Evolution for Everyone

Evolution won’t truly be accepted by the general public until it is communicated through the arts and popular media. Baba Brinkman is leading the way with his Rap Guide to Evolution, which made its debut at the Cambridge Darwin Festival in 2009 and has been performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the Rachael Maddow Show, and college campuses on both sides of the Atlantic. Olivia Judson, author of Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation, raved about one of Baba’s performances in a New York Times column. The academic journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution gave it their first-ever music review.

Communicating a subject such as evolution through a medium such as rap is special by itself, but something else makes The Rap Guide extra special: Baba has done his homework and acquired a level of expertise about evolution comparable to a good graduate student. Thus, when he raps about topics such as the unity of common descent, the evolution of cooperation, sexual selection, and costly signaling , the cognoscenti are delighted along with the average inner city kid.

Baba’s success stands in stark contrast to the slow and even backward progress of teaching evolution in our public schools and increasing literacy in the general public. Now you can help Baba spread the word even more widely by contributing to two new ventures.

If you are a small spender, you can help Baba produce a DVD of the Rap Guide with music videos for each track, which can be used as a powerful classroom educational tool in addition to other media outlets. This project is already being supported by the Wellcome Trust, a foundation that typically funds biomedical research, but additional contributions will help to produce Hollywood quality videos. You can contribute through the mechanism of crowd funding, which includes cool incentives such as having a picture of yourself incorporated into the videos. Go here for more.

If you are a big spender, you can invest in an Off Broadway production of the Rap Guide that is being planned by Dovetail Productions. A minimum investment of 10K will give you a share of the profits if they have a successful run, so this isn’t a charitable contribution–it’s a way to do well by doing good. Go here for more.

Both opportunities are time limited so you need to act fast. For those who dream about a world in which everyone truly “gets” evolution, this is what you can do to help achieve it.


  1. #1 ~_~
    December 7, 2010

    I can’t think of a way of making evolution more unpopular than by trying to get highschoolers or gradeschoolers to listen to a rap about it. Just think of how badly this could backfire:

    Teacher: “Hey kids, we’re gonna watch a video by Baba Brinkman-”

    Class: “Baba? What the fuck kind of name is ‘Baba’?”

    Teacher: “-and he’s going to teach you about evolution!”

    Class: “…isn’t that what you should be doing?”

    Teacher: “By rapping! Doesn’t that sound swell?”

    Class: “Oh my god, is that a Canadian, super-obvious, super-lame ripoff of Eminem we’re being forced to watch? I wish I skipped class today.”

    And then the class all chokes to death on their own bile at how lame the video is within the first ten seconds.

    I would have rather cut my testicles off and eat them instead of being forced to sit through such a video. He’s not actually going to reach out to any kids, but is only a fad in the skeptic community because of “HAHA IT’S FUNNY BECAUSE IT’S A RAP ABOUT SCIENCE INSTEAD OF THE USUAL GUNS/DRIVEBYS/HOOKERS/COCAINE”.

    Biology doesn’t have to be boring; just point to any of the huge number of amazingly fucking weird creatures in the world, that shit’s interesting. But this will never actually spark interest in evolution – it’ll just get dismissed as another one of those stupid, gimmicky videos the teacher made you watch in class that you forgot about immediately afterward. Forcing your students to watch a really awful movie where you spend most of the time focusing on how bad it is isn’t the correct way to make teaching interesting.

  2. #2 Pandurata
    December 7, 2010

    @ ~_~

    Tastes may differ and approaches as well. Personally, I enjoy rap music (among many other types of music) but am constantly put off by the lyrics of the genre. Baba is quite refreshing with clever lines and interesting subjects. And yes – while many kids will pick his rhymes apart bit by bit (a usual response in rap music), they will at the same time be confronted with vocabulary they would normally not encounter in rap music, which might just get a number of them interested in the topic itself. (if only based on the desire to show off their skills in that they can come up with a rhyme more clever than Baba)

    Can’t hurt to present the material in this way in addition to the regular lectures and it might just spark interest in some who would otherwise never give a second thought to evolution.

