Survival of the fittest – Baba Brinkman releases videos

I’m a huge fan of Baba Brinkman, the Canadian artist who gave us the Rap Guide to Evolution (as well as the Rap Canterbury Tales, and the Rap Guide to Human Nature). Yesterday he launched his new suite of videos and teaching resources to accompany the Rap Guide to Evolution. Funded by the Wellcome Trust and made in partnership with London’s SPL Productions, the videos are a wonderful showcase of Brinkman’s tracks and should be a valuable resource for teaching evolution.

If you haven’t heard Baba’s work before, you might imagine a white Canadian guy rapping about cerebral topics like Natural Selection and humanity’s African origins would be clunky pseudo-cool more reminiscent of a government education campaign encouraging kids to eat more fruit or stay off drugs. Nothing could be further than the truth. Baba combines a profound and nuanced understanding of evolution with a genuine rap sensibility and a great deal of humour. He may be an unusual musical persona, but he is a genuine talent and he has plenty to say.

I wish that I could condense into a 5000 word book chapter the kind of message that Baba seems to fit in every stanza of his work. His first-released video – Performance-Feedback-Revision compares Natural Selection with the process a poet or a rapper goes through in crafting a piece of work. Like all metaphors, it shouldn’t be plumbed too deep (Baba doesn’t), but it gives a simple clarity to the process of natural selection. Just as Baba draws on the response he gets from his audience (feedback) to build on the successful and effective parts of his raps (revision), so the traits that most effectively ensure an individual’s reproductive success are retained, and built upon in subsequent generations.

The other video released yesterday was Survival of the Fittest. Here Baba has drawn heavily on the 1995 track of the same name by Mobb Deep a truly hardcore duo out of Queens.  Using the same music and much of the same imagery, Baba cleverly crafts a message about life in violent neighborhoods where violence among young men and teenage pregnancy can be understood as evolved respoonses to inequity and short life expectancy. Here Baba draws on some of the most inspired and surprising research in all of evolutionary psychology – Martin Daly and Margo Wilson’s work on homicide.

It’s worth a look at Baba’s video for Survival of the Fittest (embedded above). It mimics the most gangsta traditions of rap videos, replete with graffiti-saturated walls, a fire in a barrel and shady-looking homies. And his argument illustrates the social policy relevance of evolutionary psychology. I made a similar argument in the last two chapters of Sex, Genes & Rock ‘n’ Roll, mostly in the context of Rock music in the sixties and seventies.

Footnote: Egregious self-promotion

I discovered Baba’s Natural Selection in the late stages of preparing my book – early enough to cite it when I argue that Rap is the true inheritor of much that made Rock so compellingly mad, bad and dangerous to be around. Baba was gracious and kind enough to read my whole book and comment on it for the jacket (I have posted his comments here). I am proud that one of his comments is on the front cover – I reckon he is a great communicator and a very clever artist.

Rob Brooks

I am an evolutionary biologist who thinks about sex for a living. Things I have thought and written about include the evolution of mate choice, the costs of being attractive, the reason animals age and the links between sex, diet, obesity and death. Follow @Brooks_Rob on Twitter.

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