Review: The Rap Guide to Climate Chaos

IMG_20160306_082912172I doubt I would have had any interest in seeing The Rap Guide to Climate Chaos had it not been for Hamilton. As I said last year, I had never realized the dramatic possibilities of hip hop until seeing the Founding Fathers rap. So when I was offered press tickets (Hey, press tickets! A first for Show Me Shows!), I thought “Hey, why not? I love theater rap! And free tickets!”

The Rap Guide to Climate Chaos is exactly as advertised: an hourlong, mostly rapped show about the world’s greatest crisis. (Think An Inconvenient Truth, basically, in hip hop form.) It’s written and performed by Baba Brinkman, a Canadian white dude who (according to the bio) has written several other Rap Guides (on evolution and religion, for example) and has legit environmental cred: he has planted over a million trees!

And he’s also an impressive performer. Now I don’t know from raps, but he certainly packs in wit, intelligence and scads of information into each of the show’s 24 songs. Throughout, there’s a projection screen behind him with video clips to explain and clarify his arguments. The show is chock full of references to hip hop artists and albums, but all of this would have flown over my head without the helpful projections (Example: “Ok, so he must be making a reference to 2Pac” I thought, as an album cover flashed on the screen). More relevant to Brinkman’s point, though, are the charts and graphs that illustrate what he’s saying. I didn’t understand all of them, but got the gist of it: things aren’t looking good for the planet.

So it’s dense, it’s lively, it’s passionate, it’s interesting. But did I like it? Well, yes and no. Mr. Brinkman’s energy kept me intrigued throughout, but The Rap Guide to Climate Chaos is more lecture than theater. It would be a great way to teach kids about climate change, but it does feel a little bit like homework at times.

And despite the fact that facts and figures are so densely packed into this Rap Guide, I actually didn’t particularly feel like it taught me a lot that I didn’t know. Which is a ridiculous thing to say, right? Baba Brinkman clearly knows a ton about climate change, and this show is nothing if not informative. I feel like I must be lying when I say I didn’t learn anything. It could be just the preaching-to-the-choir feel of the thing. More likely, I just didn’t retain all that much. With this type of thing, I understand it better with Al Gore’s methodical and thorough powerpoint (with sad polar bears on ice floes), or a Radiolab back-and-forth conversation, rather than a full-on sensory assault such as Mr. Brinkman’s. At one point, Mr. Brinkman stopped rapping to engage directly with the audience, and I felt a little relieved. It gave me a chance to take things in a bit.

A sidebar: this was also one of the more interesting moments in the show for me personally. Brinkman asks the audience members to give suggestions about other climate change-related issues he should incorporate into the show. One lady said ordering fewer things online would be one way to go. Brinkman dismissed this idea out of hand, calling this sort of sacrifice “moral masturbation.” Government solutions are the only way to really solve anything, he argued. I get his point, but come now. That’s a little harsh! You could make the same argument about voting. (As a vegan, I am probably oversensitive to the accusation of moral masturbation. Oh dear.)

In any case, A Rap Guide to Climate Chaos is compelling, though not exactly memorable. But does it need to be? It certainly has me reengaged with the topic. I have been thinking about climate change frequently in the days since I saw the show. Climate change is tough: it’s such a major issue that it demands consideration, but so daunting that it’s tempting to deal with it later. Easiest just to ignore it and keep ordering stuff off Amazon.

My Grade: B-
Running time: A little over an hour
Ticket price: Free for me.
Worth it: Yes
Standing Ovation Watch: I forgot. I think so?