Is There Any Right Way to Say the “B” Word?

Slate's Culture Blog
June 6 2012 3:22 PM

Can The-Dream Take Back the “B” Word?

Terius Nash aka The-Dream
The-Dream performs in New York City in 2009.

Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

Is there any right way to say “bitch”? That’s the question The-Dream can’t help but raise in his new single “Dope Bitch” (now streaming from The-Dream’s website). The R&B star’s bouncy new track is undeniably infectious, but the politics are a little murkier. After each verse of woozy, smitten worship for his “beautiful, so bold … pretty little thing,” the self-appointed “Love King” lets slip this hook:

I mean no disrespect by this next line.
I got a dope bitch.
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If that weren’t bait enough, the line “I got a dope bitch” then repeats no less than 16 times just in the first chorus. If the fawning versus are the setup, this chorus is the punch line, and The-Dream— which is the stage name of singer, songwriter, and producer Terius Nash, one of the most slyly funny crooners in R&B—delivers the twist expertly.

Or is he taking the word back? The tone of the lyrics suggests that he is doing both at once. He sincerely means to praise his love object—and at the same time he wants to deliver that very familiar sentiment in a provocative way.  It’s important to note that The-Dream is just one of the Nash’s personas. Like R. Kelly, The-Dream plays a meta-love man—consider, e.g., his steamy meta-love-making jam “Kelly’s 12 Play,” which is about having sex to R. Kelly’s steamy 12 Play—and he delivers his R&B conventions with a loving, self-aware wink.

Also worth noting is that Nash, one of the savviest and most talented artists in pop, spends a lot more time idolizing women than calling them names. He’s most famous for hits like “Shawty Is Da Sh*!” and for his hand in writing and producing monster empowerment anthems like “Single Ladies.” When sung by The-Dream, even songs called “Panties to the Side” and “Let Me See That Booty” can be sweet.

Nonetheless, “Dope Bitch” feels like a misstep—at least as far as its politics are concerned. Self-awareness alone is not enough to remove the sting of hateful words, and sometimes a sense of self-awareness even leads people to say hurtful things they wouldn’t otherwise say. While I believe that The-Dream “means no disrespect by the line,” Nash by himself does not have the power to take the disrespect out of the word. For many the word still stings whether Nash is smirking or not.

Forrest Wickman is a Slate staff writer. 

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