Rap It Up: Faith, Evolution, and Baba Brinkman

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Baba Brinkman in The Rap Guide to Evolution. Photo by Rudy Miller.
Baba Brinkman in The Rap Guide to Evolution. Photo by Rudy Miller.
Baba Brinkman in The Rap Guide to Religion. Production photos by Rudy Miller.

Science vs. Religion. Reason vs. Faith. Oh, the hell with it: True vs. False. These are the fault lines, deep as the core of the warming planet, cleaving their way across American culture, and leaving in their wake a mess of anger, dis- and mistrust, recrimination and vituperation.

If you look at the history of the U.S., sadly, it has always been this way. Just read up on, for example, the legendary Scopes Monkey Trial, which took place way back in 1925, for a little proof.

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Of course, raging and interminable battles between science and religion, reason and faith, and true and false are hardly limited to the cascading shores of these United States. There are just as many rational as there are irrational people pushing their causes and hurling their accusations throughout the Western Hemisphere, from climate change deniers to Holocaust deniers to civil rights and women’s rights and LGBT rights opponents, and speaking of denial, one can hardly argue that the terrorism, violence and bloody wars and skirmishes all over the East, particularly the Middle East, during the last 70 years bears absolutely no relationship to the forces of Science vs. Religion, Reason vs. Faith and True vs. False. It seems to be a case of human nature, human failing and humanity at war with itself.

What might bridge the gap? That, of course, is always the question. What, better yet, might get people talking instead of fighting? Could it be…rap? It is, after all, the predominant lingua franca among so much of the youth of the world, even in those countries, cities, towns and gathering places where free speech and free thought are nonexistent or imperiled. And so, to the degree that such a conjecture might be possible, Baba Brinkman — poet, playwright, rapper — stands at its forefront.

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By lineage, Brinkman, who was born in a log cabin in a remote patch of British Columbia, is the son of Joyce Murray, a member of the Canadian parliament and rising leader of its Liberal Party, and Dirk Brinkman, Sr., who is said to be the only man on the planet to have successfully run a private company that has planted more than one billion trees — that’s 1,000,000,000. It is of no small consequence, Brinkman’s “roots.”

DCIM101GOPRO Political awareness and advocacy, heightened social consciousness, a passion for reason, rationality and science – these run through his veins, no question. But Brinkman’s work as a solo performer, even as they lean heavily on the side of science, reason and truth, are not motivated by meanness — he’s a mirth-y guy, more into kicking it rhyme-wise than kicking detractors in the ass. Brinkman means what he raps and raps what he means, but not for mere partisan sake. The dude simply wraps in rap.

His full name is Dirk Murray Brinkman, Jr. — “Baba” is an affectionate moniker bestowed by his dad. To date, he has written and performed five hip-hop plays; his latest, The Rap Guide to Religion, has extended at least until March 1 at the Soho Playhouse (15 Vandam St.).

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Here’s a squib about the show:

The Rap Guide to Religion is a new species of theatre, part hip-hop concert, part stand up comedy, and part TED Talk, exploring one of the most heated questions of our age: what’s the point of religion? Taking a scientific approach to the question, Canadian hip-hop artist Baba Brinkman performs faith-illuminating songs inspired by the best of evolutionary and cognitive science, with examples from his own family history (Baba’s ultra-religious great-great-great-grandfather sired more than 8,000 descendants).
Why do most humans believe in a higher power? What are those beliefs good for? And once they are gone, what can replace them? Fresh from a 5-star run at the 2014 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, this groundbreaking new work explores the various ways and means by which religion evolves in our species, leaving audiences with a new appreciation of religion, and its critics. It’s time to eff with the ineffable.

He has also called his genre “lit hop,” which is why, when The Clyde Fitch Report asked to interview him, we asked Brinkman if he’d respond to our question in the best way he knows how. And he did.

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For tickets to The Rap Guide to Religion, call click here.

And now, 5 questions Baba Brinkman has never been asked:

Baba Brinkman by Nastaran Tavakoli-Far
Baba Brinkman by Nastaran Tavakoli-Far

What’s the most perceptive question anyone has asked you about your work?
Sometimes questions are dull and other times their enlightened;
One of the best I’ve had yet was from Michael Eric Dyson.
He said: “Your subject matter is surprisingly elaborate,
Is that a tactic to legitimize rap in the eyes of the establishment?”

What’s the most idiotic question anyone has asked you about your work?
Questions are often difficult to coax from timid folks,
And those who dis are less prone to be kissed under the mistletoe,
But if you want to add to my index of insipid quotes
And make the idiotic list, then just ask me: “Is this a hoax?”

What’s the weirdest question anyone has asked you about your work?
I’ve answered many questions, but never quite like this before
So I guess the prize goes to the Clyde Fitch Report.
Rap is an oral medium, a crafted audible platform
So why would you ask me to provide written answers “in rap form”?

Artists could explore the endurance of religion in many ways — on canvases, on big and small screens, through orchestras, through mime. Your medium is rap. What does rap give you as an artist that no other medium does? How did you know? How do you know when you’re on your game as a rapper or just phoning it in?
I paint a picture with rhyme, that’s a primary obsession of mine.
I could try to answer your questions with the flick of my wrist as a mime
But why? Rap is a visceral, rhythmical, multi-syllable
Festival of intricately woven linguistics, so…I just know.

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Do believers in faith and believers in science have nothing to learn from each other? How do we reconcile the antipathy that faith believers and science believers have for one another?
If the origin of religion lies in our past evolution,
Then faith is part of science, a set of adaptive illusions.
Science can study faith and learn to track its vocabulary
And faith can turn to science to learn what is and isn’t imaginary.

Bonus question:

It’s the worst day of your life. We don’t want to know what transpired, but what you turned to, what you fell back on, to get through it. Was it faith? Put it differently: Can one be secular yet spiritual? Are you?
If “spiritual” is defined as “connected to something greater,”
Then I’m as spiritual as it gets; I’m in love with rugged nature.
A carbon constellation at home in a community of human beings,
And that consoles me when a day conspires to ruin me.

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