WritingEssays, articles, and blogs about rap, literature, and science. Baba's first book of poetry "The Rap Canterbury Tales" was published by Talon Books in 2006.
PublicationsPublications The Rap Canterbury Tales (Talon Books 2006).
Illustrated facing-page paperback featuring Baba's rap lyrics and the original Middle English source, with illustrations by Erik Brinkman (Baba's brother).
ArticlesDarwin on the Mic - Published in the journal Evolution, April 2015
Hip Hop Music As Brain Food (pdf) - Published in The Informal Learning Review No. 121
The Speciation of Rap (pdf) - Published in The Evolutionary Review Volume 2
Finding God in the Female Orgasm (pdf) - Published in The Evolutionary Review Volume 3
Senescence Has Arrived
With my 40th birthday coming up later this month, it’s high time for a rap music video about the evolutionary biology of aging. Why do our bodies degenerate as we age, giving us a natural life span? Some mammals only live for a few years, others like the bowhead whale live for more than 200 years, so aging is obviously malleable. So what shapes it? Do we grow old and die so we can make way for the next generation? (Hint: not even close). Evolution gives us some surprising answers though, and I’ve tried to summarized them in my new rap video, Senescence. Please share the links with friends if you enjoy it!
If you’re curious about what else I’ve been up to, check out my recent interview on the MC Lars Podcast, a long-form conversation on hip-hop, theatre, science, literature, and how I found my lane in the rap game as a young poetry nerd and tree planter in Canada beginning twenty years ago. I wrote my first rap song in 1998, released my first record in 2004, and have been mutating and evolving the craft ever since. Senescence may come for me eventually, but for now I’m staying ahead of it.
After fifty-five off-Broadway performances in New York since March 1st, I took a short break over the past few weeks for some family time, and also to attend the legendary Sci Foo Camp at Google in California. The organizers curated a group of 350 scientists and science innovators, and one science rapper, to discuss the present and future of human problem solving acuity. The highlights? Talking with geneticist George Church about the possibility of consciousness in the organoid brains his lab is growing in vitro (probably soon), and talking with Larry Page about whether Google’s AI systems will ever be conscious (he doesn’t think it’s a coherent question).
I also had a blast teaching my first-ever freestyle rap workshop to a group of scientists and computer programmers at Google. I wasn’t sure whether I could get total rap novices to perform in just a one hour session, but the enthusiasm and spirit of play took hold and the results were hilarious and impressive. Until you’ve seen a senior particle physicist going head to head in an 8-Mile style battle with a stem cell biologist over a G-Unit instrumental, both for their first time ever, you haven’t fully explored the limits of hip-hop’s potential.
And now Rap Guide to Consciousness continues off-Broadway for another five weeks of fun, starting tonight. The official press release with showtimes and review quotes is available online here, and even though most of you on this mailing list are not in the media, maybe you know someone with a blog or a news platform you could forward it to. Or if you’ve seen the show please add a review of your own to my listing on Show Score, the Rotten Tomatoes of NY Theatre.
In recent podcast news, Heather and I recently told the story of how we first met and fell in love on a wonderful science podcast called Story Collider, and Star Talk recently released an updated version of my guest appearance at BAMfrom a few months back, in which Brian Greene, Chuck Nice, and Neil deGrasse Tyson mix it up for half an hour on the origins of the universe and astrophysics, and then I’m given five minutes to summarize their discussion in a half-written, half-freestyle track about free will and the brain. My favourite line of the freestyle is: “I can’t stop, I’m stuck here tryin’ to bust raps / I could no more stop than Neil could shave off his moustache!” Should we think of free will as the freedom to make arbitrarily random swerves in our behaviour? Or the freedom to explore opportunities in accordance with our goals? Obviously I could quit rapping and Neil could change his signature look, but that doesn’t sound to me like the kind of freedom worth wanting.
Philosopher Daniel Dennett proposes a “hard question” of consciousness to replace the supposed “hard problem”, in an excellent essay entitled “Are We Explaining Consciousness Yet?” that sparked my original interest in the subject more than eight years ago. The hard question is: first some activity occurs in the brain, and then what happens? The idea is that it’s the aftermath of neural events that determines whether those events count as conscious or not, rather than the events themselves. But this principle applies to life as well. What are the important moments, achievements, and ideas in our lives? It all depends on the sequel events that follow them.
