“Who’s this? Clarise or Roberta?”
“This is Clarise.”
“Oh, what’s up Clarise? What do you need?”
“I wanna come over and get some of that sweet love.”
The beginning of Zach Galifianakis’s 2006 joke track “Up In Them Guts” is a low-hanging-fruit parody of the booty call song featuring a faux-horny Fiona Apple, bouncy synths and record-scratching noises evoking golden era hip-hop. “Up in them guts,” of course, is slang for fucking, and the song juices the phrase to a pulp, with a hook that’s just the line repeated four times over and a call-and-response bridge between Apple and Galifianakis that verges on the absurd (“Christians! Up in them guts. Giraffes! Up in them guts.”)
The song is a cultural product of the 2000s, when the phrase “up in them guts” was crossing over from a relatively siloed 1990s rap brag to mainstream frat bro speak and fodder for Galifianakis bits. Believed by some to be a “new sexual term,” “up in them guts” had actually been around for decades. Oakland rapper Too $hort used it in 1988 (“Roll your ass over and tap the butt, Too $hort baby all in them guts”), and Bernard, a 34-year-old geography graduate student who grew up near Philadelphia, tells me that his uncles used the phrase in the late 1980s and perhaps earlier. “It was very common around Philly, and a lot of NYC people I knew growing up were at least familiar with it,” he says. “I remember being super little and [my uncles] egging me on to repeat it, because what’s funnier than a four-year-old saying ‘up in them guts’?”
The meaning of the line is crude and straightforward: Almost always used in the context of a cisgender, heterosexual man having penis-in-vagina intercourse with a cishet woman, getting “up in them guts” means fucking a woman hard enough and/or with a big enough penis that you figuratively bust through her cervix and into her internal organs — an absurd brag from the jackrabbit school of lovemaking. “I have no idea where it came from beyond some vague one-upmanship of vulgarity in rap and AAVE,” Bernard continues. “A lot of people would be squicked out if you used it now, even jokingly.”
Interestingly, several Australasian sources tell me that there are antipodean variations. “The one I always heard was the delightful ‘up to your nuts in guts’ in the mid-1990s in Australia,” explains Alex, a 37-year-old IT worker in Sydney. “This was during high school, and the context was 100 percent sexual.” Gem, a 56-year-old union organizer in New Zealand, confirms that “up to your nuts in guts” was a common Australasian saying, but tells me it had several meanings depending on context. “If you were a blokey bloke and you were having sex with a woman you didn’t particularly love or care for, you’d say, ‘I was up to my nuts in guts,’” he explains. “But it was also a phrase you could use if everything was going to shit.” Gem suspects the latter usage is older, possibly even originating in the Vietnam War, and that the phrase eventually developed sexual connotations.
Whatever its origins, “up in them guts” has enjoyed a lengthy shelf-life, having its first major pop culture moment during what music journalist Al Shipley describes to me as the “Death Row/Geto Boys/2 Live Crew era of X-rated rap” in the 1990s. It shows up via Snoop Dogg on Dr Dre’s The Chronic in 1992 (“I once had a bitch named Mandy May, used to be all in them guts like every day”); 2Pac on Thug Life: Volume 1 in 1994 (“Now I’m all in those guts and shit, Prayin’ that a nigga don’t nut too quick”); and Method Man on Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… in 1995 (“Watch these rap niggas get all up in your guts, french vanilla, butter pecan, chocolate-deluxe”).
The phrase survived the 1990s, and rappers began upping the ante with advanced permutations during the 2000s. Lil Wayne gave us some of the most gruesome and creative examples — “Go and tell the cops I gotta crook in my dick, straight gut a bitch open like a hook in a fish” — although Earl Sweatshirt gave him a run for his money four years later in 2010 (“My dick is having guts for lunch, as well as supper, then I’ll rummage through her ruptured cunt, found the mustard”). And in 2013, Kevin Gates bragged about fucking women so hard their doctors had to stitch them back up.
By 2014, the sex brags became more absurd than violent, with artists like Young Thug slipping, splashing and swimming in the pussy, and by 2016, with pretty much nowhere left to go, rappers were using lines that were almost sweet by comparison: “Put that dick up in her pussy, bet she feel it in her toes.”
When I survey several women about how they feel about the phrase, most have a response somewhere along the eye-roll/disgust spectrum. “It’s dehumanizing and yuck,” says Tess, a 29-year-old editor in New Zealand. “There’s something sad about how casually it mixes violence and sex, and I worry about that kind of dynamic between men and women.” (For my part, I find the phrase cringeworthy but relatively inoffensive, probably because I’ve become inured through its overuse.)
Antipodean variation aside, “up in them guts” is African-American Vernacular English, as indicated by the demonstrative use of “them/’dem” (i.e., it’s “up in them guts,” not “up in those guts”). Perhaps it’s unsurprising, then, that it’s captivated a certain frat bro/Zach Galifianakis/white punk demographic. As plenty of black writers such as Kyrell Grant and Zeba Blay have noted, it’s common for slang like “bae,” “on fleek” and “shade” coined by black people — especially young, working-class, female and/or LGBTQ+ black Americans — to be taken up by cultural outsiders (white people, corporations) who proceed to run them into the ground through overuse or create strange, forced-sounding mutations (“the turn up function”).
Something like this seems to have happened with “up in them guts” in the 2000s. Watching the “Up In Them Guts” video in 2019, I’m reminded of Twitter user @pangmeli’s repeated observations that a lot of white — and often white male — humor consists in endlessly repeating the same jokes in a draining, consumptive way (“omgwtfbbq,” “epic fail”). She says this tendency to “laugh at the same simple joke over and over” reminds her of James Baldwin’s ideas about the “immaturity of whiteness [and] the overgrown child state,” and after the 12th “Panama City! Up in them guts. Golden Gate bridge! Up in them guts” call and response, I feel like I understand her point well.
Whether you think “up in them guts” is gross, funny, unforgivably misogynistic or low-stakes and played out, one thing can’t be denied: The phrase is a survivor. It dawns on me as I research its history that it’s been around longer than The Simpsons, international initiatives on climate change and Marianne Williamson’s literary career. Basically, “up in them guts” has been brightening the sexual lexicon of straight men for almost 35 years.
For that longevity alone, it deserves our begrudging respect.