The Rap Guide to Evolution: Helping out with the music videos.

Now that classes have started, and I'm in the "teaching" zone again, it's always cool to check out folks who have come up with unconventional, and dare I say, innovative ways of talking science. One such example is Baba Brinkman, who does a great job of communicating the principles and various nuances of evolution using rap and hip-hop. In fact, there's a whole album's worth of material called "The Rap Guide to Evolution," which you can listen to for free or download/purchase if you so choose. As well, the artist recently received an educational grant to create a series of videos for the songs, but has been seeking out some additional funding to really open up post-production possibilities (i.e. animations, access to footage, etc).
Quite a few biology and psychology teachers already use the rap songs in their classes to introduce evolutionary concepts to their students, and these videos will make an even more potent vehicle for communicating science in an entertaining manner. The initial funding from the Wellcome Trust allows us to shoot live footage for each video with a professional film crew, edit it, and set up a website to distribute the videos.  This phase of the project will be completed by mid-December.  The additional funding from Crowdfunder will allow us to produce original animation and digital effects and license high-quality nature footage from the BBC, to make the vision of each video really come to life.
In any event, check out the songs, the video above and also the link below if you want to help out. The Rap Guide to Evolution DVD Project


  1. Fantastic, David. Although, this certainly isn’t new or innovative (apart from actually making it an entire album concept) in Hip Hop thanks for the link. This is a great project to get behind and the best part: the science is sound and the music sounds great! Win freaking Win.

  2. That’s certainly not a very principled or nuanced discussion of social constructionism at 1:42. It’s quite possible to help people comprehend evolution without mocking one of the most pernicious forms of cognitive bias that creeps into discussions of evolution. I hope that clip is simply taken out of context and doesn’t reflect some government-endorsed and funded philosophical position being put forth by this guy.

  3. I don’t suppose the video includes anything about the “the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life”.

    Who are the “Favoured Races”, anyway?

    1. Darwin wasn’t talking about humans in the Origin’s title.

      “In biology, races are distinct genetically divergent populations within the same species with relatively small morphological and genetic differences.”

  4. Andrea, that scene is a satirical dramatization of a real argument I had with my sister, part of the song “Creationist Cousins” which you can listen to in full here (for context):

    The song is about Darwin’s detractors, both creationists and social constructivists (who I call “cultural creationists” following David Sloan Wilson) and yes, they both get roundly mocked, although I assure you and all conspiracy theorists that my views are not government-endorsed or funded (yet). If you find my satire insufficiently principled and nuanced then it has either failed in general or succeeded in particular, and that’s a question for its audience to decide.

    Steve, Darwin’s use of the phrase “favored races” is an unfortunate Victorian quirk of speech that specifically refers to “variations” of organisms, such as a “race” of finches with thicker beaks being favored over a “race” of finches with narrower beaks in certain environments but not in others. The ugly legacy of evolution-inspired racism and eugenics aka “Social Darwinism” is addressed in the song “Group Selection”.

    1. @Baba: I imagine your sister isn’t as stupid as you make her out to be in your little ditty.

      There’s a big difference between creationism, which argues an alternate supernatural explanation for empirically tested scientific evidence, and a philosophy of science that cautions against guys like you who create genetic and evolutionary post hoc fallacies to explain/justify human behavior.

      I’d say you failed in general, though I am sure it will succeed with its intended audience who know no better. My points above are likely lost on you and them.

  5. A critical point missing here is that the drive ends soon – January 20th. At the moment there’s 15 days left and a little over 2300 pounds to raise. There will be a DVD regardless, but the money will help make it awesome.

    The full albums of the Rap Guide to Evolution and the Rap Guide to Human Nature (which goes more into social constructionism than the RGE) are available for streaming at Brinkman’s website.

    The album was a commissioned piece, so any position Andrea James may have issue with preceded the Wellcome Trust support.

  6. @Andrea. It might help if you looked at the whole song in context, (particularly the last section, where he argues that it’s a question of how much evidence you can marshal). Frankly, I think you’re missing the point, that this is a tremendous vehicle for exposing evolutionary theory and the scientific method in a different and more accessible fashion.

