I strongly advise you to download and listen to Disco Rick and the Dogs - I Know a Bitch
When I was ten years old, I bought one of the worst albums ever made.
Having earlier that year been freshly enchanted by the sultry spell of Snoop Dogg's debut album, which prominently featured a more-or-less unknown quantity/entity known as "The Dogg Pound," I could have perhaps been forgiven, in my enthusiastic adolescent idiocy, for being taken in by The Dogs... featuring Disco Rick.
My dad, who had days before passed on an ultra-fast Mazda RX-7 convertible in favor of a sensible, hunter green 626 sedan (four doors for two kids), was these days feeling himself gracelessly sliding into the throes of the kind of middle-age that is no longer questionable. (You're no longer a "young 39." You're just an old guy.) Here's a man who can't even put his mid-level hospital executive opulence to work for himself the way he wants to. I may have used this psychological spike in my favor when I asked the man, in the parking lot of Sam Goody, whether I could buy a cd with the dreaded sticker on the cover. With his money.
I'm pretty sure he said yes right away, but, not wanting to waste a good thing, I mounted a tightly-wound soliloquy in defense of profanity in art -- the first of many to come. I actually bemoaned the state of the music industry. The fact is, dad, they just don't make 'em like they used to. Sure, there's music without swearing, but it's cut-rate, made by hacks just looking to make a buck since so many children out there don't have uber-hip young fathers who divvy their disposable incomes to sons for albums with that sticker. Fascists!
I told him -- and I remember this sentence almost word for word -- "sometimes I love Maria Carey, but sometimes I just need something else." Something that says fuck. We walked through the record store, and I spotted the ugly orange packaging with the familiar canine appellative, and I was drawn in, inexorably, inevitably. Like a needle into a diabetic after a whole thing of candy beans. When he bought it for me, I hugged him, just like I hugged him after he bought me my first Playboy. I suppose I reserved the most awkward and touching means of conveying my appreciation for the things that he did to corrupt me.
Having learned my lesson from shredding the wrapping and popping an Ice-T album into the car stereo on the way home from the same record store with my mom months earlier (she bought the album for me, then bought it away from me for $20, to preserve my aural virginity), I gripped the tiny Goody bag in my sweaty fist and waited, breath bated, to get home. Safely shored up in my room, I put the cd into a the carousel tray of that great lost piece of novelty-arcana, the three-disc changer, and waited for its gears to grind and whir the disc into place. I pushed play, volume low, my head pressed up against the speaker, and tried to relish in the cursing. But the fact was -- and I knew it already -- this was garbage.
I didn't have "Miami booty bass" in my vocabulary yet. I couldn't have told you that it was "a ninth-rate 2 Live Crew cheap rip." I couldn't thrown critspeak at you -- "rote Roland 808 polybreaks, mangled by wack rappers." I didn't even have hipster dismissals like "epic fail" at my disposal. But the instinct was there, and I remember thinking -- what a waste of great song titles.
Seriously. Pretend you're ten, and check out this motherfucking track list!
2. Talking True Shit
4. Get Down
5. Fuck All Night
6. Life About Crack
7. Sexy's Got Beef
8. Nasty Dance
9. Work That Ass Baby
10. Got That Spirit
11. I Know a Bitch
12. Hyped Up
13. Dogga Mix
14. Fuck You All III
Fuck You All...... THREE?!?! What could that possibly mean?
But, as I say, the album was largely a disappointing experience. I would listen to it at night, song blurring into undifferentiated song. But there was always a glimmer that I couldn't put my finger on. A diamond in so much dogshit. It took a while to discover why.
By outlandish chance, this album happens to hide, buried as a deep cut at track 11, one of the greatest songs ever written.
It's called "I Know a Bitch."
The song is this call-and-response thing that turns itself inside-out when it turns out the guy with the Flava Flav voice is the lead, and the guy with the Chuck D voice is the hype man, even though the low-voiced guy kicks off the song. It's essentially a three-minute, semi-rhymed heart-to-heart conversation between these two guys.
