Baba Brinkman’s theatrical hip-hop performance "The Rap Guide to Evolution," will be at the ‘62 Center in Williamstown on Feb. 8 and 9. The performance looks at evolution from the perspective of one of the world’s most widespread and vital lyrical art forms. The following are excerpts from Brinkman’s conversation from New York City with Advocate reporter Alex Elvin on Jan. 30.
It seems clear that using hip-hop is a way to help educate people
about evolution, but what is the project also doing for hip-hop?
Well, I’m glad you asked about that because it definitely has a twofold agenda. One of the things I try to do is get people to be more open to the theory of evolution. But I also love hearing from people of my parents’ generation - like baby boomers and that [group] - who usually don’t like rap, and they give the show a chance out of morbid curiosity, and then afterwards go, Wow, I never thought about it that way, and sort of look at it through new eyes. Because if rap is capable of communicating some of the most complex ideas in science and in history, then it’s got to be taken seriously as an art form alongside poetry and other forms of music and theater, all that. So that’s definitely part of my agenda.
Have you had much feedback from the hip-hop community?
As you’ve been performing this show, and learning about the
connections between hip-hop and evolutionism, and what
performance means in terms of evolution, have you become
more self conscious about what you’re doing, or have you started
to alter your approach to hip-hop because of that?
Totally. I think every artist does that, but different artists are more and less aware of the process. Because this is the subject matter of the show, I’ve made it more of a point to pay attention to the ways in which audience response influence the way my performance changes. And actually that’s become the explicit subject matter of the show. There’s a section of the show called performance-feedback-revision, and the point about that is that’s how the craft of an artist evolves, but you could also use that as a metaphor for how evolution works in nature because you could look at an animal as a performance of its genes, and whether it survives and reproduces or not is a form of feedback from the environment telling its genome whether it’s well-adapted. And then the revision is when some die and some don’t die, then over time the genome of both species is literally revised. So that concept drives the show and I have been fine-tuning and tweaking things about the show, and also just my own craft and how I write each next thing is based on the feedback I got from the last thing. There’s a little freestyle session in the show as well, right? So I improvise rap as an example of live mutation.
Are there any particular insights you’ve had during performances,
or realizations about your own
relationship to performance?
I think the evolutionary view of human behavior is a good way to Š cultivate a space of empathy and non-judgment, because you see people acting in ways that seem counterproductive or maladaptive or self-defeating or whatever, and a lot of that stuff is actually about instincts that evolved in environments that are really different than this environment. And there’s different parts of our brains competing for different agendas, and [some of those are] more instinctual, ancestral ones and we behave in counter productive ways. So when you see people fight or give into lust and screw up their reputation, or if they eat too much and get obese or spend all their money on a Vegas weekend and then have a big credit hangover and things like that - a lot of those things have to do with evolutionary drives that we’re struggling to overcome with our conscious minds. And for me, I’ve become more understanding - in both the comprehension and the sympathetic sense of the word - of human foibles by this project.
Is there anything else you’d like
to mention about the show
that you think readers
will be interested to know?
I’d like to invite them to look it up online and check out some of the songs. There’s music videos, there’s albums that can be streamed and downloaded. And you gotta hear it to believe it. Don’t judge it unless you hear it. ‘Cause that’s the way that it’s gonna thrive and the memes are gonna spread.