Science raps have this habit of being forgivably bad, in that this-isn't-really-a-rap-but-we'll-let-it-slide-because-you're-scientists-and-you're-clearly-trying sort of way. But this original piece from Jabari Johnson, a senior at Harlem Urban Assembly School for the Performing Arts, needs no such pardon.

Johnson's rap, titled "Quest for Joulelry," is the winner of this year's Science Genius Rap B.A.T.T.L.E.S., held last month at Columbia University. The competition is the product of a collaboration between Rap Genius, Columbia math professor and urban science education pioneer Christopher Emdin and Wu Tang Clan's GZA:

B.A.T.T.L.E.S. (Bringing Attention to Transforming, Teaching and Learning Science) was conceived as a way to keep students engaged in school and in science... GZA and Jeremy Dean of Rap Genius were among the six judges who watched as teens ages 14 to 20 strode the stage at TC's Joyce B. Cowin Conference Center and "spat" lyrics that ran a gamut of topics from rock science, natural selection and genetics to how materials freeze or melt.

Johnson's rhymes are more than just scientific, they've also got rhythm and tight, clever lyrics, presented in their entirety here (click through for line-by-line annotations at Rap Genius):

This concept is applied to all lives
We stride times distance
Ill let you be a witness to the prize.
Be a man, understand
You comprehending this is vital, work = FD
The equation for survival;
Your only rival is friction don’t get caught up in the drag
So you better prepare cuz obstacles fight back

When you get knocked down though don’t please don’t cry,
Just get up and apply more force next time

One day I was dreaming with a really strong hope
That I’ll make it but to make it takes more than just believing,
These resistance slash demons were kinda holding me back,
And I let’em but the simple way to get me on track was,

Force times displace, Is work no debate
I’ll take that concept apply it to my mistakes,

And now I’m progressing a natural Rap Genius
And I’ma get an A if I see this on the regent

[Hook]

Here’s the lesson, I know it kinda hurts but if you truly want to work than there must be progression cause,
FD=W the rule and the unit measurement for the product is called joules, Cool.
I did the work I’ma try to let it flow the more people I know kinetic energy grows so,
I’ma go to work convert all of my potential, and as my speed increases then I’ma grow exponential.

[Verse 2: Kinetic Energy]

The work has been applied if my equations are correct
The energy that is left creates a domino effect

My mass is what I’m bringing to the table underestimate
You’ll wish that you had brought a bigger dinner plate.

Separate me from the fakes let me educate
Velocity’s my following and that’s I’ma generate
Through these shows and gigs and just overcoming all the friction

To the point where friction doesn’t even make a difference.
I feed my interest with the laws of physics
When m and v multiply the picture is painted vivid,
The work was just something that got me inside the door,
Now we, squaring the v and it’s exponentially more.
I got a lot in store the v’s
Cuz I’m progressin’ my m
And when you multiply them
There’s no end to the kinetic energy
You better be prepared
Cause I’m fillin’ you up with envy with my ½ m v2


[Hook]

Here’s the lesson, I know it kinda hurts but if you truly want to work than there must be progression cause,
FD=W the tool and the unit measurement for the product is called joules, Cool.
I did the work I’ma try to let it flow the more people I know kinetic energy grows so,
I’ma go to work convert all of my potential, and as my speed increases then I’ma grow exponential.

Johns's delivery is more than just science set to rhyme scheme, which Emdin, in a recent interview (which you can watch below) with astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and comedian Chuck Nice, explains is indicative of a deeper understanding:

Emdin: A lot of people do hip hop pedagogy [where they think] 'kids like rap, [so] let's rap,' and they create raps or they perform raps and it doesn't work. And the reason why it doesn't work is because it's what goes on in school already, [set] to rhyme. And that doesn't work.

The distinction between saying something that rhymes and being a prolific MC [is that the latter] requires analogy, metaphor, drawing connections, weaving stories

Nice: And… cross references

Emdin: yeah

Nice: Which means you have to learn and know some knowledge here and some knowledge here in order to access that and bring it together.

Emdin: Absolutely. I was working with a young person once, and we get into the classroom and I want him to learn about water. So I teach him the lesson and he says 'yeah, the lesson was alright,' so I go 'look, you're a rapper… spit a rap about [water]' and he starts rapping about everything but water. He's like 'I'm fly, I'm sick." He had like one line, 'I flow like water'… and I'm like 'that's not going to work. Go home, read the text book, come back and write a new rhyme.'

And he comes back in the morning and he's like 'yo, it's type hard to spit a 16 about H2O.'

For more on the fusion of science, hip hop and education, check out this episode of Star Talk, featuring, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Emdin, Nice, and GZA:

h/t Joe Hanson