THE RAP GUIDE TO EVOLUTION
Illawarra Performing Arts Centre
Friday, June 13 and Saturday, June 14
Charles Darwin and Dr Dre; evolution and Eazy-E; science and Snoop Dogg. Rap and the theory of evolution seem like the oddest of bedfellows, but according to Baba Brinkman - hip-hop artist, accomplished classical scholar, and the talent behind the smash-hit Rap Guide To Evolution - they are of the same world, separated only by time.
"There's a lyrical artistry in rap analogous to the lyrical artistry in Shakespeare and Chaucer. Whatever age you're born into, you use the medium at hand," Baba told the Mercury from his home in New York.
"For rappers today, making records is the way to reach the most people. In Shakespeare's time, the way to reach most people was writing plays."
Canadian-born Baba would know. He now travels the world performing his Rap Guide To Evolution, explaining Charles Darwin's On The Origin Of Species in hip-hop format; the concept has its roots in Baba's education, holding a masters in Medieval and Renaissance English literature where, for his thesis, he compared hip-hop and literary poetry. An aspiring hip-hop artist, he combined his study and hobby by penning The Rap Canterbury Tales, an ode to the Chaucer classic. He was later challenged by a British biologist to do the same for Darwin's landmark theory of evolution.
'I'll make a rap reference to something only a hip-hop fan would get, then a literature reference an older person would get.'
"I hoped I could do it for a year or two," Baba said. That was back in 2009, and five years later, is still selling out shows around the world and has returned to Australia for another national tour.
While the worlds of academia and rap may seem miles apart, Baba said the two are inextricably linked through the most important tie of all - human nature itself.
"I don't actually stray too far from traditional rap messages of sex and violence, but I point out that rap is about that for a reason, because they are evolutionary themes," he said.
"They have a direct relation to reproduction and survival. Rap has deeper roots than people think when they normally hear it."
Baba may be the only rapper to ever drop "artificial selection" in a 16-bar verse. The show is constantly updated and revised after new scientific discovery or when lyrics are found to be inaccurate, with feedback welcomed. It is part history lesson, part science lecture, part concert and part comedy - the science is sound and peer-reviewed, with a live DJ and custom soundtrack, while the incongruity of breathless and breakneck rapping meshing with the pillars of evolutionary theory makes for a good giggle at times.
Baba said the crowds are split evenly between older viewers wanting to hear the science elements, and younger crowds keen to hear rapping, and uses humour to make the two tribes aware of each other.
"I'll make a rap reference to something only a hip-hop fan would get, then a literature reference an older person would get.
"They won't all laugh at the same times, but it makes them know there are two types of literacy at work here - the rap and the science," he said.
"The two types are playing off each other.
"They are both valid points, and it shows that each is missing something by not being aware of the other."
With a grand finale song embodying the key evolutionary message - "don't sleep with mean people" - The Rap Guide To Evolution has propelled Baba around the world since 2009. He is working on a Rap Guide To Wilderness, an ode to nature that will be premiered at the World's Parks Congress in Sydney in November, as well as a Rap Guide To Religion.
"I conceived a trilogy of rap guides when I started this, guides to evolution, religion and human nature," he said.
"I want to zero in on the major themes of humanity, and this one will be about conflict driven by religious behaviour. This is all scientifically based stuff."