Rap, Literature, and the Soundtrack to Kosovo’s Political Crisis: A Conversation with Rapper BimBimma

Kosovar rapper BimBimma discusses his poetry, Kosovo’s corrupt political elite, and the 2015 mass exodus of his compatriots.


Kosovar rapper Burim Kursani, better known as BimBimma, is a pioneer of Albanian-language rap. Before he started rapping, there was no Albanian rap produced in the Gheg dialect, the dialect that the majority of Albanians speak; rap existed only in the Tosk dialect, the dialect that written Albanian is based on. The 2003 album ““E-Gjeli” by the rap group NR, which includes BimBimma, DJ Blunt, and rappers Ergen and Real One, for the first time featured Albanian rap in the Gheg dialect. Today, BimBimma, is one of the most famous rappers in the Albanian-speaking part of the Balkans, using his music to denounce problems and injustices in his society. Signed with label P.I.N.T. (Per Inat t’Njoni Tjetrit), BimBimma released his latest solo album Rra’jt [Roots] in 2011. Most recently, BimBimma released the song “Popllin Tim” [“My People”] featuring the rapper Cyanide last month, directly addressing the on-going political crisis in Kosovo. His next album – the title of which the rapper is still keeping secret – will be released this year.

When did you start writing?

I started writing as a fourteen-year-old, in 1998. It was the first rap song [NR] wrote at that time. In the beginning of 1998, war knocked at Kosovo’s door. We were still children, but we already knew that people were killed. And this first text I wrote addressed these killings. The song is called “Shumë Vrasje” [“Too Many Murders”]. As fourteen-year olds, our only objective was to put onto paper the cruel reality we had to witness.

Was this really the first time you rapped?

It was the first time I rapped in Albanian, yes. Before I took the instrumentals of foreign rappers, I learned their lyrics by heart and rapped these lyrics on their beats. I recorded that with an old computer and a headset. This was my autodidactic way of learning how to rap. Later, we started to write raps in Albanian – and continued to do so. We are the authors of the alphabet and the dictionary of the contemporary Albanian rap. Our 2013 album E-Gjeli revolutionised Albanian rap: for the first time, an album rapped in the Albanian dialect the most Albanians speak.

Where lays the advantages of rapped poetry in comparison to written poetry?

I think there is no difference. If we take, for example, a piece of written poetry addressing life in a corrupted country full of destitution, it is the same as a rapped poetry. Take every of my raps, write down what you hear, and read it as poetry, and tell me if there is any difference. If you for example never heard my song “Zani i Skamjes” [“The Voice of Destitution”] and read my lyrics, you would have said, “nice poetry.”

Do you have other writing ambitions apart from rap?

I am about to gather all my written texts. Until now, I have 800 word-file documents – each file containing one to fifteen pages. And the objective is to publish this collection of my lyrics as a book. The book should be called Poezi. [He explained the double meaning of this title with a cooking gesture, editor’s note.] You see? Cooking it until it is black. [Poezi means poetry in Albanian, but “po e zi” means to cook something until it burns, or to put it metaphorically: “I am burning it,” editor’s note.] I hope that once my book is published, a progressive professor will give his students my book to read and tell them that we have in Albanian written poetry and street poetry, modern poetry. Then they could compare the two different styles.

Which is your best song lyrically?

I think there are a few good lyrical songs I made: “Zani i Skamjes,” “Çu” [“Wake Up”], “Day Dream,” “Thug Music,” the song I dedicate to my father, and I have also a lot of skits, in which you hear the music very silently, and this is not only poetry; it really makes you think. These skits are very short – one minute or one and a half minute. And to be [honest], before being convinced that my song text is good, I don’t record the song. To put it differently, the songs I record are at the same time the best pieces of poetry I wrote.

That means you consider yourself also as a poet.

Modern urban poet.

What makes your lyrics poetry?

That’s a good question. I write with feeling. When I write, a feeling – ein Gefühl – gets melded. This feeling comes from reality. And if I came to know this feeling, I am sure that there are a lot of Kosovars who know that feeling, because we share the same reality. Poetry, in my opinion, is a text – poetic or lyrical, that means having rhymes – linked to reality. The reality of the world we are living in and the reality of another world for those of us who believe in that.

Are there contemporary Albanian writer[s] you appreciate?

Except for the names I mentioned, there is no contemporary Albanian writer I especially admire. I already started reading something by a contemporary author – I do not want to mention any names – but it did not give me the need to finish that book. And if I do not even feel the urge to read your first book until the end, I better read nothing you write.

Are there writers in general that influenced you?

When I became older and started to understand some things, I started reading a lot of philosophy and psychology. There definitely are rhetorical devices I took from other writers, for example Paulo Coehlo. He taught me to write short sentences; to use the full stop as much as possible. For instance, look at the beginning of “Zani i Skamjes:” “Sa her t’kqyri ty ma kujton jeten. Se kur t’shoh n’sy gjith e shoh veten” [Every time I see you, I see myself. Because when I watch you in your eyes, I see life]. Dark and tough philosophy, which uses good metaphors to describe life, also influenced me, especially Friedrich Nietzsche. Franz Kafka’s way of seeing the world also left some traces on me. When it comes to psychologist[s], I admire Alfred Adler, Erich Fromm, Gordon Allport, Sigmund Freud – and I should stop here otherwise it would take too long.

