So much of popular entertainment is mindless, which probably explains why it’s both popular and entertaining.
Rap, the newest form of popular entertainment, has more often than not played to the lowest common denominator of human concerns. But as Lin-Manuel Miranda so famously proved with “Hamilton,” it need not be that way.
True, there have long been "conscious rappers" who have used their music to protest police violence, war, political leadership or social conditions. But few and far between are the rappers who promote challenging ideas of science and rationality in their work, and do so with a lyrical complexity that rivals good literature.
Two such rappers I only recently learned of but who have been turning out great work for years are Greydon Square and Baba Brinkman.
The two could not be more different. Square, whose real name is Eddie Collins, has the more dramatic biography of the two. African American and straight out of Compton, he was raised in a group home, gangbanged as a teen and wound up in juvenile detention. He enlisted in the Army, served in Iraq and later became deeply interested in physics and computer science.
After his first album, “The Compton Effect”, the titles of his succeeding albums have referenced astrophysics: “The Kardashev Scale,” is named for the method astrophysicists use to theoretically sort civilizations across the Universe based on how well they harness energy. Another album was titled “Omniverse.” These titles suggest rather expansive ambitions, to say the least.
"I'm an artist who creates music for intellectuals," Square says in a video on his landing page on Bandcamp. "Who creates music for thinkers, people who are analytical, people who like fringe concepts in science and science fiction. That's really my lane," he says.
Dirk Murray “Baba” Brinkman is a white Canadian who was raised by well-connected parents in British Columbia. His mother is a member of Canada’s Parliament who also co-founded reforestation companies with her husband. Baba has a master’s degree in comparative literature.
His first rap splash was a hip hop retelling of the Canterbury Tales. Later, he delivered rap guides to business, religion, evolution, human nature, medicine and consciousness.
Like Square, his ambitions are cosmic. Besides rapping, he's an actor and a playwright. He estimates he personally planted more than one million trees while working for his parents.
While they come from very different backgrounds, both Square and Brinkman converged on atheism and aren’t shy in giving voice to their stance that all religions fail abysmally at explaining the “how” of the universe, and are shackles on human curiosity and knowledge. When you listen to Square and Brinkman's work, it’s as though Richard Dawkins, the evolutionary biologist and famous atheist, were a rapper. Brinkman has a music video for his song "Neighborhood Atheism" in which Square appears.
Carl Sagan is a role model for both men, as he is to many of us who wish the “demon-haunted world” would come to grips, sooner rather than later, with the evidence-based nature of reality.
These two rappers have captured my imagination. They will capture the imaginations of many more before they’re done. Thanks to the Internet for serendipitously leading me to them. Such discoveries almost make up for having to endure the Internet’s worst features. Almost.