Rap evolves: Brinkman brings the Rap Guide to Evolution home to Vancouver

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"Artificial Selection" by Baba Brinkman celebrates Darwin in rap form.

Baba Brinkman has returned home to Vancouver a changed man – or rather an evolved one, bringing his Rap Guide to Evolution from New York west to the Cultch.

Brinkman’s rap captivates with multiple creative media, incorporating elements of a scientific article, a lecture, a movie, and a play.

This concept of repurposed rap is interesting, because as a genre, rap has typically been emblematic of a less-cerebral cohort.  But in recent years, as its following has grown and diversified, the genre has branched in many directions both in its musical style and its message. 

Brinkman’s work is a leading example of gentrified rap, unlike Christian rap, or middle-aged rappers that exhort kids to stay off drugs.  In fact, only one other successful performer who has carved out a similar niche comes to mind:  MC Front-a-lot, creator of “nerdcore hiphop”.  Likewise, Brinkman’s flow retains the edgy, raunchy, and appealingly controversial components of rap, but supplements it with compelling statistics and insights suitable for his refined and intellectually-discerning audiences.

Brinkman begins his remarkable interplay between rap and evolution with his adaptation of Notorious B.I.G’s classic “Dead Wrong”.  As with many of Brinkman’s pieces, “Natural Selection” is a reworked version of a well-known rap song that uses the original beat, but transforms most of the lyrics, and has a very different message, though both pieces question “The weak or the strong, who got it going on?”

Brinkman’s flow is not inherently exceptional, but his range is truly impressive.  In a post-performance interview, Brinkman included Biggie, Nas, and Eminem as his major musical influences, and these are audible in his performance.  During the show he performs fast and aggressive tracks as well as slower pieces, and it is in this versatility where Brinkman flow shines through.

The 90 minutes is structured around a lecture that alternates without didactic dryness between rap, Darwinian quotations, and erudite explanation.  Brinkman cracks jokes throughout, and has a strong stage presence, drawing the audience into interaction, and making you smile at the manipulation despite yourself because of his energy. 

Brinkman is at the Cultch now through November 10: whether you’re a fan of rap, comedy, or the scientific method, this show is a must-see.

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