Posted on behalf of Boer Deng
Detroit rapper Eminem once managed to pair the lines “venereal diseases” and “burial of Jesus”. Though he does not rival that virtuosity, Canadian hip-hop artist Baba Brinkman blends scientific nous with polysyllabic prowess in singing about all things “-ology”, “-osis” and “-cene” (see the 2011 Nature Q&A).
Brinkman’s 2009 The Rap Guide to Evolution rhapsodized about progress in modern biology. After premiering at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival that year, it became so popular with students that downloadable teaching materials were made to accompany the music.
Brinkman’s new album The Rap Guide to Wilderness, released last month, again offers a lively and surprisingly sophisticated take on science. This time, it’s ecological balance. Part of the charm is the humorous incongruity of having weighty concepts squeezed into pithy musical compositions. This could have easily veered into parody, or heavy-handed didacticism, but The Rap Guide to Wilderness mixes seriousness and whimsy with some success.
There are dud lines: take Party of Life‘s “Every creature’s got a skill and they all fit together/In incredibly intricate inter-connected networks”. But delightfully funny ones pop up too. Walden Pond, one of the strongest songs in the album, has a protagonist with “a cabin in the woods like Henry David Thoreau” where he waxes philosophical about our species: “we’ve been sedentary/For the blink of an eye; our lifestyles in the present vary/But never forget that we were quadrupeds and hairy.”
Brinkman is no dewy-eyed eco-martyr. “[D]on’t listen to back-to-landers/Thinkin they’re savin’ the planet by takin’ us ass-backwards,” he raps in Tranquility Bank. Human destruction of wilderness is a theme, but the point is rather to do better with what has been learned. Science offers promising tools that would help stop or even reverse ecological decline, such as cloning (touched on in the song Bottleneck). While Brinkman recognises its Promethean potential, embracing new knowledge is essential to the discussion on wilderness and biodiversity, he reckons.
The Rap Guide to Wilderness is unlikely to replace Motor City rap at undergraduate parties. But it does have appeal for the modern, offbeat hylophile. Some of the proceeds from Wilderness will go to the WILD Foundation, a charity that collaborated on the album, and funds projects to conserve nature “while meeting the needs of human communities”.
For Nature’s full coverage of science in culture, visit www.nature.com/news/booksandarts.