I recently came across the hip hop artist Baba Brinkman who rhymes about such things as human nature and the Canterbury Tales. As a life scientist, philospher and hip hop fan, I was interested in his artistic take on Darwin and human nature so I decided to download his recent album “Human Nature”. I also figured I’d give his album a review for my modest scientific audience.
Baba Brinkman is a rap artist that hails from Canada. His album “Human Nature” attempts to convey various aspects of evolution (primarily focusing on mate selection) through hip hop. To be up front, on a scale of 1-10 for his album I would give it a 4 (my rating system: I start at 5 and move up or down from there. I don’t start at 10 and then move down), and below I explain my praises and criticisms:
1) The reason it scores as high as a 4 is because the language in which he couches his subject matter is unique to hip hop. The subject matter itself is not necessarily new in the hip hop genre (choosing mates, prisoner dilemmas, understanding one’s own reason for action etc.) but using moderately scientific language and appealing to the scientific method is (even if the appeal is not always well substantiated). This makes his subject more accessible to audiences not as familiar with the vernacular typically employed in hip hop music. One may even argue that it may be more challenging to use more stuffy language to concoct rhymes.
2) The album claims to be “peer-reviewed”. Not sure I understand where such a claim comes from, but one of the more interesting aspects of the album is that after some of the tracks (e.g, track 3 “No Bugs on Me”) he has a scientist giving some feedback on the lyrics in the track with respect to their scientific accuracy. This is a nice touch, except that the presumably scientific explanations do not always address the points made in the song as intended*. Nonetheless, this is a pretty cool idea with respect to such an album that I appreciate as a scientist, even if only in spirit.
3) Brinkman does do a good job of handling a difficult topic in an artistic way. He clearly makes a wholehearted attempt at keepin’ it real with respect to scientific accuracy, and this should be applauded as he does a decent job in this respect. It is not a bad jumping off point if one wants to explore various interesting aspects of evolution.**
4) Finally, the reason the album scores so low for me is that, as hip hop, it fails miserably. Brinkman’s flow is poor and there is little to no variation on it throughout the album. Artistically, if you’ve heard one song, you’ve heard them all. There are only a small handful of spots throughout the album that stick out has having marginally decent flow (and I mean, for one or two lines if you are lucky). Otherwise, he basically ignores the beat and more or less just talks, he doesn’t rap. The beats themselves aren’t half bad (props to Mr. Simmonds I suppose) but they are no good if the artist ignores them as Brinkman does. The other aspect of good artistry that it fails at is metaphor. The focus is so much on using the language of science that he forgets what makes art so powerful…metaphors. His words appeal to the intellect, but not to the heart and imagination, which is truly where art derives its power and influence. If you listen to any good hip hop you’ll find your imagination stimulated and the metaphors presented will drive home the artists point. Appealing solely to the intellect, as Brinkman attempts, does not work in the context of art because you cannot satisfy the intellect with such short snippets of information that do not provide enough facts and discussion to satisfy such a demanding aspect of ourselves.
Overall, the album is worth a free listen to but not worth your hard earned cash. It firmly lands in my “fun hip hop” category of music that I’ll listen to occasionally if I’m in just the right mood but is very far from my hip hop rotation, although it might be more bearable to some folks who only listen to this genre on occasion.
*e.g, in track 3 he notes how various religions argue that menses blood is particularly unclean as compared with blood that comes from the cut of a finger. On the next track he has David Buss come on and explain that there is a hypothesis that menses blood is different than other blood in that it may actually serve the purpose to help prevent a woman from being infected from pathogens carried by a mans sperm. However, this does not actually speak to the fact that menses blood is or is not different from the blood that comes from a cut on one’s finger (i.e, is any less clean). If anything it supports the argument that Brinkman already makes in the previous song that it is still the same blood and that it may actually serve the same purpose as the blood that comes from one’s finger (i.e, bleeding from a wound would also help to reduce the likelihood of infection).
**Note: I added this after the first post because I realize I left this important bit out and the review was not as even handed as I originally intended.