Rob Base sounds like a kid as he talks about being a kid, walking by the park with his mom when he was a growing up in Harlem’s Lincoln projects, seeing locals the Crash Crew DJ and rap for the first time.
“And then all of a sudden there was a record that came out called ‘Rapper’s Delight’ by the Sugarhill Gang,” Base recalls of the game-changing 1979 song. “Seeing those guys and that record, that was pretty much it. Since then, I was like, ‘Yo, I want to be a rapper.’ ”
A handful of years later, Base would have one of those game-changing songs of his own.
The tune: “It Takes Two,” from Base and DJ E-Z Rock, released in 1988.
The ingredients: Lyn Collins’ vocal hook from “Think (About it)”; that classic “yeah! whoo!” sample, taken from the same song, which sounds like James Brown sitting on a hot plate; an intermittent, deep-funk bass line; Base’s sharp, elastic rhymes (he manages to rhyme “loser” with “choose-a” at one point).
“It Takes Two” became a major crossover hit, cracking the Top 40 of the pop charts, one of the first rap songs to do so.
“I’m not internationally known,” Base confesses early on the song, but that would change soon enough.
“When I came into the rap game, hip-hop wasn’t really all over the place, it wasn’t mainstream, so for me to come through with ‘It Takes Two,’ that broke a lot of boundaries,” Base says. “It was definitely a special time in hip-hop. We went from doing block parties to doing the Apollo and Madison Square Garden and traveling overseas.”
Decades later, Base is still traveling, currently on the road as part of the “Legends of Hip Hop” tour.
The bill is anchored by New York-area artists such as Base who had signature songs that dominated hip-hop’s formative years in the mid- to late ’80s.
Base and his tourmates are the artists who dominated “Yo! MTV Raps!” back in the day.
These were some of the MCs, and here are a few of the signature songs, that helped introduced hip-hop to mainstream America:
Artist: Big Daddy Kane
Song: “Ain’t No Half Steppin’ ”
Sample lyric: “I’m the authentic poet to get lyrical / For you to beat me, it’s gonna take a miracle / And, stepping to me, yo that’s the wrong move /So what you on, Hobbs, dope or dog food?”
Legacy: How cool was/is Big Daddy Kane? This classic is to hip-hop what air conditioning is to a hot summer day.
Song: “Party Up”
Sample lyric: “Y’all gon’ make me lose my mind up in here, up in here / Y’all gon’ make me go all out up in here, up in here / Y’all gon’ make me act a fool up in here, up in here / Y’all gon’ make me lose my cool up in here, up in here.”
Legacy: Continues to fill the void of club bangers that ponder slapping Superman with one’s genitalia as voiced by a man fond of barking like a pitbull for reasons unknown.
Artist: Naughty By Nature
Sample lyric: “O.P.P., how can I explain it? / I’ll take you frame by frame it / To have y’all jumpin’, shall we, singin’ it / ‘O’ is for ‘other,’ ‘p’ is for ‘people’ scratchin’ temple / The last ‘p,’ well … that’s not that simple.”
Legacy: Has soothed the consciences of homewreckers for two-and-a-half decades now. “O.P.P.” treated cheating like a sport, like badminton, only naked, and less appropriate to do with your sister in the backyard during family gatherings.
Song: “You Gots To Chill”
Sample lyric: “I format the rhymes, step by step / Make ’em sound def to maintain my rep / Prepared to come off, in case of a diss / Not worried about a thing, ’cause we can do this / I can turn the party out just by standin’ still /Make the ladies scream and shout while the brothers act ill.”
Legacy: Set the standard for dismissing one’s rivals in impossibly funky fashion thanks to samples of Zapp’s “More Bounce to the Ounce” and Kool and the Gang’s “Jungle Boogie.” Still funkier than an anchovy’s used gym socks.
Artist: Black Sheep
Song: “The Choice is Yours”
Sample lyric: “You can get with this, or you can get with that / You can get with this, or you can get with that / You can get with this, or you can get with that.”
Legacy: This remains the go-to song to mentally soundtrack all those tough choices in life. Wearing pants (you could get with this) or being comfortable in your own damn cubicle (you could get with that). Easing up on the booze a bit (you can get with this) or continuing to speak only to those who address you as The Beer-Nado (you could get with that). Having your mind blown with humorous musical insights (you could get with this) or turning the page (you could get with that).
Artist: Slick Rick
Song: “Children’s Story”
Sample lyric: “The kid pulled out a gun, he said ‘Why did ya hit me?’ / The barrel was set straight for the cop’s kidney / The cop got scared, the kid, he starts to figure / ‘I’ll do years if I pull this trigga’.”
Legacy: One of the great hip-hop narratives, this cautionary tale about a good boy gone bad remains helpful in teaching young children the importance of quality decision making. Remember kids, do the right thing, eat your peas, listen to mom and dad, or you too may end up copping shotguns from dope fiends, taking pregnant women hostage and getting gunned down by the cops as your story is told by a British expat in a diamond-encrusted eye patch.
Artist: Biz Markie
Song: “Just a Friend”
Sample lyric: “Y-o-o-o-o-u-u, you got what I need, but you say he’s just a friend / And you say he’s just a friend, oh b-a-a-a-a-b-y” (note: must be sung in a voice that approximates the death pangs of an asthmatic yak).
Legacy: Provides eternal solace for any dude languishing in the dreaded friend zone, a sad, sad place as blue as said fellow’s nether regions.
Also, gives the tone-deaf something to sing unself-consciously on karaoke night.
Contact reporter Jason Bracelin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0476. Follow on Twitter @JasonBracelin.