    Just my thoughts on the topic based on personal experience: Baba got me to re-read Chaucer after listening to his Rap Guide To The Canterbury Tales.

  3. #3 Syd
    December 8, 2010

    @ ~_~

    First of, as some one who is huge fan of hip hop, and who works with youth…and who knows Baba well, you are dead wrong. First of, this is not some school boards lame attempt to hire someone who has no idea to how to rap,and film a bunch of shitty 1980 style rap videos about evolution.

    No we have Baba, who has some major talent as an MC, and some videos that are going to be high production value, with from what i see look like they will be just what will peek the interest of youth

    Im guessing your 60+ and have no real clue about youth culture today. Thats not a bad thing, but instead of trying to have a negative opinion of something you are so clearly out of the loop on…well save us all and go away

  4. #4 Random Excess
    December 8, 2010

    It is easy to criticize the unknown. I get the feeling that you have not even listened to the Rap Guide to Evolution. Do yourself a favor and listen to music, listen to the lyrics before spewing your venom. You can find the album at http://bababrinkman.bandccamp.com

    If you know any school age children you can have them listen to the music too. It is informative, clever and refreshing. While one should not expect to learn evolution from rap, it can be used a catalyst for study. The facts presented are accurate and will not contradict the further study.

    As a final note I have to agree with Pandurata on the Canterbury Tales. I have since read most of them and have all of them in audio format on my iPod. The best result from teachiing is that sparking an interest, Rap Guide to Evolution will surely do that.

  5. #5 Owen
    December 8, 2010

    @ ~_~

    Have you ever heard Baba Brinkman perform?? Recently he came to my university (college to US peeps) at the invitation of the head of our English Dept (and this is a Top 5 UK university) to perform some of the Canterbury Tales and Beowulf in his unique style.

    Having studied the texts he reinterpreted I can assure you that his knowledge of them far surpassed mine – he even slipped original Chaucer and wordplay into his rhymes with brilliant subtlety. On top of this, he was performing some of the work in the way that it was originally meant: to be told as a story aloud.

    The point I am trying to make is that Baba is anything but a gimmick. Your post stinks of assumed snobbery – however, to place all spoken word performances under the same blanket is naïve and ludicrous. The fact that the only person you can compare Baba to is Eminem just highlights your own ignorance. That’s as narrow-minded as comparing Buddy Holly and David Gilmour because they both play Stratocasters.

    Whatever the outcome of this project, it will be a mile away from the cheese that you are, for some reason, imagining. In fact I’d bet money on it being brilliant. You know, like the other stuff Baba brings his talents to (it’s all on his website, why not give it a listen for an idea of the guy’s abilities).

    Oh, and if you’re so childish as to say something like, “I would have rather cut my testicles off and eat them instead of being forced to sit through such a video”, I really hope you’re also proud enough to stay true to your word.

  6. #6 riko
    December 8, 2010

    Look at all this attention your a getting, I guess your trying to choke this blog – and probably any other with quality content – to death with your own bile. You’re obviously not a fan of rap “THE USUAL GUNS/DRIVEBYS/HOOKERS/COCAINE” (snivelled in a wheezy nasally voice) and it’s even more obvious you know nothing of evolutionary biology “amazingly fucking weird creatures” (what, like cave trolls?), so then the only conclusions one can make as to why your lurking on this page is your that you either lost or lonely. Both deserving pity, ooh has the wittle baby lost its mommy? I would suggest you actually watch or listen to Baba to positively guide you, but as you said you would rather “cut (your own) testicles off and eat them,” which would clearly be a much needed (as your prove) benefit to our entire gene pool. Ta ta.
    I apologize to DSW for feeding the troll, he was just so sad and hungry. Thank you for keeping us updated from the evolutionary vanguard.

  7. #7 slydog
    December 8, 2010

    @ -_-
    Yeah… and you base your opinion on what?… Your “years of teaching experience”?? Your vast knowledge of the “Rap genre”??
    Maybe you’re a fundy-retard that doesn’t understand evolution and feel the need to hurl shitty insults like a misbehaved chimp that hurls his own feces?

