By Eric J. Grimm
Rap and theology collide in Baba Brinkman’s The Rap Guide to Religion, now showing at SoHo Playhouse. Brinkman’s one-man show explores the turbulent relationship between evolution and religion through energetic speech and rap. It’s an ambitious undertaking. The set-up sounds like you’re in for an evening of a science teacher trying way too hard to be cool, and some of the show comes dangerously close to falling into that trap. That said, it’s Brinkman’s willingness to go that close that make The Rap Guide to Religion so satisfying.
Recent criticism of white rappers like Iggy Azalea and Macklemore put Brinkman into tricky territory. The show could easily be 75 minutes of uncomfortable cultural appropriation or someone making light of an art form born out of counter culture and the struggle to have a voice. Brinkman has so thoroughly covered all of his bases that any misgivings about using rap as his form of expression fall to the wayside. We see his hip-hop literacy through references that fit organically into the piece and good use of multimedia throughout. If there’s any worry of Brinkman being a novelty act to be gawked at by the morbidly curious, he takes that power away from the audience by having them participate by singing along and throwing up made-up gang signs. Even the older white audience members seemed amused.
As a rapper, Brinkman looks and sounds comfortable. His flow is often impressive and he strikes a solid balance between punch lines and substantive lyrical content. He approaches criticism of religion, or rather a celebration of science and reason, with the mission of gently persuading the audience or at least advancing a dialogue. On top of all of that, Brinkman is just plain likable. He’s buoyant without being obnoxious and his passion for the subject is infectious. He’ll leave you wanting more rap guides to controversial issues.
The Rap Guide to Religion is showing at SoHo Playhouse (15 Vandam St.) through March 1st. For tickets, visit http://www.sohoplayhouse.com.