When an Atheist Rapper Takes on Religion

Dec 7, 2015

by Jesse Rifkin

Baba Brinkman is a Canadian rapper who writes complex raps about high-brow topics, and now the avowed atheist is taking on religion.
Kanye West is married to Kim Kardashian. Jay-Z is married to Beyoncé. The rapper Baba Brinkman is married to a neuroscientist.

“We met at a conference where I performed a song about evolutionary psychology and she delivered a lecture about cognitive science of the unconscious mind,” Brinkman recalls. You know, the usual.

In a genre consistently topping the charts, owning radio airplay, and a stable of parties and clubs, Brinkman stands out in a subcategory of his own invention: “peer-reviewed rap.” All his records are concept albums with the title The Rap Guide to [Insert Noun] and explore a different intellectual theme: evolution, medicine, human nature, and more. His new release The Rap Guide to Religiondebuted Friday, Oct. 23.

“I feel like a lot of rappers grew up in a church community, since that’s a big part of the African-American culture. But I think there’s a lot of people who don’t relate to being churchy and religious and attributing everything to God,” Brinkman says in an interview, explaining the inspiration for his new work. “There aren’t strong voices in rap that represent the other view, that there’s a rational explanation for all this!”

Brinkman is not the first entertainer to produce intellectual rap, but it’s usually been done at least somewhat humorously or tongue-in-cheek. Think viral hitsWhite and Nerdy by Weird Al Yankovic and New Math by Bo Burnham, or the music videos concluding each episode of Bill Nye the Science Guy. Brinkman, on the other hand, is completely serious—a “real” rapper and not a comedian or satirist. His lyrics often contain Eminem-style multilayered complexity, not only featuring rhymes in concurrent lines like most rappers but sometimes two or even three rhymes contained within a single line.

As a result, Brinkman is able to successfully combine mind-expanding academic knowledge but with beats that make you tap your fingers on the steering wheel and earworms that can stay in your head for days. In this respect, he maintains many core elements of rap at its best with lyrics often representing a 180-degree departure from the genre’s typical fare. An example of this fusion on his upcoming album is his track Give Thanks, which satirizes the practice of thanking God, a common practice for rappers—or indeed, musicians from most genres.


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2 comments on “When an Atheist Rapper Takes on Religion

  • I do not promote the view of ‘new atheists’ that religion is a virus of the mind … diplomatic approach … looking at it from an evolutionary standpoint

    Is this the goldilocks approach we should embrace. Give religion a one-two punch, then wait for the torches and pitchforks. Go along with it, or show interest, and aha(!), you’ve a crack we can exploit.

    Didn’t care much for Brinkman’s ‘Evolution’ video. He showed no mercy to pseudo http://music.bababrinkman.com/track/off-that-rationalist-anthem/

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  • I love Baba Brinkman, as a person and as an artist. His music and message is many-layered. You can’t pick out a single line and analyze it–its meaning comes from the context of the whole stanza or the whole song. He’s brilliant, and he does his homework. I’d go see him live at any opportunity. Great show!

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