This Sounds Interesting . . .
My homeschooling of my 14-year-old daughter now includes reading aloud some newspaper article together every day. Yesterday, we read the article accompanying that photo above of the man with the odd name "Baba" -- or if not 'odd', at least unexpected with the surname "Brinkman" -- and the perhaps even odder title, "Survival of the nerdiest."
Well, that was the title in the International Herald Tribune, our hard copy of the international version of the New York Times. The online NYT original is titled "Paying Homage to Darwin in an Unconventional Format: Rap" (June 27, 2011), and it's written by Dennis Overbye. I rather prefer the IHT title.
The article starts off with a rap that my daughter -- trying to catch the beat -- rattled off out loud:
Don't sleep with mean people, that's the anthemI looked at her and wondered if we should be reading the article, so I asked, "Sa-Rah, do you understand that?"
Please! Think about your granddaughters and grandsons
Don't sleep with mean people, pretty or handsome
Mean people hold the gene pool for ransom.
I was somewhat relieved to hear that she thought that it meant actual sleeping and that mean people would take all the covers or kick you out of bed or whatnot. But in the interests of intellectual integrity, I explained that the lines were about reproductive strategies and were exhorting us not to reproduce mean people.
According to Overbye, these lines come from The Rap Guide to Evolution, a theater-length rap piece "written and performed by Mr. Brinkman":
The show, which just opened for a summer-long run at the SoHo Playhouse in Manhattan, is an hour-and-a-half lecture on Darwin and natural selection disguised as a rant on the history of rap, gangs and murder in Chicago, relations between the sexes and his own stubborn creationist cousins.Hmmm . . . this sounds interesting. A gangsta rapper rapping on evolution? Maybe not exactly that:
Mr. Brinkman is no gangsta. By the usual cultural signifiers, Mr. Brinkman does not fit the rapper stereotype at all. A tall blond Canadian of Dutch ancestry, he was born in 1978 in a log cabin built by his hippie parents and their friends in the West Kootenays, a mountain range in British Columbia. His father runs a company replanting trees after logging operations -- more than a billion replanted so far. His mother is a member of Canada's Parliament.Nineteen-hundred and seventy-eight! Isn't that just a tiny bit late, for some postmodern's birth to rate a Lincoln kind of destiny date?
Sorry, but rap is contagious . . .
Anyway, Mr. Brinkman grew up listening to rap and wanting to be Eminem, but he had more going for him than just that:
He was also a literature nerd as a child and wound up getting a master's degree in medieval literature from the University of Victoria. Along the way he began writing a rap version of Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. "Chaucer needed to be better presented," he explained.Inspiring. Makes me want to get up on my hind legs and rap something, too. I wonder how St. Paul's epistles would sound as rap . . .
Mr. Brinkman took "The Rap Canterbury Tales" to the Edinburgh festival, where it sold out in 2004, which led to "a whole lot of gigs" and a book, he said.
Along the way his work came to the attention of Mark Pallen, a biologist at the University of Birmingham and author of "The Rough Guide to Evolution," who had just done a reggae treatment of Darwin for a Jamaican colleague, and had also been using evolutionary methods to study Chaucer manuscripts. He invited Mr. Brinkman to Birmingham and, as he puts it, "we quickly slipped into an evolutionary groove."
Dr. Pallen asked Mr. Brinkman if he could do for Darwin what he had done for Chaucer.
"Probably," Mr. Brinkman answered. The only hitch was that it had to be done in five months, in time for the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth, on Feb. 12, 2009, which was the occasion for a worldwide celebration of Darwin and evolution science.
Mr. Brinkman bought an audio version of "On the Origin of Species" and listened to it. Then he transferred it to an iPod Shuffle and listened to it again, with the chapters played in random order. "New connections emerged," he said.
The result was what Dr. Pallen called "the first peer-reviewed rap."
At any rate, the man's a success:
Mr. Brinkman performed the show at various venues around Britain for Darwin's February birthday bash and then later on at Edinburgh and one sold-out week in New York in 2009. At one point, he said, he did 53 shows in three and a half weeks.And if you want to hear him rap and explain rap's cultural and even biological signifiers, you can watch this twenty-minute TED lecture by Brinkman. Or if you're more literary than scientific, here's the 'brink man' rapping Chaucer's story in the pardoner's words. He plans his next "geek rap" to be about climate change.
For more on Brinkman, visit his website.