Performing Arts: Theater
December 31, 2018
“We’re not ‘Nafricans!’ We’re AFRICANS,” Baba Brinkman explains as he urges the crowd to indulge in some grammatical law breaking for the sake of verbal clarity and adherence to Dead Prez’s lyrical intention in “I’m A African.” Used to unify the audience on the geography of their common ancestry, it is the most essential bit in The Rap Guide to Evolution, now at SoHo Playhouse.

Brinkman, a white Canadian son of a tree planter and husband of a neuroscientist, goes about cross-pollinating evolutionary science and hip-hop music in two ways. Primarily, he injects sermons on Darwin’s theories into the performative mode of rapping. Multisyllabic scientific jargon becomes approachable in syncopated, rhymed delivery, but falls short of transcending its novel and appropriative veneer to clearly place humanity’s struggle to embrace rationalism alongside rap music’s original thrust of expressing inner city frustration.

The other tactic is far more interesting – looking to rap music’s 40ish year tenure as a microcosm of evolution’s 3.5 billion year process – and is unfortunately done in digressions. For a song about mating compatibility, Brinkman traces the lineage of the “hypnotize” lyric between Slick Rick, Snoop Dogg, and The Notorious B.I.G., choosing Biggie’s version on account of its most evolved form. He similarly compares male animals’ ornamentations with the notion of “bling,” parallels testosterone levels in males to Ice Cube’s career, and prompts a thought experiment on what love songs would be like if human males were killed after copulation as in some species of spider. Fascinating and charming, any of them could create a more organized dramaturgical structure for the show, but they are all too briefly and too evenly touched upon.

Brinkman instead rolls through assorted facts and statistics like that professor your note taking couldn’t keep up with. Beautiful ideas of society mirroring the teamwork of the cells that comprise them float alongside teen pregnancy being a side effect of low life expectancy. With the slightest explanation of homosexuality and no commentary on race other than a comparison between appropriation and animals falsely adopting venomous appearances for survival, it becomes increasingly difficult to grasp at a point.

When we think we’ve made it, Brinkman answers our current moment’s frustrations with the dry consolation that evolution will prevail. “Don’t Sleep With Mean People” urges women to choose better mates, income inequality is addressed as a condition, but not as an injustice, and, personally, I don’t feel like waiting for more evolved people to fix the government.

Nonetheless, it all technically supports the overarching intention of debunking creationism, which, while certainly still an ongoing debate, is evidenced to not be all that pressing by a lack of protest from SoHo Playhouse patrons, now better equipped to support their already maintained arguments as social Darwinism remains unchecked. Of all the inventive analogies made in the show, Brinkman’s improvised rap of audience feedback misses the opportunity to motivate self-betterment as we instead scramble to remember what statistical secret weapon we will use at the next family holiday dinner table.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews

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