First you have an idea for an experiment, first you meet someone and feel an attraction, first you write a hip-hop theatre show about consciousness, and then what happens?
Deepak Chopra and Freestyle Battles… Oh My!
Broadway World just announced a one-month extension for Rap Guide to Consciousness at the Soho Playhouse, with off-Broadway shows added until May 31st. If you have a social media channel, please share the good news! And here’s the official press release for regular old unsocial media.
“You learn about science via Rap Guide to Consciousness the same effortless way you learn about history via Hamilton” – YesBroadway
In other surprising news, I have been entering freestyle competitions off and on since moving to New York in 2011, and on Monday night I finally won a trophy for rapping. Not science rapping, just rapping. Check out the post from Supreme Bars, announcing their April 2018 champion rapper and producer. I’m not sure how newsworthy this fact is, but the rappers in New York are formidable and I’ve been into freestyle for a long time, entered my first battle in 2002, and still love the thrill and sport of it, so indulge me a victory lap.
On a slightly different note, Deepak Chopra seems to like my latest song “Heaven’s Gate“, which samples his voice in the chorus. He tweeted it out to his followers and even agreed to join me at the show for a talkback and audience Q&A on May 13th, which will be interesting since our views on the nature of mind are clearly divergent. Still, if I can get both Dan Dennett and Deepak to rock out to the same show, the overall harmony of the world must be increasing.
“Rap Guide to Consciousnessis a delight for the intellectual, a delight for the rap junkie, a delight for stoners and for STEM fielders” – Theater Is Easy
Finally, tomorrow night’s show is going super meta. A research group called Lab of Misfits is studying the effects of live performance on the brain, and tomorrow they will have a whole row of audience members hooked up to EEG brain scanners during my performance, capturing the real-time activity of human brains experiencing brain science-themed rap. I’m not sure how long before we can release the results of the study, but I for one am fascinated to see what my show does to brains. Most nights I only get to see and hear the external behavioural effects, which is already reward enough to keep me going.
Consciousness in New York
Two weeks ago I performed my favourite gig since moving to NYC in 2011. The venue was BAM, a 2,200 seat concert hall in Brooklyn, and it was sold out for Neil deGrasse Tyson’s StarTalk Radio taping. On stage with me were Neil, physicist Brian Greene, and comedian Chuck Nice, as well as significant other Heather Berlin, and my song “Can’t Stop” about freestyle rap and the neuroscience and philosophy of free will received a standing ovation, and prompted some very funny banter on stage afterwards. I wasn’t there for the banter, because I had to run straight off stage to a waiting car to get to my off-Broadway show later that same night. But you can now listen to the whole thing on the just-released episode of Star Talk.
Audience responses to the show have been amazing over the past few weeks, and I’ve been getting friends to film crowd response clips outside the venue and editing them into 30-second highlight reels for social media. You can watch the first three of these trailers here, here, and here.
Actually, there’s one slight exception to my “audience responses have been amazing” hot take. A group of Donald J. Trump fans stormed out of the show in protest two weeks ago, after enduring one joke too many at the expense of their idol. They yelled, called me a fascist, and (unsuccessfully) demanded their money back. It was surreal, but I won’t go into detail in this missive. Here’s a facebook post and thread if you’re curious.
So far the show has been reviewed only twice by New York media, with DC Metro Theater Arts calling it “an ingenious look at the hard problem, filled with information and wit, and set to a sensational hip-hop score” and PXP Magazine calling it “the funniest, most impressive, dopest f**king science lesson you’re ever going to experience.” Reviews from both critics and audiences for New York theatre are aggregated by a site called Show Score, so if you have seen the show, please drop by and write a review!
Finally, I recorded a couple of new tracks for the off-Broadway version of the show, which I’ve decided to also add to the Rap Guide to Consciousness album as bonus tracks. You can listen to the first one, “N.E.R.D.”, which is now available as a free download, and features me singing a lullaby to the nerds we’ve lost, and the ones with whom we still have the rare privilege of interacting for a too-brief interlude.
Rest in peace, beautiful nerd.