And it's about how these two guys know a bitch named Charlotte.
It starts with one of the most shocking exchanges I've ever heard in a pop song. The hype-dude barks, "I know a bitch!" and we're rolling.
(I know a bitch!)
(She's number one!)
(I told the bitch to lick my ass with her tongue!)
Did she do it?
(Yes she did it!)
Now, on paper -- and on record -- this'll throw you off. (Was it really so ambiguous that he needed to specify which organ he told the bitch to lick his ass with?) But let me assure you. The best metafiction in the world can't fuck with the bizarre, uncontrived, honest-to-god bullshit genius that spills out of this song's ears. And you realize it right when the riff enters. Buried under waves of shifty, corny, boom-bap drums, there is discernible an eight-dollar guitar plucking out a one-bar, Special Ed. version of the Sanford & Son theme through a rickety old chorus pedal. Our hero takes over. Things start happening. Everything's happening!
Here's the breakdown: the song's an absolutely tortured, virtually cubist narrative that folds itself in half like a man fellating himself, then spins his head around like the Exorcist girl and spits it at you. It ping-pongs from wanton sexual braggadocio to homicidal cautionary tale with an almost Twainian flair.
So this guy got this girl to lick his ass with her tongue, and he's pretty excited about it. He wants to tell his buddy. He's bragging, talking Big Willy talk, and his friend is impressed. "God damn!" But then it turns out, shock of shocks, the other guy knows that bitch too!
Mannnnnn, I know that bitch!
Her name is Charlotte!
She sucked my dick and licked my balls last night!
And the only information the narrator needed to make this Holmesian deduction was 1) the aforementioned rimjob and 2) that his sidekick "grabbed that stupid bitch and started slamming." The "ming" becomes "Mannnnnn" and the perspective shifts, like a fucking virtuoso Altman one-shot, and we're swept magically away to the Projects, where the narrator had taken Charlotte the night before -- "I took her home... but not my house." And, he laments, "Just lookin' at her house just broke my heart." To which his companion replies, "Oh shit!"
I went inside!
(Man you crazy?!)
I didn't care!
(You didn't care?!)
I got all tangled up in them spiderwebs!
And then the story turns, brilliantly, from wretched griot pathos to Laurel & Hardy hijinks.
I sat down!
(Where you set?!)
On the couch!
(On the couch?!)
Somethin' bit me in my ass and I said ouch!
So the braggadocio of the sidekick has been swept away, and we're fully inhabiting the narrator's, our hero's strange yarn. He's recounting last night, when Charlotte, we recall, "sucked [his] dick and licked [his] balls." But the tale, my dears, is about to take a hard left into experimental fiction, atemporality, and what Frederic Jameson would call "the Absolute."
Charlotte, telling our hero to "sit tight," retires to her bedroom. The sidekick has grown concerned by the shoddiness of the place, and, fearing the worst, he urges the hero to "leave that room!" But it's too late. Well, it's gotta be too late, because this is last night, when Charlotte "sucked [our hero's] dick and licked [his] balls," remember? But the claustrophobic feeling of looming danger is becoming too much to bear, and soon it's not just schoolmarm worrying anymore -- it's prophecy fulfilled.
She came out!
(What she had?!)
She had a knife!
(That's your ass!)
I grabbed my hat and my keys and I ran fast!
I ran fast!
I didn't stop!
(You didn't stop?!)
When I got to the door, the shit was locked!
Notice how the narrative subverts itself, turning and slipping, like an eel contorting itself into a Mobius Strip. We've been set up to expect a relatively standard romantic dalliance. A little dick sucking, a little balls licking. But what the fuck? The bitch they know... she has a knife! So, like any sane man, our hero does what you'd expect. He runs. He runs fast. He doesn't stop. He runs and runs. He calls a good deal of attention to his running. How far does he run? All the way to the front door. Which is locked! Curse that vile woman, that tricksy spirit! But we don't know, yet, how tricksy she is. We don't know anything!
I looked around!
(Where's that bitch?!)
