The Rap Guide to Evolution, brainchild of the Canadian rap artist Baba Brinkman, is a series of 10 music videos produced with support from the Wellcome Trust. Brinkman also did a rap version of the Canterbury Tales. I liked the off-Broadway performance of this self-described “hip-hop tour of evolutionary biology.” Teachers may present science in surprising contexts in order to captivate a non-science-major or those with a borderline interest. A high point of my intro genetics lecture on Mendel is the YouTube video of rapping “monks,” cassocks swirling, dervish-like (“Peas, brothers”). Teachers may also be familiar with Pete Weatherall’s songs on DNA and cell division. Brinkman’s energetic performance videos, containing clever lyrics, engaging animations, choreography, and splashy graphics, may be used as hooks to spark interest in a genetics or science history lesson.

The menu-selectable videos include “Natural Selection,” “Artificial Selection,” “I’m a African,” “Creationist Cousins,” “Survival of the Fittest,” and six others. Some selections are suitable only for adult audiences: “Hypnotize,” “Darwin’s Acid,” “Worst Comes to Worst,” and “DNA” include images, lyrics, or graphics of a sexual nature.

Students will sing along with parts of “Natural Selection,” when the chorus intones the principle of natural selection: “The weak and the strong, Darwin got it goin’ on…whoever leaves the most spawn,” as the bearded rapper Darwin gyrates and twirls. A copy of the lyrics could be provided by the teacher in order to facilitate this sing-along. In “Artificial Selection,” Brinkman describes Darwin as “the first to translate his amazement at the wonder of life into a way to explain it.” My favorite video, and the best produced, is “I’m a African,” in which Brinkman raps the origins of mankind: “Africa is where my momma got her mitochondria” accompanied by wild graphics. Don’t expect to hear the word “mitochondria” in a 50 Cent or Jay-Z rap. I’ve been humming “The fossil record has gaps but no contradictions” all morning.

In “Performance, Feedback, Revision,” Professor Baba compares the process of writing a rap with evolution and natural selection, showing how random changes due to mutations alter the text or performance piece (the genetic code). The altered text sees the light of day in the organism’s phenotype (the performance), which is accepted or rejected by natural selection (or the audience), feeding back on the endless creative cycle of life. The songs can be downloaded at http://bababrinkman.bandcamp.com/album/the-rap-guide-to-evolution.