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The Rap Guide To Human Nature

Note: This review is from 2010

Review by Jay Richardson

If school had ever been as entertaining and dare I say as informative as this lecture by rapper and self-styled intellectual gangsta Baba Brinkman, we’d probably be a far more advanced species.

Warm, funny and fascinating throughout, all born on the ingenious rhymes and charismatic stage presence of the Canadian, The Rap Guide To Human Nature goes far beyond subverting the grosser racist, sexist and homophobic aspects of hip-hop culture by exploring the underlying genetic impetus of all culture. It’s about as geeky as evolutionary psychology can be, but like the period jokes packed into his set, this MC’s got serious flow.

Backed on the decks by his producer Mr Simmonds, Brinkman begins by assessing his audience for rap fans and other punters hoping to explore the music in a safe Fringe environment. Certainly, that’s what he creates, an inclusive room where a woman can feel comfortable declaring she’s menstruating, then allow herself to be wooed from the stage in a rap designed to prove the heightening of flirtation during the female cycle. If Snoop Dogg’s started exploring this attraction theory recently, I must have missed it.

Not that Brinkman doesn’t challenge perceptions from the first, maintaining that despite the odds stacked against finding personal happiness, humanity has evolved to valorise monogamy because it’s more likely to produce babies and ensure the survival of the species. Later, he surely casts doubt into a few minds by revealing why couples who started dating when the woman was on the contraceptive pill have less chance of staying together than those that weren’t.

His first big target is creationism. Appreciating that he’s preaching to the choir at a liberal arts festival, declaring ‘this is my church’, he recalls how his set bombed in Texas. To establish what he was up against, he momentarily adopts a contrary stance that equates Darwinism with an endorsement of the Holocaust, before evoking obsessive compulsive disorder in mice as compelling evidence of immune systems’ influence on patterns of belief, specifically, creationism and anti-immigration. Enquiring if there are any ‘BNP members in the house’, he makes his point by explicitly rapping over a remixed version of the KKK bluegrass standard Ain’t No Bugs On Me – fear of contamination is directly linked to prejudice, a genetic survival strategy that regrettably confounds liberal sensibilities.

So far, so dizzying. And after even-handedly investigating liberalism for its genetic scheming and pitting his father’s poetic spiritualism against Richard Dawkins, dismissing intelligent design in the electromagnetic impulse of a nerve, Brinkman wades into the real nitty-gritty, that old comedic standby of evolved gender differences between men and women.

Explaining why strippers at peak fertility receive bigger tips, in rhyme and with his menstruating volunteer, he recreates every sexual negotiation throughout history, concluding that men are little more than slave labour in the process. However, there’s cause for male comedians to be optimistic, because at least once a month such creative, performance-inclined types are catnip to women seeking a mate.

Thereafter, Brinkman can amuse with as unlikely a topic as incest avoidance, waking his sister on the phone in Canada to unwittingly induce her live into a carefully controlled experiment, before crooning a love rap to Mr Simmonds. The generally inscrutable Simmonds is a fine foil here, responding in a measured gesture.

Their little love-in presages perhaps the best part of the show, in which Brinkman tackles hip-hop’s prevailing homophobia in a multi-faceted sequence subtitled The Evolution of Gayness. Without wishing to reveal too much, it’s an absolute belter and rams home the notion of such prejudice as childish insecurity.

The rapper’s final set piece, in which he adopts the voice of David Attenborough and comments on the mating rituals observable in a clip of Edinburgh Fringe nightlife, is, regrettably, the weakest aspect of this otherwise almost perfect presentation, a little too extended and never quite as insightful as it promises to be.

My apologies to Brinkman if I’ve misinterpreted any of the dense science he incorporates into this hour. Unlike him I’ve not had my work peer-reviewed by eminent biologists, their sampled comments teased back into the narrative. Despite his assured delivery in both spoken word and rhyme, there are some big ideas here and he truly rattles through them, having to pause at least once to restate the meaning of his lyrics.

A witty, self-deprecating slide of brain scans underlines his message that we shouldn’t treat his arguments as gospel and to question everything. But that caveat notwithstanding, this is a wonderful example of what a Fringe show can aspire to.

Review date: 29 Aug 2010
Reviewed by: Jay Richardson

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