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The Rap Guide to Evolution

Baba Brinkman’s well-crafted performance gives a hip-hop spin to the theories of Charles Darwin.

Baba Brinkman in The Rap Guide to Evolution
(© Audra Melton)
Baba Brinkman in The Rap Guide to Evolution
(© Audra Melton)

A white guy from Canada delivers a hip-hop lecture on the theories of Charles Darwin in The Rap Guide to Evolution, now at Soho Playhouse. Writer/performer Baba Brinkman frequently surprises with this well-crafted performance that is part comedy routine, part music concert, and part science lesson.

Early in the show, Brinkman allays some audience members’ fears by directly confronting the issue of his race in a witty reinterpretation of the black nationalist rap, “I’m a African” by Dead Prez, that also addresses his thesis. As he states, “From a scientific standpoint it’s irrefutable that we all have African ancestors.”

Brinkman presents a heady mix of personal stories, songs, literary references, statistics, and scientific research, as he discusses the subject of evolution. There’s also a fair amount of audience interaction.

A highlight within the show is a rap about the sexual practices of animals as applied to human behavior. It sent a mother and child running for the door the night I saw the show, but it’s incredibly funny if not exactly appropriate for the little ones.

Throughout the 90-minute performance, Brinkman shares the stage with DJ Jamie Simmonds, who ably mixes and scratches the sounds to which Brinkman performs. The production also gets an assist from projection designer Wendall K. Harrington, whose use of charts, paintings, text, videos, photographs, and illustrations serve as an ever-changing backdrop to Brinkman’s stories.

As a performer, Brinkman radiates charm and a comic goofiness. But he’s also able to transform his onstage persona for segments that have a more “gangster rap” style, which is done both earnestly and tongue-in-cheek. As a writer, his wordplay is clever and his stories both entertaining and educational. And while his solution to the world’s problems — “Don’t sleep with mean people” — is perhaps a little too simplistic, the majority of ideas he grapples with in his show are treated with more nuance and complexity.

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