The Science of Hip Hop with GZA (Part 2)

Post Date: 28 July 2013

Listen now:

Season 4, Episode 21

The Genius at MIT. Photo courtesy of

The Genius at MIT. Photo courtesy of

The role of science in hip hop culture is the theme that runs through the conclusion of Neil deGrasse Tyson’s interview with rapper GZA. Prof. Chris Emdin explains hip hop’s fascination with science, circles of motion and “cyphers” while GZA describes how the philosophical/cultural movement known as “The Five Percenters” awakened his interest in the universe. There’s a spirited discussion between Neil, Chris and Chuck Nice about the distinction between real science and pseudo-science, the importance of a creative approach to learning, and the drawbacks of the “banking model” of education. GZA raps about his early days, and schools Neil about the formation of the Wu-Tang Clan, the golden age of MCs, and the lack of lyrical creativity among current rap artists. Plus, “The History of the Low-Hanging Pants” tells us the background to why kids wear their pants so low – the truth is guaranteed to surprise you as much as it does them.

(Note: Portions of this podcast appeared previously in a StarTalk Radio video on The Nerdist Channel.)

Chuck Nice, comedian

GZA, Musician, Co-Founder of Wu-Tang Clan
Dr. Christopher Emdin, Assistant Professor of Science Education at Columbia, Director of Secondary School Initiatives in the Urban Science Education Center

“Clan in da Front” – Wu-Tang Clan
“The Science” – Murs
“Rap-a-Long Science Song” – Jim Taylor and Friends
“Phases of the Moon” – Songs of Higher Learning
“Time” – Precise Science
“The Quantum World” – Symphony of Science
“Large Hadron Rap” – Alpinekat
“Dark Matter Rap” – Coma Niddy University
“Digital Bullet” (Full Album) – RZA

  • Sabrina

    It was Tom Leahrer who sang the Periodic table – and he did it to Gilbert and Sullivan’s “I Am the Model of a Modern Major General”.

    • Jeff

      Thanks for the correction, Sabrina.

  • Justin Connors

    youre repeating content with this. im confused was this intentional?

    • Jeff

      Justin, you’re not confused, and yes, this was intentional. The GZA episode, like other shows we’ve produced, appeared as a video that we co-produced with The Nerdist Channel, as well as a 2-part podcast that we just put up over the past couple of weekends. The show has also run, or may run, on the radio, depending on what station you listen to. So yes, if you listen across different channels, then this might seem like a repeat. Much of our audience listens to the show on a single channel, though.

  • K Lee

    Oh Dr. Tyson!
    I think he meant Tom Lehrer wrote ‘The Elements’!
    I suppose Timothy Leary did do quite a lot of chemical experimentation, of a sort though.

  • Greg

    Huh. Hmmm. Nah.

  • Greg

    great show, keep it up 😉

  • Anne Coe

    I am listening to this as I work in my studio. I am a painter and the universe is my muse. I meet many people who say they are scientists or mathematicians and that painting is their hobby. Subatomic physics is my hobby. I only listen to science programs when I work. You are an inspiration……….

  • Heisenberg

    “I’m going to drop a jewel on you right now. Less is more. Small is big. Marketing and promotion is shit. Physics, mathematics, and cosmology. Why do we breathe? What is oxygen? This is the truth.” – KRS One

  • Lori

    I became a political science major because of listening to The Clash, so this doesn;t surprise me at all.