LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Over the past couple of months, we've brought you personal stories of migrants making their way into Europe. Today, we have a profile of one Syrian refugee for whom American-style hip-hop music has been a lifeline and a creative outlet along his journey northward. Lauren Frayer met him on the last leg of his trip.
LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: The parking lot of this gas station just inside Hungary, near the Serbian border, has been taken over by smugglers, mostly Serbian men who offer illegal rides to the Austrian border for up to $1,100 per person. They also have prostitutes lined up here and hotels on offer. I tried to interview them.
I'm a journalist. I wanted to ask you...
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: No, no. Please, no, please. I'm Serbian. And people go in Budapest - money.
FRAYER: But they're not willing to talk. Hanging back in the gas station mini-market, charging his smartphone and watching all of this is Basel Esa, a Syrian refugee.
BASEL ESA: The smugglers, I don't trust them. I want to go normally, legally. I don't want to cause any problem. We already finished like 90 percent of our trip, so I don't want to make it failure.
FRAYER: Esa left his native Syria two years ago, lived in Turkey and then decided to come to Europe.
ESA: I was studying physical therapy in Aleppo University. I was planning to be a doctor. But my dream was bombed, just like everything in Syria.
FRAYER: I ask him to hold my microphone while I interview him, and he happens to mention his real vocation.
Can you just hold this like this?
ESA: I'm exhausted.
FRAYER: Or I'll hold it then.
ESA: No, no problem. I'm a rapper, by the way, so I hold a lot of mics.
FRAYER: Esa says the thing that's got him through the Syrian war and life as a refugee is American-style hip-hop and rap.
ESA: I was listening to rap music since I was 10 years old. That's how I got my English, by the way - a lot of rap and a lot of movies. And I started to write and rap when I was 16. I had many problems in my city about rap, like people just mocking me a lot. People are like, oh, trying to be American. OK, what? What's your problem (laughter)?
FRAYER: He gives me a demo.
ESA: You're recording? OK, goes like this. Like Syrian rap in Hungary. Marshall B on the mic (laughter).
(Rapping) So listen carefully, take a look around and open your eyes. this life that we're living is no more than a lie. My pain, my heart are both (unintelligible) bleeding when I see my life going around with no leading...
FRAYER: He raps about war, survival and about these smugglers right in front of us. He speaks Arabic, English, Turkish, even a bit of Korean he picked up from tourists while working in Istanbul's spice market. Next up, German. He wants to request asylum there.
ESA: I don't understand, but I heard some German rap. It's cool, you know.
FRAYER: So what's your rap name? Like, when you first started rapping, you said...
ESA: Marshall B. Marshall is the - it's not about Eminem, you know. He's Marshall Mathers (laughter).
FRAYER: Oh, right, right.
ESA: Yeah, it's not about him. Marshall is the leader of army. I chose this name to be the leader of the Syrian hip-hop army, and B, for me. That's it. I can get a lot of girls by this.
FRAYER: He says he thinks the German ladies will be impressed. A few days after our interview, I get a text from Esa. He's arrived in Germany. Frieden, he writes - peace. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Roszke, on the Hungary-Serbia border.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.