“They spell it Vinci and pronounce it Vinchy; foreigners always spell better than they pronounce.” – Mark Twain
They spell it Versace but pronounce it Versaschi; rappers always spell better than they pronounce. Actually, rappers can’t spell either; one brief glimpse at RapGenius should be enough to tell you that. Throughout the history of popular music, artists of all stripes have taken the liberty of dropping a “g” or stretching out a word to maximize its potential, but no genre since doowop has bastardized the English language as much as rap.
The creation of new words plays an important role in the history of pop as well, but we’re still more willing to accept Steve Miller’s “pompatus” than French Montana’s “fanute,” a word which emerged last year as the rap equivalent of Sarah Palin’s infamous “refudiate.” While many of these errors are natural products of a scene-specific patois, it’s often times on purpose.
My ribbing of the linguistic flexibility demonstrated by many emcees and rap lyricists probably sounds a bit harsh, but I assure you, it’s not. If William Gibson is allowed to give us “cyberspace” and Robert Louis Stevenson “chortle,” then why can’t we afford Will Smith his “jiggy” (which was added to the Oxford English Dictionary) or even French Montana his “fanute”? When writing this article I decided to google lists of words invented by William Shakespeare, and Flavorwire gives me “bump,” “swagger,” “obscene,” and “luggage,” words that hip-hop could not live without. Okay, not luggage. Well, actually luggage. Why? Because Versace makes luggage. And I promise, this all relates.
Enter Busdriver. The rap game Anthony Burgess, L.A. rapper Busdriver, real name Regan Farquhar (fact of the day: His father wrote the hip-hop movie Krush Groove), has long been slaying linguistics majors with the vorpal sword he calls his tongue. Many modern emcees are content to use a languid and laidback flow, but Busdriver’s delivery has the intensity of a water cannon on a Japanese game show. His most recent release, a remix of Migos’ “Versace,” produced by milo collaborator Riley Lake for the upcoming Hellfyre Club Team-Up record Dorner vs. Tookie, is no different, as its brilliant reconstruction of English is apparent from the title, misspelled as “Versachi.” Few other lyricists working in any genre today can construct rhymes like Busdriver can, as his cleverly build off of each others’ backs in an almost symbiotic fashion. He pulls out all the stops on “Versachi,” mulling over words with his mouth as if he is “[chewing] bullets like poppy seeds,” to borrow one of the song’s lyrics. I can’t think of another rapper who might be able to vomit out the line “vindicated vaginas on vivacious Vivians” successfully, yet somehow he’s able to. Most rappers will manipulate the syllables of a word to force it into a rhyme, but Busdriver has a power like none other, wielding full control over the lines he spits.
Ultimately, Busdriver’s transformative style gives each word a unique meaning totally separate from its definition in real life. His translation of the word Versace offers particular insight. In Migos’ song, Versace is a brand, a status symbol, almost something of a sonic bar code identifying him as someone in possession of wealth and fortune. Yet when Busdriver remixes the word, it’s a little bit of a hostile takeover. As he points out midway through the song, “[he] can’t afford no Versace,” so what appears as a signifier of power to Migos might have a different meaning to Busdriver. Migos’ incessant repetition of the word acts as a dividing line between himself and everyone else, a jackhammer and constant reminder that makes others feel insecure in their fortunes and drowns out the noise around him. The original song is a call for isolation, for idolation, but when Busdriver takes control of the it, he corrupts it, destroys it, and makes it something for the masses. By simply spelling the word as it is actually pronounced, it becomes accessible, no longer a lusted-after symbol of separation. It’s somewhat of a reverse apotheosis, taking a word that Migos thinks will deliver him into godliness and instead delivering it to the people. “Versace” is Howard Hawks’ OCD and gated communities; “Versachi” is the battered and old Louis Vuitton watch you bought for five dollars at a thrift store. It might be a little worse for the wear, but it comes with a distinct story and personality and it’s willing to engage with the world around it. In fact, one of the lines in the original “Versace” is a tomb-of-Tutankhamun-esque warning to anyone who dares set foot on Migos’ property inside a “gated community.”
What Busdriver is ultimately getting at in “Versachi” is the elaborate dress-up game of rap. Busdriver might be one of the driving forces in alternative hip-hop, but like anybody else, “when [he puts] on these shade you cannot take them off [him.]” They give him the ability to be someone else. While tempting, Migos’ Versace sunglasses are just blinders that prevent one from seeing the outside world. Yet when Busdriver takes hold of them, they can be used for positive purposes, for keeping the sun out of one’s eyes. By embracing the flawed, the unusual, and the weird, Busdriver simultaneously democratizes rap music and demonstrates the power of language. French Montana may have made the mistake of saying “fanute,” but I think this misspelling just might be intentional.