At The Cultch until November 10
Posted October 30, 2013
Can attaining world peace be as simple as rapper Baba Brinkman suggests: “Don’t sleep with mean people”? Ladies, says he, with all your peace-loving, non-homicidal, low testosterone genes, make babies only with un-mean guys. Pass on all those ‘nice’ genes and the world will be a better place, for you, for me, just wait and see. Would that it were so easy.
But there we were, at the Cultch, in a call and response with Brinkman, happily singing out, “Don’t sleep with mean people.” Happiness was in the air.
The Rap Guide to Evolution was not at all what I expected. I didn’t anticipate such rich, colourful, funny and instructive projections. Designer Wendell K. Harrington keeps the wall-size upstage screen alive with images from chimps to charts, rappers to Rosie the Riveter. DJ and music producer Jamie Simmonds keeps ‘scratching’ and sending music from stage left. And Brinkman not only gives us a rundown on Darwin and the Descent of Man but also manages to link the evolution of rap music to the evolution of the human species. It’s all about the Big Three: Performance. Feedback. Revision.
And it all does seem to make sense: what doesn’t work, doesn’t persist. Mutations that don’t serve reproduction and survival die off. Rappers who don’t find audiences, disappear.
But success as defined in caveman days has been redefined to include cooperation, conflict resolution and expansion of tribal boundaries to global boundaries.
I don’t know how we get to there from here but it all made sense on opening night.
If the thought of listening to ninety minutes of non-stop rap is daunting, Brinkman breaks it up really well. Rap, a little bit of conversation, more rap, quotes from Darwin, a graph showing the relationship of age and sex to violent behavior across all cultures. A big spike in male violence at puberty comes as no surprise nor does a falling off of homicidal behavior during the period when men marry.
Brinkman is not an off-the-street, angry, poorly educated rapper. He’s a big, young, white guy with an engaging personality; born in the Kootenays, raised in New Westminster. He has a Masters Degree in Medieval and Renaissance English Lit and was commissioned by microbial genomics professor Dr. Mark Pallen of Birmingham University (UK) to create a hip-hop celebration of the life and work of Charles Darwin. Pallen insisted on fact checking Brinkman’s lyrics so he’s not just making it all up: it’s scientifically peer-reviewed.
The Rap Guide to Evolution demands your attention. Information is flying thick and fast: how, for example, the peacock’s tail is useful for attracting a peahen, but impedes flight – which should work against him but doesn’t. The peahen, apparently, just really, really likes that big, colourful tail.
Or how women select successful men – like successful rappers, for example – as mates although in Brinkman’s experience, he attracts well-educated, post-menopausal women with glasses. I suspect he doth protest too much.
The Rap Guide to Evolution sparks a lot of conversation. How does mate selection, for example, work in the case of sperm donors? Did Darwin even dream of the day babies would be born to women who never laid eyes on the biological father? And if you want to know how donor selection is made – and have a laugh at the same time – check this out: http://www.cracked.com/article_19497_6-terrifying-things-nobody-tells-you-about-donating-sperm.html.
Be prepared to work at The Rap Guide but expect to be entertained and enlightened. I think teens would like Brinkman and, if they don’t already know, it would be interesting for them to see where rap comes from: the justifiably pissed off, marginalized kids of the down and dirty streets of America. Much of what’s happening in rap now is just mimicry: trying to look big and tough (like that peacock) when what girls and women should be looking for, according to Brinkman and possibly to Darwin – may he rest in peace despite Creationists who continue to try to bury him – is a nice guy who can rap and rhyme and bring home the tofu.