Three performances into my off-Broadway run of Rap Guide to Consciousness and the crowds have been a blast, with over 100 people in the house last night for my Saturday night opening weekend show. Some kinks to work out on the tech and some script variations I’m still testing each night to get the timing and wording right, but definitely off to an exciting start, with awesome feedback so far. Also, here’s an excellent theatrical review from DC Metro Theater Arts.
Directed by Darren Lee Cole with a perfect balance of high physical energy and spot-on delivery, the eminently likeable Brinkman alternates his solo performance between segments of rap music and illustrated scientific lectures, incisive jokes and serious ruminations, personal reflections on his own life and direct engagement with the audience. He actively moves around the stage, employing familiar hip-hop moves for emphasis, inserting relatable pop-culture references for easy comprehension of the challenging subject matter, soliciting our opinions on still-unanswered questions of probability and theory, and amazing us with his extraordinary skills at rhyming, rhythm, and free-style rap to a pre-recorded beat.
Come see the show while it’s still running! Tickets available here.
I’m currently hard at work on the script, music, visuals, and stagecraft for Rap Guide to Consciousness, which opens at the Soho Playhouse on March 1st for a two month off-Broadway run!
If you’ve seen any of my previous science/rap performances you won’t want to miss this one, or if you’ve never seen one, this is the ideal first exposure. The show is all about your subjective experiences (and mine, and anyone else who’s ever been awake and aware of something), approached from the perspective of neuroscience and the evolution of brains. Many of the songs are also featured on the Rap Guide to Consciousness Album, which I released last fall.
Use the code “QUALIA” to get discount tickets, and feel free to reach out to me if you have ideas about who I should invite to the show!
NOW AVAILABLE FOR PRE-ORDER
The Rap Guide to Climate Chaos is the seventh instalment in my “Rap Guide” series, exploring big ideas from science and human behaviour. This one dives deep into the science, politics, and economics of global warming, ranging in scale from the smallest carbon atom to the global energy system. Peer-reviewed by top scientists and featuring none other than Bill Nye in his rapping debut, this is hard-core knowledge-based hip-hop for hungry minds and switched-on citizens.
The official release date is September 30th, but pre-order now and you’ll get four tracks in advance, and the other twenty (!) when the album drops.
Initially scheduled for an eight week run at the Soho Playhouse, Rap Guide to Climate Chaos is now extended until June 11th. Tickets and showtimes here.
For more about the show, check out the recent Huffington Post review, published under the headline “This Guy Raps About Climate Change, and Bill Nye Loves Him”:
Brinkman is a particularly adept communicator. He condenses an encyclopedic knowledge of climate change into 90 minutes of digestible rhymes. Brinkman’s rapping is smart, funny and informative. And he approaches his craft as a devoted student of hip-hop, lacing his songs with rhythmic and lyrical allusions to the genre’s greats: De la Soul, Nas, Run The Jewels. – Huffington Post
Good things are happening with “Rap Guide to Climate Chaos”. After successes in Edinburgh and at the Paris conference, the show will soon be starting an off-Broadway run, opening exactly one month from today at the Soho Playhouse. In the meantime, I’m hard at work recording a full studio album version of “Climate Chaos”, featuring 24 original tracks of barnstorming, alarm-raising, peer-reviewed hip-hop music.
My goal is to tell the story of global warming, including how we got here and how we can solve it, and to do that I need to hire some help, specifically music producers, engineers, and session musicians to really make these songs come to life. So I’m turning to IndieGogo to raise the funds, which means I’m also turning to you, to help me raise $10,000 in 40 days for album expenses.
Since the momentum of a campaign is driven by funders, every dollar helps. If you would buy this album, please pre-purchase it through the campaign, and if you want to see the show off-Broadway (or if you want to give your friend tickets), you can do that through the campaign as well. There are also some awesome higher-tier perks like original raps, live performances, and consultations with yours truly on whatever subject you hold dear.
And even if you can’t put money on it, please share the campaign with your network via social media or email. I’m of the belief that the climate crisis has to come fully to the centre of popular culture before the political will to solve it will go mainstream. If that’s so, I hope my rap album will help. And I hope you will help me make it happen.
Thanks as always for your support!