I’m not the kind of guy that typically reviews rap or hip-hop albums. In fact, this isn’t going to be a traditional album review. I know what I like but I don’t have the chops to try to tell someone else why they should like my favorite new album. I do, however, know a bit about science, and if I can’t be the guy who convinces you to give a listen to the newest album by Baba Brinkman, aka The Peer-Reviewed Rapper, “The Rap Guide to Climate Chaos,” then I don’t know who’s going to be able to do it. I’ll admit I had never heard of Baba Brinkman before this album sailed across my desk. “What’s a peer-reviewed rapper?” I thought to myself. I had to dig in. And friends, I have to share what I found with you.
Dirk Murray Brinkman, nicknamed “Baba” by his father, was born in a log cabin in British Columbia. His father, Dirk Brinkman Sr., is the creator of what may be the world’s only private tree-planting company. Baba started writing in his late teens and wound up pursuing a BA in English Literature and an MA in Comparative Literature; his Master’s Thesis involved translating the Canterbury Tales into a rap. After graduation Baba morphed his work on the Canterbury Tales into a touring hip-hop show and wound up performing in front of a microbiologist named Mark Pallen who was so impressed he challenged Brinkman to try his hand at telling Charles Darwin’s story. Before being premiered at the Darwin Day bicentennial in Britain, Pallen and others fact-checked each and every one of Brinkman’s lyrics. Because of this intense scrutiny, Pallen christened Brinkman’s work, “The Rap Guide to Evolution,” the world’s first peer-reviewed rap. Anyone that goes to this much trouble to get a rap record about evolution right is my kind of artist.
Since then, Brinkman has teamed up with academics from various disciplines and created “The Rap Guide to Human Nature,” “The Rap Guide to Religion,” “The Rap Guide to Medicine,” “The Rap Guide to Wilderness,” and “The Rap Guide to Business.” You might be thinking to yourself, “OK, so Brinkman has found his niche and makes egg-head albums for hyper-specific scientific disciplines. Yawn.” Trust me, I was right there with you. But here’s the thing, they’re good. Not just academically and independently-verifiably good (which they are) but tap-your-foot and bob-your-head good. Like, award-winning and critically acclaimed Off-Broadway theater adaptation good. The theater adaptation of “The Rap Guide to Evolution” had a five-month run Off -Broadway and was nominated for Outstanding Solo Performance at the Drama Desk Awards. “The Rap Guide to Human Nature” was adapted to an Off-Broadway production titled “Ingenius Nature” and had a successful run. “The Rap Guide to Religion” had another successful Off-Broadway run and was a Time Out New York and New York Times Critics’ Pick and received another nomination from the Drama Desk Awards as a Unique Theater Experience.”
There was a time when I wouldn’t have given an Off-Broadway theater hip-hop album a chance, but that was before Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton” entered my life. I’m not going to try to convince you that “The Rap Guide to Climate Chaos” is the next “Hamilton.” It’s a different ball of wax altogether. But if the thought of putting Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” into a lyrical blender with “Hamilton” and sprinkling bits of Eminem’s “8 Mile” over top sparks your interest this might be the album for you.
How does it sound? It’s a catchy album and Brinkman’s rhymes are clever without being so cerebral that you need already have an advanced degree to follow him. He throws in a generous helping of hip-hop cultural references that may play well with those who are fans of the genre but surely won’t sour anyone who misses them. Brinkman is a talented DJ and his beats are solid and complex. There is a bit of diversity in the tone of the album as Brinkman winds his way through the story. If there’s one thing that I love most about this album it’s that it does tell a story. Perhaps owing to its theatrical origins, it tells the story of our planet and the long-lasting impact of global climate change. The album isn’t preachy but it is thought-provoking; Brinkman is sometimes criticized for his message that individuals can’t do anything to steer us away from the brink but must demand that governments and corporate entities must be the ones to change. Having listened to several of his albums at this point (a geek must geek out, after all) I think that this new release sounds like the one that Brinkman has poured his heart and soul into. While each album is full of facts, clever rhymes, and bounce, this one feels like the one Baba was born to make. Brinkman has rapped about everything from evolution to medicine to religion but he had to rely on others to fact-check him. For this album Brinkman brings a lifetime of experience and hard-fought credibility–he has planted over a million trees in his life! That alone may be worth the scratch to buy his latest album!