Sure, you could bone up on evolution with a book—or you could watch a break-dance battle between Charles Darwin and Sarah Palin. This month, 33-year-old rapper Baba Brinkman is releasing an online compendium of 10 music videos from his album The Rap Guide to Evolution (including “Natural Selection,” which features the aforementioned survival-of-the-fittest dance-off) with a specific goal: to provide a free virtual teaching aid to high school teachers and college profs looking to punch up their lectures. And they won’t have to worry about accuracy, because Brinkman comes correct—with his facts. When the album debuted in 2009, it was peer-reviewed by a professor of microbial genomics.
Each video links to a set of annotated lyrics so students can explore the research behind Brinkman’s metaphors and allusions. (Sample lines: “It’s time to elevate your mind state / Celebrate your kinship with primates.”) His approach has won praise from evo devos—geek slang for evolutionary developmental biologists—and some appropriately scholastic accolades: The journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution dubbed Brinkman the hip hop Richard Dawkins. But the videos are just the beginning. In addition to a few other instructive albums (one about human nature and another on business), he also has an off-Broadway show, Rap Guide to Evolution, that he plans to take on a college tour of the US—including Bible Belt states—in 2012.
“I try to signpost what sorts of things are poetic license and humor,” Brinkman says, “and which are direct references to important scientific discoveries.” Even his braggadocio is properly documented. “I’m the manifestation of tens of millions of centuries of sexual selection,” Brinkman raps, factually. Welcome to the new definition of dropping science.