The bitch was there!
She was so damn bald she had no hair!
I said god damn!
This is what our one-night stand has come to! It was just two men, civil, mutually appreciative, having an intimate conversation. They brag, they strut, they relish their (in some ways shared, in some ways even homosocial) conquest of Charlotte, the woman each of them "knows," and each has known in the biblical sense. But the confessions have taken water, now. Charlotte is crazy. Not only is Charlotte crazy, Charlotte is "so damn bald she [has] no hair." The men have let their guard down and fessed up to the fact that they have both been serviced by a variously wigged black widow spider of a woman who seduces only so that she can kill. They had both represented themselves, like rounders bluffing aces with deuces, to have annexed a piece of prime real estate. But it turns out, "just looking at her house just broke my heart," and all that heartbreak and property entails. So, in this situation, what is a player to do? That's what the sidekick wants to know.
(What you do?!)
I tried to fight!
She grabbed me by my neck and the bitch tried to bite!
I pushed her back!
Bust her in her eye!
Knock the bitch down on her back and said goodbye!
Bust down the door!
Break out in the street!
(Yo, aye! What you should have done was called the police!)
A lovers' quarrel has turned into a brothers' quarrel, as the two men relish the ass-whupping our hero has administered to Charlotte. But then the sidekick, perhaps fearing for his friend's safety, perhaps even touched by a patina of guilt over the potentially excessive brutality of our hero's savage attack, endorses a less vigilante justice. Though he is vigorously rebuked by his friend, he stands his ground. "Fuck you!" The story, you may have noticed, has changed tenses. It's now operating primarily in the present. It's a colloquial device, of course. It lends immediacy and urgency to the happenings, it heightens the feeling of imminence, it makes the flesh crawl. And it is the avenue through which the story takes its strangest turn yet.
I know what!
Ummmm... I just turn and kick the bitch in her butt!
And if I win!
(What if you don't?!)
Just help me out!
(Fuck that shit!)
I just beat the bitch down with my dick!
We've gone through a wormhole! Our hero is back. It's last night! He's improvising! His fight with his friend has thrown him back into the fracas! It's a 'Nam flashback with the added ontological heft of Doc Brown's Delorean! He's running, experiencing fight or flight, and second-guessing himself. "Ummmm," he ejaculates, as a placeholder to make way for extemporization. Perhaps run is the wrong response! Perhaps I should fight this bitch! I should "turn and kick the bitch in her butt!" His friend is supportive, but not entirely convinced. "Good luck!" he snarls, equally supportive and dismissive of his friend's chances. He plays the voice of reason, almost pleading -- What if you don't beat the bitch? What if you don't?! His friend, our hero, pleads in turn -- help me out! I need your support in this most trying of times. But his sidekick is having none of it. Fuck that shit! But then, in an inspired burst of confidence, our hero decides to apply a basically indisputable fighting tactic. The ol' junk beatdown. Now his friend is starting to come around! And we're there! They're there, together! Our hero, fighting Charlotte, calling out to his friend from the ether for advice, for an arm to lean on. Be the wind beneath my wings, he almost cries! None of this happened last night -- now it's all happening tonight! Judgment night! It's all happening! And out of this night flashes the pursuing Charlotte, presumably still hairless and wielding her knife with the spastic, flailing limbs of a Mel Brooks vampire.
Oh, here she comes!
(You better run!)
Fuck you! I ain't the one! I'll just turn and shoot the bitch with my gun.
I got a gun!
(What kind of gun?!)
I'll just shoot the bitch once and once again!
I don't think I've ever heard this part of the song without laughing. "I'll just shoot the bitch once and once again!" It's just a really funny line. But for a long time the yucks obscured the metafictional gambit. We're back! We're there again, and Charlotte is hot on the trail. So what to do? Like Eddie Valiant, our hero digs through boxes of Acme products and comes up with, not a crooning sword, but a Mac-10! And he knows what to do! Ratatat! And his sidekick has come through the wormhole with him! He didn't even know he had that gun! He's Neo in the Matrix, and he needs the programming to fly a helicopter! He's talked the world into being, and now he's got to live with it! Bang bang shoot shoot.