    Obviously, you have nothing valuable to add to the conversation, so you belittle what you don’t understand.
    Thanks for your worthless input.

  8. #8 SN
    December 8, 2010


    Love that because Baba and Eminem are both white, one has to be a rip-off of the other — in spite of the fact that the two have nothing in common, content-wise. I’d love to hear some more of the sweeping racial conclusions you draw from superficial coincidence.

    Incidentally, Baba took up rap after writing a thesis on Chaucer and the history of spoken-word literary performance (which dates back to Chaucer and way before — sup Virgil). And considering that Chaucer wrote plenty about the medieval equivalents of “GUNS/DRIVEBYS/HOOKERS/COCAINE” (public fights; domestic abuse; sexual empowerment and repression; and booze, for example), also in a more or less hilarious way —

    well, suffice to say, it’s pretty obvious you have no idea what you’re talking about, nor of the tradition Brinkman’s riffing.

  9. #9 SN
    December 8, 2010

    Wait, sorry, wait. Revelation. Chaucer was also white — is Eminem ripping off Chaucer?!

  10. #10 Eleanor
    December 20, 2010

    @ everyone.

    Rap isn’t going to replace teaching but hey it can be a nice diversion and it can spark interest, so that’s great. Props for bringing forward a great subject, Baba does it well and with a high level of accuracy, though not quite as high as would be nice.

    Where my problem comes is that Baba can be irresponsible with what is essentially an honor. Like when he calls women “sluts” attached to his bitterly bias interpretation of biological systems. It’s misogyny plain and simple. What is more unfortunate is that it is a reflection of misogyny that does have a habit of creeping its way into such interpretation. Baba should be ashamed of calling women sluts because they have periods and hormonal alignments. I know that he’d probably say it’s tongue in cheek, but actually it’s a serious affront and an attack on women. It was an attempt at cool that failed.

    Are you seriously planning to take that into the classroom? I’d kick his ass before I let that happen. If you are his friend ask him if he’s going to go into a classroom of boys and girls, or just girls, or just boys, and call women sluts. He disgusts me.

    And for the comments that got upperty about the Eminem comparison, Brinkman makes that comparison in his own music. He craves acclaim. He’s willing to get it off the backs of women.

    It’s so annoying because if it weren’t for that tendency I’d be his biggest fan. Still maybe it isn’t a tendency and maybe it’s the root of what he is.

  11. #11 David Gerstle
    January 27, 2011

    Eleanor’s post hits a major point. In his stand-up comedy and rap, Brinkman engages the more sexist (not to mention facile) stereotypes about women, romance, and sex. I would add that he also plays with the more cynical and deprecating aspects of evolutionary science, which already has a not-so-flattering reputation of representing women as sperm banks and/or baby machines. Particularly heartless is his stand up routine describing an “experiment” in which he called his sister every day for a month and attempted to plot her menstrual cycle by the tone her responses. Perhaps she found it funny in the end. It makes me cringe just to think about it.

    He is, of course, free to think and say (and rap) what he likes. And David Wilson is free to give him his patronage. Brinkman should be taken to task for his sad position toward women, though, as Eleanor has highlighted. But I tend to think that this is not sexism on his part. It is rather a kind of intellectual and artistic laziness that uses irreverent or ‘politically incorrect’ material in lieu of substance. Much the same thing is happening in other areas of popular science (“natural history of rape”, and so forth), so he fits right in.

    However, just because Brinkman shocks and amuses his audiences doesn’t mean he deserves our attention (or our money). And just because no one has (yet) called him to task, what he says is not necessarily right, justified, noble, or even interesting. His raps and comedy strike me as just another vacuous attempt to “bridge” the arts and sciences by someone who doesn’t do either one of them particularly well. Evolutionary science is already marginalized and picked-on enough in our public schools and colleges. Do we really want to waste our time with this kind of twaddle, just because it “makes science fun”?

  12. #12 capsiplex
    January 29, 2011

    Rap isn’t going to replace teaching but hey it can be a nice diversion and it can spark interest, so that’s great. Props for bringing forward a great subject, Baba does it well and with a high level of accuracy, though not quite as high as would be nice.

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