When it comes to environmentally themed songs, I have a very small list in my head of compositions that are actually worth listening to twice. They Might Be Giants' "Electric Car" groove comes to mind, as does Michael Jackson's "Earth Song" and Sheryl Crow's "Shine Over Babylon." Going back further, you'll find a litany of music from the decades weaving in environmental messages. But rap? Beyond the fun parodies, I've never heard anything worth serious mention. Enter Baba Brinkman and his new album "The Rap Guide to Wilderness."
Brinkman, 36, describes himself as a Canadian hip-hop artist with an "intellectual bent," eloquently tackling difficult subjects like literature and science and distilling them into song. Previous albums have touched upon everything from evolution to human nature and business. His unique ability to both entertain and inform caught the attention of The WILD Foundation, a conservation organization that commissioned Brinkman's seven wilderness-themed songs for his latest album.
"Baba is a talented artist with a mission — to help people understand themselves and the world they live in and depend upon," said Vance Martin, president of WILD, in a statement. "We envision this release as becoming a part of the “wilderness toolkit” we continue to develop — involving policy, communications, science, and culture — for use to communicate with and inform professionals, the public, youth, and policymakers."
It also helps that Brinkman is long-time environmentalist, having planted more than 1 million trees during summers in the Canadian wilderness.
"I decided as a teenager that rap was the best medium for making an impact on the world through creative language use, and I've never looked back," he told Gothamist in 2011. "As for treeplanting, it's a very repetitive job and I did it for 12 years, give or take, so I taught myself to rap by freestyling along with the repetitive motions of the work."
I'll admit I was skeptical before hitting play on "The Rap Guide to Wilderness." I've heard other environmentally themed songs commissioned by organizations in the past that have been nothing short of disastrous. But Brinkman's talent for placing smart lyrics over a complex and pleasing groove is unquestioned here. Everything from "Bottleneck" (species extinction) to "Walden Pond" (wilderness exposure) is not only beautifully mixed, but also easy to listen to. I often put on hip-hop as background music when writing, but to Brinkman's credit, his words kept rising front and center.
You can stream the songs over on Brinkman's official site here. The full digital album is available now for a "name your price" donation, with the CD shipping later this week for $10. Half of the proceeds from the album's sales will benefit The WILD Foundation. Check out a video for the first single "Tranquility Bank" below.