How a Dillingham teen turned an ancient epic poem into a rap

A boy in a jacket stands outside in the snow.
Tracen Wassily in Dillingham on Monday. (Isabelle Ross/KDLG)

Tracen Wassily wasn’t initially sold on the hefty “Epic of Gilgamesh,” a poem that dates back roughly 4,000 years.

“At first, I didn’t like it,” said Wassily, who is 16 years old. “But what I wrote about was the part I like most.”

Wassily is an 11th grader at Dillingham High School. He and his classmates in world literature recently got a unique assignment: transform the “Epic of Gilgamesh” —  the world’s oldest surviving epic poem — into a skit, essay or song.

For those of us who aren’t fresh out of high school, the story of Gilgamesh is a Mesopotamian poem about a hero who sets off on a quest to find the secret to immortality. Along the way, he forms a deep friendship and fights many battles.

When Wassily got the assignment to create something new based on the ancient text, he went right to work.

“Not even a day after — like right after school — I got to work producing a beat, a good rhythm, like a fast-paced rhythm for what I’m going to be doing,” he said. “’Cause that’s what I’m most comfortable on.”

Wassily said he drew inspiration from some of his favorite artists, like Denzel Curry, XXXTentacion and Zillakami.

“They just have really good energy, really good lyrics,” Wassily said. “And their delivery is just, like, perfect, for me. Their production team, their engineering, it’s just all really good.”

His song is called “G and Enkidu,” and it’s about a minute long. He said to compose it, he focused on matching the rhythm he created on an app on his cellphone to the emotion in the poem.

For example, take Humbaba, a monster in the story. Gilgamesh and his friend, Enkidu, embark on a journey to kill Humbaba.

Gilgamesh is the son of a goddess and a mortal, and a fierce king. But he’s also undiplomatic and greedy. So his mother helps create another man, Enkidu, out of a piece of clay to serve as Gilgamesh’s friend and distract him from his immoral ways.

“The stuff I was rapping about, or singing about, was fast-paced as well, so it kind of fit really good,” said Wassily. “They were fighting Humbaba.”

Wassily chose to rap about Gilgamesh mourning Enkidu because of the powerful emotions each sentence evokes.

“He’s laying him down on a magnificent bed, a bed of honor,” Wassily said. “He’s saying the rulers of the underworld will kiss your feet. Like, all of this stuff, just for him.”

Looking ahead, Wassily said he wants to continue producing music, but it probably won’t be based on ancient poems.

Listen to “G and Enkidu”:

Lyrics by Tracen Wassily:

G and Enkidu on a quest for glory
slayin Humbaba is the start of his story
our heroes make it to the gate
but before they serve H his fate
they feel their knees shake
they feel their stomachs ache
couple minutes later kidu slashin with his saber
the repercussions of this act kidu gonna feel later
enkidu lay down before G
his tears flow down both his cheeks
in his dreams
he could see
that the underworld is where he will be
his side kick
12 days sick
enkidu will cease to exist
accepted by his mother
un replaceable by another
G left without a brother
now his heart is in the gutter
no more Enkidu G alone now
he let everybody know in his hometown
that he and Enkidu separated no more bro now
now he walk around like a husk with a bold frown
he can’t process that he’s gone now
this is the end of Gilgamesh’s song now

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