Bernie Sanders has bragged about his ability to draw disillusioned people into the political process. One such person, a thirty-one year-old Louisiana rapper named Anthony LaVarry—who performs under the moniker I.S.A., which stands for "I'm Still Anthony" and "Infinity So Awesome"—has recently made an even more audacious claim: that he is responsible for Sanders's surge in the polls. "I started this BERNIE CRAZE," his Twitter biography announces, under an illustration of Sanders looking more disheveled and more cheerful than usual. For LaVarry, however, “Bernie craze” means a slightly different thing.
I.S.A. is best known for the song "Moving Like Bernie," which was released by the Shreveport-based Platnium Records in 2010. It includes the lyrics: “Well it's the weekend, we movin' like Bernie / Hey! Yeah, so awesome, got a dance, too / You gonna start moving even if you ain't plan to.” This was LaVarry's breakout song—mostly because it was paired with a catchy dance, he told me. "It was a movement," he said, "not just a statement. I wanted to show people: no matter what, you can keep moving. My little brother came up with the moves."
The "Bernie Dance" is performed by imitating the post-mortem movements of the character Bernie Lomax from the 1989 black comedy Weekend at Bernie's: leaning one’s head as far back as possible ("like a nose bleed coming through," I.S.A. instructs) and wobbling around barely upright with limp, outstretched arms. "Like you're coming back from the dead," LaVarry explained to me. The music video went viral and has now been viewed more than twelve millions times on YouTube—just a few million shy of "Harlem Shake," the breakout song and dance from 2013. (It was also adopted, somewhat oddly, as the Oakland A's ballpark theme song in 2012.)
LaVarry grew up singing "not very well" in his Shreveport church choir. His taste turned to rap—"Mystikal was my favorite," he says—as a teenager. He began writing and recording as I.S.A. in 2009, usually after finishing his shift in the "sandwich department" at a Shreveport chain restaurant called Newk's. "My little six-year-old girl came in the break room one day and asked me what I was doing," he said. "I told her I was aboutto watch a movie. She said, You need to go back in the studio. I said, I'm the parent,” LaVarry told me. “She wouldn't leave it alone, though, so I got my Coke and my bag of chips and I went back in and started free-styling about the movie I was watching: Weekend At Bernie's." Inspiration struck: "I came up with the concept: No matter what you're going through, you've gotta hold your head up and keep moving. Like Bernie!"
Over the years, there have been more than a few odd pairings of presidential candidates and popular songs—from Mitt Romney's choice of "Born Free" by Kid Rock (“You can knock me down and watch me bleed / But you can't keep no chains on me”) to Ross Perot's sampling of "Crazy" by Patsy Cline (“I knew you'd love me as long as you wanted / And then someday you'd leave me for somebody new”). But could a Democratic socialist from Vermont join forces with a dirty south rapper? "Why not?" said LaVarry's manager, Wade Lovelace, who goes by the name Moneybag Martucci. He got LaVarry on Twitter recently, "at long last."
It’s reasonable to assume LaVarry and Lovelace are trying to take advantage of the current political moment, in which another man named Bernie is imploring people to keep moving forward. Get LaVarry talking about "my man, Bern," though—as he calls Sanders—and you may begin to feel otherwise. "I first heard about him last year," LaVarry said. "I was trying to pull up one of my music videos and his name popped up instead. I was like, What? Who is this really old white dude with the weird hair?” he continued. “But I started reading about him and watching him speak. I think he has a lot of good views. Making women's pay equal: about time! Expanding social security and making college free: that's wonderful! Free healthcare, raising the minimum wage to fifteen dollars: that's remarkable! I've never heard any candidate talk that way for the people. It proves you can't judge a book by its cover."
LaVarry's original record deal wasn't a good one for him. ("The message wasn't promoted like it should have been," he said. "I didn't make much money.") But he recently became an independent artist again and he wants to make a mark on his country with his next album. "I'd work with Bern," he said, "if he'd let me. I'm thinking about a new promo song for him right now. My team is trying hard to reach out to his people and see if working with him is a possibility. That'd be lovely!" He paused, before heading back into the studio. "I appreciate all the fans for not giving up on me. They won't be disappointed. They're gonna feel the real 'Bernie Fever' this time."
Today, LaVarry debuted "Feel the Bern," a dirty south rap song that repeats the title eighteen times before it begins: There's a party 'round the world, a new candidate / Hurry up to the polls, vote for Bernie, don't be late / Watch us keep it moving, speaking from state to state / feel the Bern, it's our turn, I think we earned a better way. In the end, LaVarry and Sanders are both long shots. But if sincerity matters in politics, or in rap, they've both got a chance to steer the conversation in a refreshing direction.
An earlier version of this article stated LaVarry's hip-hop name as Insanity So Awesome. It is in fact Infinity So Awesome. The article has been updated to reflect the change.