November 16, 2015


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All day long, traversing up the endless hills of Cornell, talking with people over a meal, reading pages of some book whose title I will forget, I hear these words: “Versace, Versace, Versace.” They are the words of some song. It’s a stupid song, I think. Maybe it’s not; it’s hard to be sure. Sometimes when you hear a song that meant nothing to you before, it can rejuvenate itself. Tones which felt clashing and cliché now seem moving and building. Words like “Versace,” from the mouth of Drake and Migos, which to some seem meaningless and even degraded, now appear powerful and uplifting and full of hope. I think it’s a shift in perspective, a whole new way of looking at the world. I think music, like any word or idea, can be twisted. I think we should unwind these harmonies sometimes, and let them flow through the air.

The song has meaning, a lot of meaning. “Versace” obviously refers to an expensive Italian designer company that produces clothing. The song was first made by Migos, but then added to by Drake, a Canadian rapper from Toronto. He is probably one of the most famous and somewhat controversial rappers in the mainstream music industry. Migos is a group of three rappers from Atlanta, made up of Takeoff, Offset and Quavo. These facts, without much context, paint a very singular and probably stereotypical picture of the music. It is an intersection of race and class and culture that often fits a destructive narrative.

Yet if you listen to Migos, they call their own work a “movement.” They find inspiration from the Latino community in Gwinnett county, one of the most diverse counties in the country. Their musical inspiration arises from Tupac and Biggie. Their lyrics are sometimes complicated, sometimes highly questionable and sometimes full of life and energy. Much like all rap songs, the lyrics are full of references. Some are easily recognizable to broader American culture such as “John Gotti,” “Feramago” and “Tony the Tiger.” Others are much simpler and subtler, allowing for their own specific voices and musical style to flow through the song. The song also references the “illuminati,” a theme that has created some controversy in terms of racial images projected onto black artists as referenced by Kendrick Lamar in this song. When asked about their illuminati reference, Takeoff just replied, “Aw, nah, we believe in God.”

Anyone will tell you that literature and paintings are imbued with cultural value. Yet music, and especially rap, is not always seen in the same context. Sure, “Versace” is probably not the best or anywhere near the most thought provoking rap song that has come out in the last couple of years. To many people, it would probably sound similar to many of the other songs of Migos and other rap groups. Yet it got stuck in my head, and as I was walking around Cornell’s campus shivering in the frigid air, all I could hear was “Versace, Versace, Versace.” Even as I sit writing this, looking out a window that stares across the seemingly random assortment of buildings that populate Cornell’s campus, I can still hear the words faintly whispered into my ears.

So what avenues create the culture we imbibe? They come from protests in Missouri and Italian fashion designers and people taking over means and in songs such as “Versace.” These cultural ideas intersect and contradict each other. They are re-twisted to support certain narratives about the world. Yet when we cut past these told stories and look for the ones that lurk underneath, we can reexamine our culture and the ideas that lead us to become who we are.

I am going to keep listening, keeping hearing “Versace, Versace, Versace,” even if I don’t really know what it means.

Hunter Moskowitz is a sophomore in ILR. He enjoys playing the cello and running. His posts appear on alternate Mondays. He can be reached at [email protected].