Baba Brinkman's Rap Guide to Consciousness

Wed 2nd – Mon 28th August 2017

reviews

Louis Harnett O'Meara

at 22:55 on 11th Aug 2017

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Baba Brinkman, for his ninth ‘Rap Guide’, provided his audience with an array of interesting pieces of information from start to finish, interspersed with some bizarre bars, both written and freestyle. It was a surreal experience to see, in his words, a middle aged, ‘white, middle-class Canadian’ standing up to the mic. to rap. However, as much as the premise baffled me, from start to finish I found myself interested, amused and warmed by his enthusiastic delivery, and he seemed just as aware of the show’s peculiarity as anyone else there.

Using his lyricism as a springboard for discussion, Brinkman explored the mechanisms of the human mind in both prose and verse. His rhymes were cleverly used to demonstrate the mind’s intuitive capacity for phonetic and thematic recognition and association, leading him comfortably into a discussion of artificial intelligence, free will, and the effects of psychoactive drugs. His performance was accessible, funny and well researched, his passion and curiosity uplifting.

At times it felt as though he was out of his depth with an English audience, who seemed to be offering a little less enthusiasm than his usual crowd. This said, he had enough to go round, and he didn’t miss a beat even though the audience missed quite a few; when he would turn the microphone to the crowd to finish his line there was generally a bit of a confused response.

At the end of the show Brinkman asked for the audience to throw out some topics they felt that he hadn’t covered for him to improvise a freestyle rap around with a professor in neuroscience providing academic insight between each rap. It was a shame the expert didn’t have more time to properly discuss the audience concerns, but the show was held to a tight time limit.

Overall I enjoyed the show, but his opinions seemed a little underdeveloped. Things were very simple in his explanations, as they have to be for his show to work, but at times I felt a little bit condescended toward. I think it didn’t exactly suit my demographic, and probably a younger me would have given a better rating, but it felt a little too much like a Ted Talk regular had decided to get down with the kids. Brinkman’s educational rapping was a great way to interest people who might not otherwise pick up a book to brush up on their neuroscience, but after the first fifteen minutes I felt as though my engagement was at the same level a parent’s might be at a good children’s movie – having fun, but not exactly in my element.

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Zoe Boothby

at 11:43 on 12th Aug 2017

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Not many would naturally consider rap music and science to be a match made in heaven, but, for the genius of Baba Brinkman, the ‘world’s first and only peer-reviewed rapper’, the two become insatiably compatible. His patented ‘Rap Guide to…’ series has seen him busting rhymes to such subjects as religion, climate change, and even Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. The previous First Fringe winner now returns to Edinburgh with a new show in which he attempts to deconstruct the science behind consciousness – by laying down some sick beats.

Brinkman opens the show with an introductory rap, which he expertly and smoothly adjusts to respond to the audience and even to greet newcomers. Regardless of the scientific content of his lyrics, it has to be reiterated that Brinkman’s skills as an MC are rather formidable, and he is able to hold the stage with an engaging and likable presence. During the main body of the show, each rap is accompanied by a short explanatory note prior, as Brinkman attempts to simplify the aspect of consciousness he is due to explore. Even those without an active interest in science should have something to take away from Brinkman’s show: his explanations of even the most complex theories of consciousness are broken down into understandable – and entertaining – analogies. On the afternoon I attended, we were also treated to an appearance from Professor Anil Seth of the University of Sussex’s Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science during the final freestyle phase of his performance. Brinkman fielded questions from the audience about consciousness, before flawlessly addressing them in freestyle rap; on this occasion, however, in the interest of maintaining his shows ‘peer reviewed’ status, Seth also offered his own interjections to expand upon these ideas from an academic standpoint.

Some songs are more memorable than others, though Brinkman raps them all to the same high standard. The most successful raps are the ones in which Brinkman allows his audience brief glimpses into his personal life, as he combines intimate anecdotes with scientific theory. His song ‘Dylan’, in which he explores the breadth of consciousness in a newborn baby, is particularly remarkable for its catchy rhymes and brief moments of hilarity; it also features images of Brinkman’s (adorable) new baby throughout. Similarly noteworthy is the rap he wrote when courting his neuroscientist wife, where he expresses his desire to create a lasting impression upon her neurons (in a purely scientific capacity, of course). It is when the scientific and the personal intersect that Brinkman’s show becomes something very special indeed. Although Brinkman’s raps are objectively of a rather high caliber, they are transformed by how affable and charismatic their creator is. Without Baba’s charm, the show would not be remotely as successful.

With his ‘Rap Guide to Consciousness’, Baba Brinkman is able to captivate an audience whilst rapping about a rather unlikely subject; perhaps, however, it is not so unlikely when his skills as a performer are taken into consideration. Brinkman is an MC who could engage an audience rapping about paint drying (or at least the chemistry behind it).

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