It’s difficult to believe that the white Canadian man who stood on stage last Tuesday night screaming “I’m A African!” came to teach college students about evolution. Rap artist Baba Brinkman presented “The Rap Guide to Evolution” in the Redfern’s Main Theatre on Feb. 5 for a crowd of both Keene State College students and curious Keene residents. Brinkman wore the clash of rap and evolution proudly. “I’ve been rapping since I was 19, doing underground hip-hop albums and collaborations.”

However, Brinkman said, “It’s not something I would’ve just woken up in the morning and been like ‘I’m going to write an album on Charles Darwin today.’” Microbial Genomics professor Mark Pallen of Birmingham University, U.K. reached out to Brinkman with the idea after listening to Brinkman’s adaptation of “The Canterbury Tales.”  “He [Pallen] wrote a book called ‘The Rough Guide to Evolution,’ so the rap guide concept was his idea. He said ‘You should write the rap complement to my book’, which is a pretty open-minded [for a] biologist. … In his ‘Rough Guide to Evolution’ book he had a whole mini-chapter on pop culture representations of Darwin. He’d talk about Darwin being portrayed in music and movies and comedy. He was

interested in that and wanted to perpetuate it,” Brinkman said. Brinkman agreed to collaborate with Pallen in 2008.

The next year, Brinkman debuted the show on Darwin’s two-hundreth birthday. Since then “The Rap Guide to Evolution” crew has been traveling to share the show, Brinkman explained. Shannon Mayers, director of the Redfern Arts Center, said she didn’t hesitate to host the rap performance. She said she was introduced to the show a year ago. “I thought, what a great way to tie in evolution,” Mayers said.  “I’m always trying to get more of the students who aren’t the traditional theater students to come. It’s really all about outreach.”

Upon finalizing the show, Mayers said she alerted the Biology faculty. Her efforts filled the theatre for Brinkman’s performance; some students muttered about how their biology teacher had suggested the show.

The educational piece of Brinkman’s performance almost disappeared at moments. Mayers praised Brinkman’s effortless transaction between rap and evolutionary concept in comparison to amateurs. “You don’t just throw rap on like it’s a costume. Like, ‘I’m going to dress this up in rap and then it’ll look cool,’ but it won’t do what it was supposed to do. I think someone like Baba Brinkman intertwines evolution and the history of rap very well. It also helps that he’s a good rapper,” Meyers said.

“I still try to make it true to the elements, the core aspects, of hip-hop. There’s moments in my show that feel exactly like a concert,” Brinkman commented.

“It’s part rap concert, part TED Talk, and part stand-up comedy.” Though the rap performance deviated from past Redfern performances, both Mayers and Brinkman argued its artistic value. “It is a type of music, and also the fact that there’s a live DJ on stage, it’s not just playback, makes a difference because … he and [Brinkman’s] work sync to sync. He totally has to watch what [Brinkman] is doing,” Mayers said.

“I think I’m pushing the boundaries of the art form a lot,” Brinkman said. “Art forms are all implicitly Darwinian in that the amount of time people have and money people have to devote to purchasing … art is inherently limited, which creates a competition. But not all art forms make that fact their explicit subject of discussion, and rap does. Rappers are constantly saying ‘I beat my competitors,’ ‘I’ve got the most skill.’  You can make the argument that all art forms are driven by that same process, but only rap makes it the subject matter, so rap is ideal for describing how that works,” Brinkman said.

Brinkman’s performance worked for KSC student Justin Jolliffe. “I thought it was awesome, very creative. It’s pretty surprising to think about how much one person can remember, and to be able to make it so understandable to a young audience that doesn’t know much about what he’s talking about is pretty cool,” Jolliffe said. Brinkman’s humorous aspects caught the attention of his audience. “It was funny. A lot of it was pretty witty. I thought it was cool how he played off a lot of common artists,” Jolliffe said.

Brinkman incorporated education with his creative lyricism and analogies, such as his reference to Dead Prez’s “I’m A African” to explain ancestry.


Allison Baker can be contacted at

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