Baba Brinkman photo

This Canadian Rapper Schooled Trump on Climate Science

Baba Brinkman eviscerates the deniers

by MIGUEL MIRANDA

On the eve of Donald Trump’s inauguration, a very sneaky promo was uploaded on YouTube. Far from another satirical hip-hop clip about the Orange Führer, Baba Brinkman’s “Erosion” was a tongue-in-cheek call to arms … for the science of climate change.

You know, the evidence-based consensus on global temperature increases that points to impending disaster for the human race. The very same catastrophe Trump claimed was a “Chinese hoax” on Twitter as part of his aggressively stupid anti-science plank.

From the opening verse:

Climate change, you know that it’s happening
Know that its impact is already damaging
You said so! A permit you applied for
Said the ocean’s comin’ up on your Irish golf course
Well here’s another place you might like to protect
America.

True. In July 2015 Politico found out Trump had applied for a permit to build a wall for protecting his golf course in Ireland from “global warming and its effects.”

Anyway, here’s “Erosion” in full.

Catch the parts that mention names and places? The curious can go to Brinkman’s Youtube channel and find a lyric sheet with annotated footnotes listing his sources. Yup, everything he raps is factual. Wisecracking, but factual.

That’s because the track’s lyrical content was peer reviewed by Prof. Gary Yohe, who teaches Economic and Environmental Studies at Wesleyan University. “Erosion” almost didn’t make the cut on Brinkman’s latest LP Rap Guide to Climate Chaos. But …

“I was working on my Rap Guide to Climate Chaos album all through the first half of 2016, but like most cosmopolitan liberals I didn’t expect Trump to win,” Brinkman said.

“Gary Yohe reached out to me in November about doing a song addressing Trump’s attitude towards climate change and confronting him with some hard facts, and it was his original idea to release it on inauguration day.”

“I was formulating my thoughts on the subject for six weeks or longer. I wrote the lyrics for the song in the first week of January and didn’t record them until about a week before inauguration day.”

Baba Brinkman performing Rap Guide To Climate Chaos at an off-Broadway show in 2016. Via Olivia Sebesky.

Far from a solo effort, “Erosion” enlisted a team of collaborators including vocals by Aaron Nazrul (he sings the chorus), rhythm guitars by Tom Van Deursen, with the music composed by Tom Caruana. Combined, their efforts led to, in Brinkman’s words, “A fun music video eviscerating Trump on climate change”

When it came to the lyrics, however, Brinkman utilized his unique skill set. With a discography stretching back more than a decade, Brinkman — who moved to New York in 2011 — specializes in applying his broad knowledge of rhyme and word play to science topics.

This is heard on his previous albums The Rap Guide to Evolution (2009), The Rap Guide to Human Nature (2010), The Rap Guide to Business (2011), The Rap Guide to Wilderness (2012), The Rap Guide to Medicine (2013), and The Rap Guide to Religion (2015).

This unparalleled oeuvre extended to a hilarious videography where Brinkman’s humor is in full bloom. A personal favorite of mine is “Creationist Cousins” from The Rap Guide to Evolution.

But on “Erosion” Brinkman unleashed some of the sickest burns in his career. With influences from Beowulf to Shakespeare and a childhood filled with hip hop from A Tribe Called Quest, Big Pun, Blackalicious, Common, Dead Prez, De La Soul, Eminem, Jay Z, Kanye, Nas, Notorious BIG, Outkast, Rakim and Slick Rick, Brinkman has grown into a formidable MC praised by critics for his “energetic presence” and being a “remarkable improviser.”

Take it from him. “Lyrically I would say I’m about as superb as it’s possible to be while remaining this bookish,” is his own self-assessment.

“That’s my tongue-in-cheek swag answer,” Brinkman added. “The modest answer is I’m leagues better than pretty much anyone expects me to be, considering what I rap about.”

To think Brinkman got his start not in some violent inner city plagued by gang violence (hello 8 Mile) but as a literary scholar specializing in Chaucer and other aulde English texts. No wonder his Rapconteur album is a “hip hop retelling” of four ancient oral poems.

During a TEDx talk in 2014 Brinkman explained how his ongoing dalliance with science began when an acquaintance asked him to write rap lyrics on Charles Darwin—to be peer reviewed, of course.

Since The Rap Guide to Evolution came out — and was re-released in 2011 — Brinkman hasn’t shied away from using wit, facts and maddening spoken word to tackle a lot of serious ideas, sometimes in mock debate format. As if he were trying not just to educate but take the high ground from climate deniers and religious zealots.

Humor aside, it’s a battle that’s in full display on “Erosion,” whose verses pack enough broadsides to sink an aircraft carrier. A sample:

But it’s not as bad as the uncharitable view
That you’re funneling profits to fossil fuel
And getting kickbacks. There’s a lotta gas to burn
And we don’t know what you own, no tax return
All we know is, you got a lotta fossil fuel cronies
In your cabinet, and Tillerson and Putin are homies

Ouch!

Brinkman must be convinced Americans are really stupid for voting Trump, right?

“I’m too Canadian to say anything that widely insulting,” Brinkman admitted. “I think a broad swathe of Americans get their information from unreliable sources and were taken in by a con man who will unfortunately make things a lot worse for them.”

For Brinkman, his smart rap is more than music, it’s an advocacy. “Improving access to high quality education at all levels will help in the long term,” is his solution to the anti-science crowd. “In the short term, I’m writing rap songs.”

Back in 2011 Brinkman railed against Canada’s own conservative bigot, Stephen Harper, in a scathing diss track. So he isn’t hanging the gloves on the Trump regime any time soon. In fact, “Erosion” is on his next EP, Trumpism. It will have a handful of songs that are, according to Brinkman, “critiques of the president’s approach to several other issues.”

“The goal is to focus on the worst of his statements and proposals, but it’s hard to narrow down the field. Climate change obviously stands out for me because he couldn’t be more wrong, and it couldn’t be more important.”

He’s also got another album in the works.

“I’m working on The Rap Guide to Consciousness next, about the relationship between the mind and the body and the brain science of awareness. It’s set to premiere at some festivals in the U.K. in the summer, but I’m not sure when I’ll have it recorded as an album, hopefully by the fall.”

Unless you finished the clip for “Erosion” it did end on a hopeful note. Rather than Brinkman on a soap box, a short message at the end read, “President Trump, 190 nations have committed to take the necessary steps to hold global warming below two degrees Celsius. Make America great by keeping its promises.”

“Erosion” came out on Jan. 19, 2017. Since then the Trump administration has established itself as a conveyor of “alternative facts,” a nemesis of the press, and an existential threat to the National Parks Service.

Maybe Brinkman’s Trumpism EP might grow to a whole album.

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