The 19th century scientist that changed our understanding of biology gets a modern day makeover
By Rowan Barrett | April 17, 2009
This year, biologists, philosophers, and historians have been celebrating Charles Darwin's birth and his profound contributions to biology. As the year of Darwin nears its halfway point, a rapper is adding his unique Darwin tribute to the mix and making Charles Darwin a little bit more like linkurl:Chuck D.;http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chuck_D
Pass the mic to linkurl:Baba Brinkman,;http://www.babasword.com/ a former English literature student and Canadian hip hop artist. Brinkman has made a career out of fusing hip hop and classical literature, with a discography nine albums deep, including a critically acclaimed rap version of linkurl:__The Canterbury Tales__.;http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2AKoU6XgHbQ&feature=related The artist has now trained his pen and his mic on evolutionary theory with "The Rap Guide to Evolution," which uses remixed beats, comedic storytelling, and rap poetry to make the science behind evolution accessible and interesting to a wide audience.
"The Rap Guide to Evolution" was commissioned by British microbiologist linkurl:Mark Pallen,;http://www.infection.bham.ac.uk/BPAG/staff/mpallen.html who checked all the rhymes for scientific accuracy, prompting Brinkman to remark his may be the first ever "peer-reviewed hip hop show."
Vancouver, Canada has played host to four Rap Guide shows over the last week as part of the linkurl:Vancouver Evolution Festival,;http://www.vanevo.ca/ a year long celebration of Darwin and all things evolutionary. It has been a homecoming for Brinkman, a Vancouverite who has been travelling the globe performing his science-meets-hip hop routine. More than 200 students at the University of British Columbia (UBC) and Simon Fraser University (SFU) enjoyed two of the shows. The UBC audience was treated to an introductory presentation by linkurl:Joyce Murray,;http://joycemurray.ca/ Minister of Parliament for the local area, who used the opportunity to denounce recent funding cuts to research programs in Canada. Murray just happens to be Brinkman's mother, so in addition to being peer-reviewed, Brinkman may also have the dubious distinction of performing one of the few hip hop shows that's explicitly mom-approved.
Beats thumping, the show bounced all over the evolutionary map, covering natural selection, altruism, group selection, and a host of other topics. Brinkman's rhymes were well-received, and the initial reviews of his performance are overwhelmingly positive. linkurl:Arne Mooers,;http://www.sfu.ca/~amooers/ an SFU evolutionary biologist, said that Brinkman "noticed we all had our mouths hanging open, and it was indeed gobsmackingly mesmerizing. You just don't expect witty lyrics over a hard beat railing against post-modernist waffle on the scientific method. I raved to everyone I bumped into for days."
linkurl:Greg Bole,;http://www.zoology.ubc.ca/person/bole a UBC zoologist who attended the performance, agreed that Brinkman's 21st century treatment of Darwin's ideas was inspired. "Baba showed real passion, for his music, for entertaining the audience and most importantly for his message: which was one of the wonders of science, the beauty of evolution and the close connection of all humans as brothers and sisters," Bole said. "His performance challenged the audiences perceptions of both evolution and hip hop music. His summation of so much of evolutionary thought was impressive and his lyrical inventiveness was dazzling."
Bole was so taken with Brinkman's rhymes that he performed a few lines from the show in a rap for his senior level biology class:
From "I'm a African":
__No I wasn't born in Ghana but Africa is my mama
'Cause that's where my mama got her mitochondria
You can try to fight if you wanna, but it's not gonna change me
'Cause it's plain to see, Africans are my people
And if it's not plain to see then your eyes deceive you
I'm talkin' primeval; the DNA in my veins
Tells a story that reasonable people find believable
But it might blow your transistors; Africa
Is the home of our most recent common ancestors
Which means human beings are all brothers and sisters.__
The rap verses are proving to be excellent pedagogical tools, capable of providing students a current and relevant entree to evolutionary ideas.
Brinkman's busy tour schedule takes him to the United States and Hong Kong next, followed by his annual tree planting expedition to the Canadian Rocky Mountains. In August, "The Rap Guide to Evolution" will hit Edinburgh's illustrious Fringe festival.
**__Related stories:__***linkurl:Darwin vs. His Dad, circa 1831;http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/55374/ [February 2009]*linkurl:Before Darwin;http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/54714/ [June 2008]*linkurl:Darwin and deduction;http://www.the-scientist.com/news/display/54632/ [9th May 2008]
It is entertaining, but I question it's usefulness as a pedagogical tool. Often times when people are trying to reach outside their demographic they alienate themselves further rather than become seen as cool. I think that established scientists will probably appreciate this work much more than undergrads. I myself am not quite out of grad school yet, and while I find they lyrics amazing, I can't help but smirk a little, and am certainly not going to try to show this video to my students.