Rap as an art form has continually evolved. From its tribal, beat-based story-telling syncopation around a fire to its modern, beat-based story-telling syncopation in 50,000 capacity sports arenas, rap has been in constant flux in how the form has been portrayed, enacted, and interpreted.
The same can be said for modern biological evolution. Evolution is constant flux, no matter how small the change may be: maybe an index finger will grow to match a middle finger; maybe someone will be born with equal-length top and bottom eyelids; maybe someone will be born without ears. Evolution is not without its bumps and detours along the way, but it is progress.
So it is no surprise that Canadian rapper Baba Brinkman would take both of these linear ideas of evolution, and evolve them from performance, feedback, and revision, into a new album, The Rap Guide to Evolution: Revised, and then bring it to New York City as a public performance.
To be fair, I am moderately new to the style of Baba Brinkman. About half a year ago, I was introduced to him after a conversation about how painful it is to read medieval literature in Old English. (Yes, I am that much of a dork.)
Upon hearing how much of a dork I was, the young lady responded with, “Oh, you should hear Baba Brinkman. He does a rap on the The Canterbury Tales by Chaucer.”
My dorky response was, “Rap? In, like, Old English?”
This was not the case, unfortunately, but I was introduced to the humorously intelligent poetry that defines Baba Brinkman. Add to that beats that can vary from hard-pounding to fluid, and you have a highly evolved rap artist that will make you think, make you laugh, and make you dance, all at the same time.
When I heard Baba Brinkman would be performing The Rap Guide to Evolution: Revised, I felt obliged to attend. I had to see how this style transposed to the stage. What I saw was unexpected, but enjoyable. The performance is not so much a concert, but more a staged poetic reading with visuals and a deejay supplying the beats to go with Brinkman’s verses. People generally move in their seats at the SoHo Playhouse rather than start raising the roof. This play on performance brings rap back to poetry readings in coffee houses, but larger, and without the condescending vibe. This comforting vibe can only be attributed to Brinkman himself, whose stage presence reflects the characteristics of a teacher eased down with equal parts jester and lyrical wordsmith.
Does this work? Yes. By taking out the concert approach, Baba Brinkman makes sure that the audience captures the words themselves, and how they are expressed rather than allowing the audience to completely interact with each other through dance, thus distorting the initial message. It is through this performance decision that a parallel of rap evolution and biological evolution is brought to light: evolution can backtrack at times to recreate a stream of change, but only if that stream gains support. Hopefully this evolution continues.