    Lyrics found here:
    But it’s better to listen to!

    @Baba Great stuff! Please keep it up! I’ve contributed and would strongly encourage other BB readers to do so!

  7. @Andrea: my intended audience is any Homo sapien with a jot of intellectual curiosity and a sense of humour. As someone endowed at least with the former, you should know that explaining behaviour is not the same thing as justifying it. And if your points are lost on my intended audience, then so much the worse for your points.

    Also, my sister is very smart indeed, and so are my religious cousins. The point of the song is not so much about who’s right (although my views are clearly on display), it’s that intelligent people can disagree, and the proper way to resolve those disagreements is with reasoned debate supported by evidence, rather than name-calling and hostility.

    I know some female evolutionary psychologists and biologists who would bristle at the suggestion that evolutionary accounts of human behavior are perpetuated by “guys like me”.

    1. @Baba: So representing your own sister (and the views she summarizes) via a shrill drag version isn’t name-calling and hostility? Please.

      It would be less intellectually dishonest if you just admitted your antipathy toward the many scientists and academics in other fields who take a more circumspect view of Darwin’s outdated views on sexual selection. A couple of scientific discoveries have happened in the 120+ years since he died. There was this thing called the 20th century which might be of interest to you at some point.

      Your devotion to “evolutionary psychology” and sociobiology and what-not is the fatal flaw in an otherwise unimpeachable project. It’s a shame you couldn’t set that vexing issue aside and focus on the actual science of evolution. You have tainted all your otherwise excellent work with that unfortunate choice, particularly your decision to mock that which you can’t comprehend. No matter how much you tart up your rap videos with expensive graphics, the fact remains that you are espousing an ideology rather than summarizing actual science.

      I have a very good sense of humour. Regarding your opinions on “human nature,” I hope someday I’m laughing with you and not just at you.

      1. dear andrea: you make my heart glad.

        and baba: you’d do well to differentiate between (on the one hand) an ideological system that puts a lot of time, effort, and money into shoehorning a fundamentalist interpretation of the country’s dominant religion into science class, and (on the other hand) a critique of scientific received wisdom.

        because that “on the other hand” is actually telling science that it has to account for its biases, and its history, and the cultural context that Science (as an ideology, currently practiced) emerged from.
        And while it’s at it, this thing which you so readily conflate with religious fundamentalism is actually arguing for more variation and more diversity. arguing, for example, that sexual and gender variation are real, and have something to contribute to a more nuanced, beautiful, and honest understanding of life, rather than being written off as deviance and/or pathology.

        if i were to be uncharitably overbroad, this would mean that evo. psych and creationism fall into the same doctrinaire camp, and the pomos are the ones standing over on the margins going “excuse me, there’s all this Actual Stuff you’ve failed to account for…”

        key point: through practice, creationists have learned to “question evidence” and “critique methodologies” and generally use the language of raising points of inquiry, because they’ve figured out it sounds better than admitting that their main point of inquiry is “why don’t you accept genesis as the literal truth of creation?”

        but by and large, social constructionists are actually, honestly just poking at the holes in your epistemological framework. it’s not cuz they have some secret dogma they’re waiting to dump on you. it’s because those holes are frustrating, and sharp around the edges, and we can see ourselves through them.

        1. @brix Savvy creationists also position their arguments as a “critique of scientific received wisdom” and “poking holes in the epistemological framework” of evolution, hence the correlation.

      2. @Andrea: I also respect the excellent consciousness-raising work you do, so it’s a shame to see your posts dripping with such condescension, another kind of fatal flaw.

        My only antipathy is towards the willful denial of empirical evidence, and evolutionary psychology as a research field has some fascinating findings you should look into. You call it a “vexing issue” to be avoided. I call it a rich vein of scientific inquiry that can help us overcome the “why should I care?” problem in science education.