What exactly did you take from Nietzsche?

“You look to the top, because you want to get higher. I look to the bottom, because I am standing high. Who is standing on the top?,” Nietzsche once wrote, and this is important not only for my rap but also for my life. This means keep your modesty. It is more important to not to speak than to speak. It is more important to not to feel proud of something you achieved. “Silence is gold,” which metaphorically means choose the right moment to speak. This also means to keep your modesty, to not become too arrogant, to not to discriminate, to not to offend – except [if] you are a politician, and you are a piece of bullshit. But god brought me to this earth with another objective: to write. My songs can change the life or the views on life of some people. My objective is to contribute to change, to bequeath my music, and to be mentioned.

Did it happen to you that a fan came to you and told you that you changed his life?

I don’t remember anymore which song this person talked about. Maybe it was about one of the strophes I wrote about my father or my song “Çu” or “Day Dream.” Anyways, he told me that this song he listened to changed his way of thinking and expressing himself. He was a young guy with ambitions to get involved into politics and studying political science. He recognised the honesty and the reporting-from-reality of my music. This for me was a very valuable experience. Especially because we live in capitalist times, in which a single song is not profitable. Today people prefer to hide from reality through listening to music. What I try to do is to bring reality to you through music. This brings us back to rhythm and poetry, which is rap. You have rhythm, and you need to show your poetry skills. That’s a rapper, that’s an MC. Not using in one strophe twelve times the word “I”.

Are there any other experiences that were crucial to your development as a rapper?

When it comes to writing, there is one experience I will never forget. It was a class on world literature in 2001, when I was as an exchange student at Berkley High School. The professor was black and a Muslim. We first analysed a poem, and this professor taught us the power of speech – the way of writing that makes your text piercing – and this experience is haunting me until today. This happened fourteen years ago, but I am still thinking of it. I still have his sketch in mind when I write my lyrics. He taught me to use punch lines at their right place. You use your strongest line always in the last verse. I can illustrate you this with my song “Zani i Skamjes,” where I finish with the following verses: “Normal qe met fmija pa nan’/ Ku nana 14 vjeqare u met shtatzan” [It is no wonder if the child remains motherless, if the mother herself became pregnant at the age of 14]. If I were to put these two lines in the beginning of my text, these words would have had a completely different meaning. Finishing with these two lines is like receiving a stroke of fist in your face.

What do you think about the writing skills of your Albanian rap colleagues?

The rappers of today do not write. There are only a few who really write lyrics that could be labelled poetry. If you take, for example, a song, in which a rapper adulates him – can you call this poetry? That would be difficult, and, honestly spoken, no, it is not poetry. The reason is simple: listening to something like that does not let the listener feel anything.

Where do you think lays the advantages of Albanian rap in comparison to rap in English or German?

I think there is no advantage. Regardless of whether you are listening to Albanian, French, or Japanese rap, it always has its origins in US-American rap: rap as a revolutionary movement, using words as weapon, using poetry in order to change reality. This all came from the States. We in Kosovo took this US rap culture and internalized it. The difference now is that they are the creators and we are the imitators. English also has more words than Albanian, which means that one can play more with words in English. Albanian, however, has also a lot of words, but we don’t use them when we speak it. The problem is that if I were to use these unusual Albanian words, the people would not understand me.

https://youtube.com/watch?v=IFMuTJf9y28%3Flist%3DPL9012978169DE9F84

What are the crucial topics of the Kosovar society you address in your songs?

Most of my songs are about the discontent of my dear nation. I also address the demands and the injustices it suffers. For example, how can a population be happy without having a functioning 1) medical system, 2) education, 3) work, 4) legal system? You have so many things here, which allow you to illustrate the negativisms of Kosovars. It is negativisms, which oblige me to write. I could also write about positive things, but a positive negativism inspires me. Even though I use a lot of irony and sarcasm in my text, there remains always a little bit of hope – this is the positive aspect of the negativism inspiring me. I am saying this because, honestly spoken, there is nothing positive in this society. Here is everything fucked up, really everything.

What annoys the most?

You have no educational system. What about the future of the kids? We, grownups, have a responsibility to leave a world with prospects to our children. Kosovar kids have no schools, no kindergartens, no playgrounds, and no cultured parents. And if these kids get ill, their parents can’t bring them to a doctor. And if the kids of today grow up, their children will face the same situation. This is a circle, without any progress. These are the things I am addressing, but what I really wish to happen is to see others trying to change something. They know all these things. If they listen to me, they say, “Ah that’s true.” And that’s it. If out of these, for example, 10,000 people listening to my songs, ten people were to stand up and do something – be it only in their village, in their neighbourhood, in their city – it would be enough. My objective is to make people think and act. If my lyrics do not make you think, I do not need to write and record it.

