We’ve all heard the story before. There is trouble in the land. A young man must rise up from his humble origins and leave the family reforestation company to go out into the world and rap about science.
For two days only, internationally renowned hip-hop storyteller Baba Brinkman will be bringing his multi-award winning show A Rappers guide to Evolution to Arts Centre Melbourne. Known for his critically acclaimed interpretation of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Baba makes a thing of taking non-traditionally utilised subject matter and setting it to a backdrop of fundamental hip-hop and rap. The result is a seductive blend of knowledge and dope beats.
The Rap guide to Evolution has just run for 5 successful months Off-Broadway earning Baba a Drama Desk nomination. The man has rapped internationally on subjects ranging from Mathematical and Biological Synthesis to Shakespeare to Game of Thrones, he’s given critically acclaimed TED talks and luckily for AussieTheatre.com writer Chris Fung, was kind enough to have a chat in the midst of a very busy national tour schedule.
A Quick Chat With Baba Brinkman
Tell me about that turning point when you decided that you wanted to pursue rap as a career – Was there one? Was it an easy decision? Did you choose RAP or did RAP choose you?
I was doggedly certain from the start that this would be my career. At age nineteen I had a eureka moment, I realized in the same instant that rap has ancient roots, that it’s an expression of the universal human instinct for wordplay and storytelling, which means Shakespeare and Chaucer were the rappers of their times, and I also realized that I could channel this “deep history” perspective through my songs as a rapper and it would be something completely new that no one had tried before. That’s pretty much what my rap career has been about ever since, whether connecting rap with literature or evolutionary biology.
If you were not living your crusade to enlighten the world, what might you be doing with your life?
I’d probably be a novelist, or a screenwriter, or a university prof. In other words, I’d be on a crusade to enlighten the world by other means.
What is the biggest compliment you have ever received for your work?
An evangelical christian website once wrote a negative review of my show under the headline “Darwinism Gets A Bad Rap.” The review concluded with my favourite compliment yet: “He’s sadly reductionist, but at least he has the courage to sin boldly.” Damn right.
Your work has been responsible for spreading to the masses traditionally unpopular subject matter – and you’ve received huge kudos from the international scientific community. This Australian tour marks a growing foray onto the world stage – What’s next for you? Do you harbour dreams of global domination? What are you working on next?
I’m writing a “Rap Guide to Religion” which will premiere at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August, and I have a new album in the works “The Rap Guide to Wilderness” which will be about conservation and our relationship with the natural world. I envision a whole series of “rap guides,” like the Books for Dummies series, some of them just albums and some of them stage shows, and eventually I think it would be a great TV series. I just love using hip-hop culture as a lens for exploring complex subject matter.
We in Australia are in the middle of an enormous political debate about the release of our incumbent government’s Federal budget. What is your opinion on the recent cuts to Arts and Education released in the recent Abbott Government budget?
I think the cuts send a clear message that the government isn’t in the business of picking winners and losers in the Darwinian competition for arts funding, which means they are also not in the business of deciding whether young people are better off experiencing intelligent live music and theatre or better off watching re-runs of Bogan Hunters. The logical next step will be for the government to declare that it isn’t in the business of deciding whether koalas or cane toads are better for Australian ecosystems.
In your show you talk about sexual selection, that process that we all go through to determine when and WITH WHOM we should mate: aside from a mind like a diamond and a long jacket, what are the traits that you look for in your partners? Do you like big butts?
I like big butts and I can not lie, you other brothers can’t deny… And yet it’s important to remember that sexually-selected traits, like all traits, are only advantageous relative to other traits, and in certain contexts. If we’re talking about short-term mating I might privilege big butts over big brains, but when it comes to long-term commitment there’s no substitute for a smart, reliable, interesting, confident partner. I got married last year so short-term mating is off the table for me, but there’s no denying the role sexual selection played in my choice to settle down.
RAP, and life really in low economic environments, has historically been about the ELIMINATION of rivals, in these environments you describe a climate that is frightfully alert and on their guard for people and things that are LIKE THEM, drug dealers don’t like being near other drug dealers, gangs fight other gangs etc. etc. etc.
Darwin made this point in the Origin of Species as well: organisms compete most fiercely with individuals of their own species because they occupy the same niche, they make their living in the same way. Which means I’m in a fierce, dog-eat-dog competition with other hyper-literate science rappers who do theatre. It’s a crowded niche but somehow I get by.
Alongside renowned DJ Jamie Simmonds, The Rap Guide to Evolution will be playing at Arts Centre Melbourne’s Fairfax Studio on Friday 6 June and Saturday 7 June 2014. If learning and beats are your thing – this young man urges you to check it, check it out.
Arts Centre Melbourne Fairfax Studio
Friday 6 and Saturday 7 June