        David Sloan Wilson has a great essay on the middle ground between evolutionary theory and social constructivism, which directly influenced my songwriting. Highly recommended for you and every BB reader:

      3. Andrea, why don’t you take one example of sociobiology’s claims you think is demonstrably false and explode it for us? Give us the author/work and a rechauffe of his/her claims and why you think they can be shown to be incorrect.

        This would help us all understand the argument you are making (instead of what you are doing now– which is making a fool or yourself with misplaced hostility toward Baba…)

        Let’s have a real dialectic here– not merely temper tantrums…

  8. Wellcome is the primary funder of the Sanger institute. Margaret Sanger was the founder of planned parenthood, which help and pay for women to abort their children. Sanger was an abhorrent racist a self admitted eugenecist. Just have a look around for some of her quotes. Some great examples include:

    “…human weeds,’ ‘reckless breeders,’ ‘spawning… human beings who never should have been born.” Margaret Sanger, Pivot of Civilization, referring to immigrants and poor people

    The purpose in promoting birth control was “to create a race of thoroughbreds,” she wrote in the Birth Control Review, Nov. 1921 (p. 2)

    Hitlarian much? I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel too comfortable that the entire human genome project is in the hands of an institute bearing this racist monster’s namesake. Also makes you wonder about the motives for such big / old money funding the advancement of the THEORY of evolution. And yes, it is still just a theory, no matter how much your schools and universities have lead you to believe that the science is sound.

    So no, this isn’t great. It sucks a big fat elitist pile of blood money.

    1. And yes, it is still just a theory, no matter how much your schools and universities have lead you to believe that the science is sound.

      Absolutely! If you actually paid attention in your school or university, you might know that sound science is often what “theory” means.

    2. “Just a theory”? Let me guess, you’re waiting until it becomes a scientific law? That’s pretty hilarious.

  9. I now understand why my comment was censored, I think. Andrea James is a contributing writer and therefore the forum Gods may not have viewed my comment for the good natured poke it was. I had no idea BB moderated their discussion threads in this manner. Especially considering that her comments are very flagrant.

    @Baba fantastic work. And I applaud your concise and sensible responses to this posting. I will recommend your work to my friends and colleagues. You sir, appear to be a rapper and a gentlemen. Bravo.

  10. @Darwinder That’s fine, maybe you could comment on Margaret Sanger and why anyone in their right mind would name an institute devoted to supposedly advancing humanity after someone who wanted nothing more than to destroy it?

    The dirty little secret here is the Darwin was himself a eugenecist. His sons were active in promoting it, with Leonard serving as president of the “Eugenics Education Society” and his cousin Francis Galton founded the “eugenics crusade”.

    I’m not getting into a debate on the validity of evolution as a theory any more than I would debate the validity of the bible. It is a pointless endeavour. These days evolutionists have become just as extreme as their religeous peers, with the so called science now in cult territory. Neither can be proven, so I focus on facts such as the ones above which you conveniently chose to ignore.

    1. FYI, the Sanger Institute is named after Fred Sanger, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, not the Margaret Sanger you speak of. Here’s hoping that when you do debate evolution with others, you’re a little more careful with your research…

    2. I’m not interested in debating your institute naming gripes, I don’t know enough about that subject to comment on it. But I do know that Charles Darwin was not a eugenicist simply because his half-cousin was (they shared a grandfather, Erasmas). But don’t take my word for it…listen to Darwin himself.

      “We must, however, acknowledge, as it seems to me, that man with all his noble qualities, with sympathy which feels for the most debased, with benevolence which extends not only to other men but to the humblest living creature, with his god-like intellect which has penetrated into the movements and constitution of the solar system- with all these exalted powers — Man still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin.” The Descent of Man

      You claim to focus on facts, but you are misinformed about Darwin being a eugenicist. From everything we know about him, he most certainly did not subscribe to those ideas. I’d be happy to supply additional references if required.

      More importantly: Go Baba! Hope the crowdfunding is a total success!

  11. So I had a post about how Baba should really look at the objections Andrea brings up about the problems with gender bias in the setup of Ev Psych studies that would also reassure Andrea that the vast majority of Baba’s work is really good, and it’s hard to blame him for basing some of his thoughts on human behavior on one of several competing theories in the literature.

