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The NWA of DNA

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Science and hip-hop? “Never the twain shall meet,” you may cry, and until recently, I’d have agreed with you on that one, fo’ shizzle.

But then I stumbled across a collaboration which challenges that assumption. Baba Brinkman’s Rap Guide to Evolution is interesting, intelligent and funny hip-hop about evolutionary theory. It’s the first peer-reviewed rap, and almost certainly the only hip-hop album that features samples of Richard Dawkins reading from Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species” (other examples in the comments section please).

The video below, “Natural Selection”, has its tongue firmly in its cheek, featuring a dance-off between Darwin and some of his best-known opponents, including the perennial favourite, God, and a more modern proponent of creationism, Sarah Palin.

Fellow SciAm blogger Kevin Zelnio wrote about Baba back in November, but this unique rapper warrants a bit more attention – and a few links to his official music videos. Brinkman was previously known for his rap about Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales – an immediate indication that he’s not your typical boring, bling-obsessed gangsta-wannabe.

Subtitled “Beats, Rhymes and the Science of Life” in an homage to early Tribe Called Quest, this unusual album originated when Professor Mark Pallen, a microbial geneticist at the University of Birmingham, UK, requested a rap version of the Darwin’s seminal work to celebrate our hero’s 200th birthday in 2009.

With a little financial help from the Wellcome Trust, Baba has written 10 tracks about different aspects of evolutionary theory, and what it can tell us about modern life. There are some great insights hidden here, from the evolutionary explanation for high crime rates in deprived areas in “Survival of the Fittest” (below), and the idea that we are slaves to our genes in the aptly named “DNA” (2nd video down), to a call for disparate human cultures to get along because of the links that bind us all – links made of DNA – in “Worst Comes to Worst” (3rd video down).

I hope you enjoy them as much as I did – a happy new yizzle to you all!

Joseph Milton About the Author: Joseph Milton is an evolutionary biologist who gradually mutated into a journalist over time. Follow on Twitter @jjmilton.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.






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