homologues, cladistics, population modelling, climate change, pseudo-science accommodationism, the homophobic paradox, and the applicability of Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad references to science rap.”
He even goes out of peer-reviewed rap by producing other hip-hop artists under his Lit Fuse Records label and by rapping with The Menagerie, a hip-hop collective that can be described as a British Wu-Tang Clan; they have a new album in stores (Hopeful Monsters). From time to time, Baba even steps completely outside of hip-hop by writing scientific articles such as Finding God in Female Orgasms.
But even if Baba found God in orgasms, he is a devoted atheist as his works demonstrate, particularly his song Off That (Rationalist Anthem):
P.-S. The main reason I was meeting Baba was to know about his taste in pop culture. With the exception of Game of Thrones (and the works of George R.R. Martin) and comics by his friend Bryan Talbot (especially his Grandville series), Baba avoids fiction, especially fantasy and science-fiction, because he wants to garner the most scientific knowledge for his works. But when he was a kid he dreamt of becoming the next Stephen King, snuck in his brother’s bedroom to read his comics (such as the TMNT) and played way too many video games until girls came into his life. He doesn’t play anymore; he’s too afraid of a relapse.
Article by ‘xim Sauriol, guest blogger.