    I might also have had some words for Baba about how Andrea is not your sister and you should stay away from false equivalences

    But then CAPTCHA eated it.

  12. Simply put, the Rap Guide to Evolution is one of the sickest albums I have heard in a loooooooooong time. Thank you Baba Brinkman, thank you.

  13. @atomitron yes, as the other poster above says, the Wellcome Sanger Institute is named after the British biochemist Frederick Sanger who is one of the very few people to win a Nobel Prize twice. The first was for his work on insulin, and the second was for helping sequence DNA.

    Frederick’s wife is coincidentally called Margaret but her full name is Margaret Joan Howe Sanger.
    The American birth control/family planning adovcate’s full name is Margaret Higgins Sanger Slee.

  14. Am I the only person who think that this was awful as rap?

    And speaking as an eductator myself, I’m not sure such an outdated and frankly embarassing novelty act really counts as ‘educational innovation’ either. I was fed up 20 years ago with white middle class people trying to rap badly to ‘get down with the kids’.

  15. Wow, I thought that was going to be horrible, but the dude’s got skills– maybe I was expecting stupid 1983 AAAA/BBBBB/CCCCC rhyme schemes.

    @Flying Monkey I don’t know how much it will really advance evolution education, but I have spent years hearing hip hop all day long as part of my job, and (middle class white guy or not) this is pretty good, kinda reminds me of Sage Francis. I suspect there is a lot of hip hop you haven’t heard, listen to some of those Dipset dip-sh!ts (Hell Rell, JR Writer, Juelz Santana) all day and see if you change your tune about what constitutes good rap.

    1. Dipset is the greatest. DIP DIP DIP, come and f@#& with the set!

      This Evolution rapper has no skills, he is overly wordy and doesn’t ride the beat properly. A common problem among rappers with no street credentials.

      1. @Stuart Tsung

        Oh yeah, The Diplomats are great, no doubt, I love how Juelz has mastered the art of using the same word over and over, the perfect rhyme (since every word automatically rhymes with itself.) That’s a skill I could never master, to say nothing of the deep ideas he presents in his flows, like how to cook crack, and how he got angry they didn’t serve him his pasta in a timely manner. Genius.

        If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that there is no proper way to ride a beat, it’s all a matter of taste and artistic intent. Dipset can do what they like, and NMS and Sage Francis and K-the-i the Juggaknots and Edan can do what they like, and it’s all valid. Street credentials don’t automatically equal talent. Ultimately I just don’t want to hear boring raps anymore, and to Baba’s credit he is (really) “dropping science.”

        1. I couldn’t claim to have the same extensive knowledge of rap as you. But I do like some rap artists who do very unusual things, some of whom are white, so neither their unusualness or their whiteness is the problem per se. For one key (also Canadian) example, check out Buck65.

          I think both my aesthetic and political issue with this has been better put by anon (27) anyway, albeit much more sarcastically!

  16. Just when you though rap music was dead, a white rapper comes along to change the face of the Canadian hip hop landscape. Bringing it out of the slums, away from the uneducated, ethnic, inner-city youth, to where it’s more within reach of the privileged white scientific community and their children. Please help these rap pioneers raise funds direly needed to add visual effects to their “sick” new music video. Maybe with enough dough they can throw in some real fine bitches and make that shit really shine. Keep on droppin dat science, baba. Don’t let these playa-hating dorks tell you the correct way to ride a beat.

  17. From the DSW essay that Baba mentioned. Let’s admit there is a middle ground, and stop the binary politics on this subject– to wit:

    “The reason that first sociobiology and then evolutionary psychology are fatally flawed, say
    the critics, is because they rely excessively on adaptationism. I regard this as an
    unfortunate wrong turn on the part of the critics. As an evolutionary biologist, I am
    perfectly comfortable with the fact that there is more to evolution than adaptation. It is
    definitely the middle ground that needs exploring as far as the general subject of
    evolution is concerned.”

    let the party begin…

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