If you set out to learn about the science of evolution, the world of rap music is likely not where you would start.
But not only does Baba Brinkman's The Rap Guide to Evolution explain Darwin's groundbreaking theory through hip-hop, it has been scientifically peer-reviewed and covered in publications from Scientific American to The New Yorker.
Commissioned by U.K. genomics professor Mark Pallen, author of The Rough Guide to Evolution, to celebrate Darwin's 200th birthday, the rhyme-heavy piece has taken on a life of its own, landing a major award at the Edinburgh Fringe, a five-month stint off-Broadway in New York, and tours across the U.K., Europe and Australia.
In the show, the B.C.-born, New York-based rapper – who rose to academic fame with his rap show about Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales – not only rhymes about evolution, he uses the fiercely competitive, mating-minded, bling-heavy and at times violent hip-hop culture to illustrate Darwin's evolutionary principles, from survival of the fittest to sexual selection. Mr. Brinkman even points to his own work, reminding the audience that if they fail to respond to his show, it could become extinct.
"Rappers are competing for crowds that expect a certain amount of confidence, authority and swagger. It's not, 'If it doesn't feel right, fight the power.' It's, 'Fight the power,'" Mr. Brinkman says. "So it communicates evolution better than many other subjects, because it's already in there."
Of course, evolution can be a hot-button issue, and creationists have branded the show anti-religion. At the same time, it has attracted hip-hop heavyweights, among them Canadian rapper Shad, Public Enemy's Harry Allen and New York's Tonedeff. (Mr. Brinkman still hopes a Jay-Z-sized rap royalty will one day appear.)
But at bottom, he wants The Rap Guide to make everyone notice the potential influence of evolution on all of their choices, from careers to clothes and their mates.
"I lay out how sexual selection works, and how it can lead to things like peacocks' tails, but also to things like deer antlers and arms races over status and rank. So I exhort the women in the crowd to take evolutionary control over their reproductive futures in a big anthem called Don't Sleep With Mean People," the rapper says with a laugh. "Just trying to do my part for the future of benevolent genetics."