For Baba Brinkman, the world’s only peer-reviewed rapper, the term “climate change sounds so benign.” The world is not facing a smooth transition to warmer, longer summers. We’re looking at the destruction of our planet as we know it; this is climate chaos.
And maybe if we can’t convey the drama in a name, we need a whole new set of tactics. Baba’s suggestion: how about rap? His Rap Guide to Climate Chaos just hit its funding goal on Indiegogo. And coming off performances at those 2015 UN climate talks in Paris, Baba is ready to spread the gospel of climatology and incite a global response.
With songs like “Laudato Si,” based on Pope Francis’ encyclical on our environmental crisis, and “Make It Hot,” Baba’s unrelenting flow focusses on understanding and criticizing our current inaction.
I ain’t got not spare change to donate to carbon offsetting.
I don’t even want to calculate my footprint, I find it upsetting.
Polemics on climate change don’t have to come in verse, but Baba does more than just entertain supporters and berate deniers. He channels the energy and aggression of rap to confront the comfortable: Those who say they can’t make a difference and those who think they do enough. Art has long been a tool to expose social hypocrisy, and the Rap Guide to Climate Chaos has a little something for everybody.
Baba’s adamant about humanity’s need to address climate change, he offers a lot more than just preachy words on living off the grid, man. He breaks down the conflicts people have about reducing their offset and acknowledges we’re not going to get anywhere if we ask people to skip their vacations.
Here he is again on “Make It Hot”:
“But here’s what I’m willing. I’m willing to pay a tax.
“A fee that’s calculated against my carbon impacts.
“And globally harmonized to switch incentives around.
“And make sure most of the carbon stores safely under ground.”
That’s more or less the core of Baba’s attitude about why humanity has not acted on the overwhelming evidence that climate change poses an existential threat to our social order. Acting individually, or as Baba puts it, “donating your piggybank to the national debt,” is not a feasible solution, and nobody is going to agree to sacrifice without collective action. The problem is that policymakers won’t act until the people are on the street demanding more taxes for everyone!
And for those who doubt that rap can help break the ice, the Coalition of Rainforest Nations would beg to differ. The delegation of countries with significant rain forests brought Baba into their corner for the Paris conference to help smooth over the tense negotiations with freestyle verses on topics like carbon credits for the aviation industry.
“I was like the court jester,” Baba tells Inverse. The moderators of the meetings would announce that “before breaking, we’ve got our resident rap artists, Baba Brinkman here, and he’s gonna provide a hip hop summary of what we just experienced.”
His rhymes closed out many a conference meeting, helping earn the rainforest nations valuable concessions that allow high-emission nations to offset their CO2 output with funds to keep carbon-fixing trees in the ground.
“I was providing levity and humor and galvanizing a sense of purpose to what people were doing — energizing the troops.”
The technical scientific jargon set to a beat and rhyming, sometimes mixed with cliches of classic rap, is not an everyday experience and, admittedly, can come across as a little jarring.
“I make it hot, so hot even climate change skeptics will believe me
I make it hot like the temperature it needs to be before the Tea Party will believe the IPCC.”
But Baba has an established record of translating classic scientific debates into popular and engaging rap records. He has already followed up his breakout “Rap Guide to Evolution” with rap guides to human nature, wilderness and, most recently, religion. The choice of climate chaos seemed like a natural progression after his experiences in Paris and considering the issue was a “dinner table topic” for his family in Canada. Baba lays it out in his song, “What’s Beef?”
“What about my worldview, how was it shaped? A little Canadian environmentally raised,” he begins. “When I was 13, my momma was working/ on her masters on climate change researching/ and my dad ran a company that planted trees/ taking carbon out the atmosphere with forestry.”
He even wades into the American presidential election, mocking Republican climate deniers and even dressing up as a very orange Donald Trump in the video for “What’s Beef?” As a Canadian citizen, he may not be able to vote, but he’s a firm believer in Senator Bernie Sanders’ proposed carbon tax, while stressing that Secretary Hillary Clinton’s subsidies for solar energy do not go far enough.
Baba’s wide-ranging interests converge wonderfully on climate change. It’s passionate, political and never boring, despite his (almost) academic attention to detail. Though the album isn’t finished, he’s already laying out plans for his next project “to help pay the bills” that will focus on artificial intelligence.
Singularity in verse. That’s weird enough to make Ray Kurzweil proud.
Full disclosure: I contributed $25 to the Rap Guide to Climate Chaos.