The great vocalist Chaka Khan has cut so many incredible tracks, it's difficult to choose just one to feature. From her days with Rufus to her successful solo career, Khan has established herself as a one-of-a-kind soul diva with still-impressive pipes. While generally best known for her massive 1984 hit "I Feel for You," she has recorded several high-charting R&B singles and albums. One of her best songs comes from the 1981 album What 'Cha Gonna Do for Me; while the title track is a funk classic, "I Know You, I Live You" remains an underrated Khan performance.
Born Yvette Marie Stevens in Chicago, Khan sang in various local groups, changing her name to "Chaka Khan" while working at the Black Panthers' breakfast program. Quitting high school in 1969, she met ex-American Breed (best known for their '60s hit "Bend Me, Shape Me") members Kevin Murphy and André Fisher to form Rufus. From 1973 until 1978, Rufus racked up numerous hits, including "Tell Me Something Good" and "Sweet Thing." Despite this success, Khan often clashed with Rufus members, eventually resulting in her breaking from the group in 1978. She scored a hit single right out of the box with "I'm Every Woman" from her debut album Chaka. Her next two albums, Naughty (1980) and the aforementioned What 'Cha Gonna Do for Me followed, although neither made an impact as significant as her 1983 reunion track with Rufus, "Ain't Nobody," and of course "I Feel for You."
Co-written with album producer Arif Mardin (well known for his work with Aretha Franklin), "I Know You, I Live You" features not only Khan's soaring vocals, but pounding drums and accompanying bass. Her singing resembles a slow burn, increasing in intensity until she positively wails right before the instrumental break. Mardin and Khan's lyrics utilize the day/night contrast, creating a memorable chorus:
Like I feel a song in the morning
Like I see the moon at night
I know you as if I've known you all my life
I know you, I know you
Before reaching this climax, Khan simmers through the beginning, asserting that "It's not difficult
for me to say I love you. . . And believe me when I tell you that I know you very well." Although her would-be lover may call her a "silly girl," she knows "your every thought and scheme." Her passion continues to rise throughout the song, practically screeching the lyrics: "And without me you'd stumble/ And without you I'd fall/ Without each other we would not be at all." The words may not address anything new, but the relentless beat and Khan's expressive voice make this a unique soul workout.
Khan would not experience great success until a few years later, but What 'Cha Gonna Do for Me shines due to this hidden gem. In addition to hearing the original version shown below, be sure to hear the Tony Humphries remix of "I Know You, I Live You" from 1989's Life Is a Dance (the Remix Project). Humphries not only extends the track to around eight minutes, but also pumps up the drums to add even more power to Khan's vocals.