Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Watsky (w/ Dia Frampton) - Sarajevo

George Watsky gained fame because of his ability to rap fast, but his background as a spoken word poet can lend his rhymes a depth and maturity that other rappers don't have. Of course, he can be gloriously sophomoric or nerdy or anything else, but when he teamed up with former The Voice finalist Dia Frampton, they created Watsky's best and most provocative song, "Sarajevo".

When I first heard "Sarajevo" I was moved simply by the lyrics, thinking Watsky had created a remarkably evocative picture of tragedy using the war torn connotations that Sarajevo evokes in our memories. But I found out through a little bit of research that the story he tells is that of Admira Ismić and Boško Brkić, also known by the title of the award winning PBS documentary about them, Romeo and Juliet in Sarajevo. Both 25, he was a Christian. She, a Muslim. Traditionally Sarajevo was a remarkable city and a beacon of acceptance and diversity as Christians, Jews, Muslims, and followers of the Eastern Orthodox Church lived in harmony (even at one time being the only city in Europe with a synagogue, mosque, Catholic and Orthodox churches in the same neighborhood). But some time during the 20th century, things began to erode. During the Siege of Sarajevo the couple was trying to flee the city when a sniper gunned down first him and then her as they tried to cross a bridge out of the city on which they should've had safe passage as civilians. They became symbols of the atrocities of war, their pictures posted all over media outlets in 1993. Watsky starts their story with the first verse:

And they wonder what our parents say
And they wonder how we'll raise our children
And they tell me that I'm living with a monster
And they whisper that she took up with a villain
But I don't see dragon's scales
And I don't see claws and fangs
All I'm looking at is arms that hold me
Brown eyes that understand
And when she closed those eyes one final time no pipers came
But I know we got a love that's truer than a military sniper's aim
But we won't die in vain
Tie that chain round my waist
And pull me from the bottom of the pit of hell up to your final resting place

Followed by Dia Frampton's singing of the chorus

Sarajevo, Sarajevo
You're the altar that I pray to
God is love and love is all we have

Establishing the love between the couple, the dedication, the religious conflict from society, and the horrible deaths in just a few words is remarkable storytelling from a poet like Watsky. The minimal music helping underscore the story and keep the focus their rather than on the production. The second verse, for my money possibly the best in hip hop history, then goes like this:

We were trying to run from the city
Had the hope and the pride of the kids
People wanna put up walls to divide us
Kinda fitting that we died on a bridge
Same souls, both sides of the banks
They say we're different and they're fillin in the facts
But they put the same metal in the bullets
And they put the same bullets in our backs
Kinda love that we got is one in a mill
Ain't no God that I pray to would wanna kill
It's not God but it's fear and it's politics
And a molotov that was lit with a dollar bill
Don't say that all is lost
Escape this holocaust
My God, Allah, my darling, star and crescent and my cross

Closing a powerful verse with the imagery of their religions, God and the cross for his Christianity, Allah and the star and crescent for her Islam. The couple wasn't consciously trying to bridge religions or make a statement, but they did anyway just by living their loving lives. Watsky points out that the God they pray to would not support taking the lives of others (life being God's most precious gift), and showing that war, even religious war, is always, at its heart, not about religion at all but about fear, politics, and money. The final verse ends things like this:

Where do we come from? Where do we go?
You could fill up the sea with the things I don't know
But I know what I feel and I know when it's real
And I hope that we heal
We're two drops of the blood and tears
Over thousands of years of the clash of the steel
I'm not blind to the cycle
We’re pressed in spine of a Bible
They define the divine by the title
But what did Christ say? To be kind to my rival
You're my kind of revival
It's true ya, my favorite Hallelujah
You my you my favorite Hallelujah

Ending things on a beautiful note of transcendence and uplift, though we can't forget the bloody journey it took us to get there. Dia closes out the song with an extended chorus, leaving the song on another emotional and powerful note. One of the great songs in hip hop, by its most talented young mind. One to make us think and feel and love.

God is love and love is all we have.