When Dirk Murray “Baba” Brinkman Jr. hit the books at a pair of schools in Surrey, he obviously learned a thing or two about mapping out a career in the performing arts.
Baba Brinkman is a New York-based playwright and rapper best known for a series of “Rap Guide” plays and recordings that delve into literature, science, religion and other weighty subjects. He has brought his projects, which include 2004’s “The Rap Canterbury Tales” and 2009’s “The Rap Guide to Evolution” to theatres and halls around the world.
“It’s really caught on, this whole concept of doing a rap guide to things and using hip-hop theatre to communicate a complicated idea in entertaining ways,” Brinkman told the Now.
Calling from North Carolina, Brinkman was in Chapel Hill to perform “The Rap Canterbury Tales” for college kids and to also roll out his more recent “The Rap Guide to Religion” show at a comedy club there, as part of regional U.S. tour.
“And I’m doing ‘The Rap Guide to Climate Chaos’ in Pennsylvania tomorrow, so it’s all over the place,” Brinkman said with a laugh.
The former New Westminster and East Van resident, now in his late-30s, has seen his career evolve considerably over the past decade, and part of his success can be traced back to time spent studying at Relevant High, an independent school located on Highway 10 in Cloverdale.
“I also went to an elementary school called Discovery in Surrey, pretty close to Surrey Central (SkyTrain) station,” explained Brinkman.
“They’re both sort of alternative – they call them democratic schools where the kids all vote on things and learn principles of citizenship and stuff.”
Brinkman spent his Grade 12 year travelling between New West and Cloverdale, after Relevant moved across the Fraser River.
“I had positive experiences there,” he recalled. “It was like, if you wanted to change the rules at the school, then there’d be a school assembly and you could propose to have, you know, a smoke pit or you want to be able to leave school grounds, no Walkmans in class, whatever, and there’d be school votes – first mentions and seconded motions, committees, all that.
“It supported critical thinking and being proactive, and I remember the teachers encouraging creativity and taking things into your own hands,” he continued. “And that feeds into entrepreneurialism, and that’s what I see I’m doing now. I’m an artist but I’m also self-employed with it and a lot of it is hustling and finding an audience for it, the presenters and the producers, to make it all happen financially and logistically as well.”
As years went by and Brinkman increased his catalogue of acclaimed work, a move to New York seemed logical. He jumped at the chance in 2011 when “The Rap Guide to Evolution” played off-Broadway for an open-ended run, minimum two months.
“So I just kind of went for it, moved there, had a three-year artist visa and decided to spend it all in New York to see what could happen there,” Brinkman recalled. “So that first off-Broadway run went for five months, and it turned into eight months of shows. And when ‘The Rap Guide to Religion played off-Broadway last winter, it ran for seven months, and that was my fourth off-Broadway production of a rap-theatre show that I’d written in the last four years. So I got a lot of great work in New York and that turned into world tours.”
Today, Brinkman is married to cognitive neuroscientist and TV host Dr. Heather Berlin, with whom he has a two-year-old daughter. This coming Christmas, he plans to spend time in Vancouver visiting his parents, who include Joyce Murray, Liberal MP in the riding of Vancouver-Quadra.
Professionally, Brinkman is telling the world about an album version of “The Rap Guide to Religion,” released on Oct. 23. He set out to record “a peer-reviewed rap scripture about the science of religion, from an atheist artist searching for the purpose of faith in today’s world,” as a press release from his PR company, Two Sheps That Pass, describes the work.
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For the creation of the Kickstarter-funded album, Brinkman and collaborators (including Vancouver keyboardist Simon Kendall) worked on their parts in different parts of the world.
“It’s all digital collaboration, so the producers who make the beats are based in England, mostly, and they sent me the instrumentals and I did all the recording of vocals in New York,” Brickman explained. “And then I would send partially finished tracks to Vancouver for Simon to play Hammond organ and piano and keyboards, so he’d then upload those parts and the producers in England would do edits. And then some people in Vancouver and Seattle did the mixes, and the master came from Seattle, so you can basically run a whole album project through Dropbox now.
“It’s amazing, too, because the quality is all so good and it makes everything so smooth and (increases) the possibilities of collaboration,” Brinkman continued. “You know, the guy (Gaiaisi) who sang the hook on ‘God of the Gaps,’ our lead single, is based in Toronto and he recorded parts and sent me versions and I was like, ‘Oh, I love version three but use the first part of version two,’ and it’s all stuff that you’d have needed the whole posse in the studio for back in the day. It’s true, though, that it’s a more atomized process – like, there was no-one to give high-fives to when I heard the final song for the first time, it’s just a celebratory email: ‘Nice work!’”