We'll jump that bitch and then we'll bail!
(We goin' to jail!)
A phallocentric Thelma and Louise! On the run for the murder of a vile, villainous woman! No doubt scarved and sunglassed, our heroes make off in a drop-top Bonneville, persecuted for the very act that lends them empowerment! Ahhh, but our hero, while not having passed the Bar, knows a little bit.
No we're not!
If she die, that bitch will never come back!
And if she do?!
(What do to?!)
Pack all our shit and let's haul ass!
Our men, clearly rattled by the paranormal happenings that have so wrenched the joints of their lives in just a few moments, are willing to doubt even the certitude of the corpse of a bitch that has been shot "once and once again." Look. Did they shoot Charlotte? Did they not? Was it last night? Was it tonight? Are they going to shoot Charlotte? How did our hero get away? Was his sidekick with him? Did Charlotte suck his dick and lick his balls? Did she not? Did she not suck anybody's balls, not even the sidekick's? And here's the real curveball... does Charlotte even exist?! Charlotte, the French feminine of Charles, meaning "free man." She's a free woman, unbridled, unmoored, unkillable, so free she's not there, so free she's everywhere at once. Is Charlotte Kobayashe? Kevin Spacey playing cripple, the devil who convinces the world he doesn't exist? Were they blown by a ghost? Did they manage to shoot the devil in the back? What if they missed? It all evinces the Cold War paranoia of an arms race. If we've gone this far, how far is too far? Once a hail of gunfire has solved a problem, who's to say you won't become the problem to solve? Riddle me this, I'll riddle you with bullets, motherfucker! You never bring a knife to a gunfight, that much is clear -- but is it really any better to bring a gun to a knife fight? These men have clearly violated an ethical imperative, but they know that the universe -- perhaps Charlotte herself, the free woman who is evil through and through, the fabric of whose freedom seems to be constituted by her aggressive and liberated ("free") female sexuality, which clearly intimidates our heroes, and is perhaps the very reason she signifies evil to them -- Charlotte is the great equalizer. They've shared her, and now they'll both meet their fate at her hands. Even if they win, they lose, and they lose by winning. These men will always be haunted, not only by their journey through the Stargate to a new past-present-future, and the all-to-real possibility of this deadly living woman becoming the living dead, but also by what she symbolizes: The kneeling proletariat, the femme on her knees, an endless sea arranged on each other's backs in a pyramid, making a staircase for the socially mobile -- those with the cars, the guns, and the butter. You look over your shoulder, climbing this great wall of limbs and minds and souls, and you see nothing, you're in the cave of the open air, an omnipresent, Lacanian manifestation of the vagina dentata, just waiting to chomp down on you. They're all beneath you, slipping out of view even as it parallaxes. But they are there, always ready and waiting to rise up in a tide and swallow you beneath them, to even the ground and trample you with their bootsoles -- to take your boots, the very boots you've been trampling them with, and to return the favor. You reach the top of the pyramid, and you stare off the plateau into the canyon below, and you realize that escape is exile and freedom is irrelevance. To "haul ass" is to evaporate. You -- like Thelma and Louise -- have only one choice.
You have to hold hands and jump. Only then can you end the song with satisfaction.
*note: I've never been clear if the concluding vignette -- "I was fuckin' this hoe, she was suckin' my dick" -- is about the same bitch, Charlotte the free woman, or a new bitch. I can't help but feel, though, that if this song were a performance by Marceau, or a film by Godard, or a story by Artaud, or a piece by Duchamp, one would be roundly scorned for asking such insignificant, sophomoric questions about the exegesis. Either way, it significantly alters the moral content of the story, perhaps simply reflecting the irreversible, unstoppable, even mechanical repetition of bourgeois domination in the age of late capitalism. Plus, it's hilarious. "He kicked in the door and shit on the floor and I shot him in his ass with a .44!"