"Bun down deh system!!!", BimBimma at an anti-government protest in Pristina earlier this year (Photo credit: Facebook/bimbimma)
BimBimma at an anti-government protest in Pristina earlier this year (Photo credit: Facebook/bimbimma)

What do you think about the Kosovar mass exodus of the beginning of 2015?

The mass exodus resulted from the lack of the possibility to ensure the elementary needs for the future. The basic needs are eating, drinking, having clothes. Then comes housing, heating, water, taxes – these things are elementary for European countries. It would be absurd, for example, if 60% of the population of a European country cannot ensure their daily bread. The Kosovar state is guilty for the mass exodus, because this country could not ensure the basic needs to its population.

Do you have an explanation for this exodus?

In Kosovo, you have people who only think of surviving today. For them, there is no tomorrow; there is no work, but they have five family members. And in their illusion to having found a solution, these people tried to leave the country. This is even normal from a psychological perspective. Every human being has an instinct of life – Eros – and an instinct of death – Thanatos, to borrow the Freudian expression. In order to hide from daily obligations, fears, [and] uncertainties, the instinct of death pushes you to evanescence – Nirvana, how the Buddhists call it. Those who migrated from Kosovo during the beginning of 2015 committed is a “half-death,” if you concretely consider what they did. They left and sold everything what they had here and migrated with the consideration [of] “never mind even if I die.” They left Kosovo in order to die, or they left Kosovo as already dead persons. I am addressing this issue in my coming album. I am convinced that these people are innocent, when it comes to the exodus.

Really?

Of course, how could it be their fault? Imagine, you have a two-years-old baby, and you struggle for everyday basic needs. Should you watch your child dying? They looked for a solution, and they thought that this would be the solution. Some had a very tough life; some maybe found their rescue through this migration. But in these camps, even though the living standards are not the best ones, they do not need to think about how to get food. I can well imagine that some of them are very happily living in the camps. If one were to find them a job, they would be completely satisfied.

To be satisfied with so little is something unimaginable in Germany.

This is what I said before. The other problem is that our politicians have instrumentalized the war and their population in order to become billionaires.

Do you have a psychological explanation for their corrupt behaviour?

I feel pity for them. They didn’t have money before. Some of these politicians did not even see a city before 1998. Having a car, a villa in Monte Carlo, whores, or a company was unimaginable for them. They are hungry, and they don’t know. Those who are hungry get corrupted, if they have not had enough to eat. That’s the work of the devil, because he never gets enough. Why do you need one billion euros? If you die and the Day of Judgment is waiting for you, “ok that’s nice you had one billion Euros. Did you help somebody? Did you do anything good with this money? How many bad things did you do in order to get this wealth?” They will burn in hell eternally. But atheists who laugh about [the] devil and hell should wait and see. This is the problem of corruption: they are hungry. They are hungry and never get enough.

Is that all?

Rap is often criticized for being misogynist. Do you have women-degrading lyrics?

 

No, I never did. Why should I? “Women are bitches” and that stuff? No, I don’t need that. Of course, I rap about women; also in my coming Album. You have two kind of women: bitches and loyal, normal, women. If I ever degrade somebody it will be politicians, and other rappers, who forgot what rap is.

Do you think your classification of women you made is also valid for men? 

Yes.

So, for you men also can be bitches?

Of course, such men are bitches or pussies. You cannot call a woman a pussy. We divide men between men – honest, loyal – and pussies – like aunts drinking coffee and talking about gossips. You want gender equality? There is no more discrimination. Men – pussies. Women – pussies.

What disturbs me is that you call men “pussies” if you want to insult them, which is misogynist. To be equal in terms of insult, you should not call a woman you do not like a “bitch” but a penis.

In Albania, they do that: “je kare.” And we started in Kosovo to do the same thing.

Do you still want to improve your writing?

When it comes to my style of writing as such – the narrative perspective, how I start and how I end my lyrics – there is no improvement to make. What I can improve is using new words, new wordplays, new flows, new rhyming patterns. Regarding the writing as such “I think this is me.” That minute [when] I feel that there is no improvement I can make, I will stop rapping. This moment would mean that I reached a climax, and there is nothing to improve anymore. If this moment will come, “I’ll leave it like that.”

Do you think this moment will come?

Yes, and even [if] this moment were not to come, I would choose this moment. But I can record songs even when I am 50 years old. Jay-Z already is 50 years old and is still recording. But when I will still do song at this age, it will be only meaningful tracks – songs that will remain and songs that will be talked about every time the culture of rap music will be mentioned.

If a reader does not know you at all, which of your songs should he listen to?

I don’t know how much these readers will take the punishment of finding a suitable translation, but anyways, I would suggest that they listen to my new unpublished song about my father, or Zani i Skamjes, or Çu

If they were to listen to it with translated lyrics, they will be so impressed that they would become speechless.

 

Cover photo: Courtesy of BimBimma

Adem Ferizaj

Adem was born in Kosovo, raised in Germany, and is studying international relations at Sciences Po. He has written for the newspaper Franz Kafka wrote for in his time. He also writes for Kosovo 2.0.

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