Q&A: Rob Base
Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock created one of hip-hop’s greatest singles and established its most iconic sample with their 1988 hit “It Takes Two.” The song was huge enough to keep Base on the road to this day, where he’s currently part of the inaugural edition of I Love the ’90s—The Vegas Show, alongside Salt-N-Pepa and All 4 One, that begins a 10-date residency at Paris this week. He spoke with Las Vegas Magazine’s Matt Kelemen by phone while on a break.
How long have you been on the touring version of I Love the ’90s?
It’s been about three years. The I Love the ’90s tour has been going on for about three years.
Vegas allows you all to stay in one place for a string of shows. Are you looking forward to a break from travel?
Aw, yes. I mean, I am happy to get out there, then we don’t have to do all that flying, so that’s definitely a great thing. … Just go downstairs, do the show, come back to your room and chill out. So that’s a good thing.
I’m sorry about DJ E-Z Rock’s passing (in 2014 of complications from diabetes). Had you been in touch with him before he got sick?
We went our separate ways for a while, but we always stayed in touch with each other on the phone. He was sick for a while. Me and him always used to talk on the phone, and I knew he was sick, and I was pretty close with his family so they always kept me in touch with what was going on. I got the call … one of the family members called me and let me know.
How did you both meet? There are not a lot of bio facts other than you were both born in Harlem.
Yep, we were born in Harlem, met in the fifth grade. We had the same class. Became really good friends, played baseball together, hanged out together. Basically that was my best friend for all the years, so that’s how we met. We met in fifth grade in school.
I imagine you were friends before you started rapping? How did you get started? What was the scene around you like at the time?
When we started doing it, it was just a group from around the neighborhood called The Crash Crew. They were doing their thing, doing the rap thing, and stuff like that, so we was always at the block parties watching them perform and watching them do their thing. They came out with a record, and we looked at them and said, “Wow, they came out with a record. If they can do it we can do it.” So we started our little group and started doing our own thing trying to get it together, you know?
You bought the mic and E-Z Rock bought the turntables. Do you remember the first time you plugged in with him?
First we used to go to one of our friends’ houses. He used to let us use his equipment a lot, then after a while E-Z Rock got his own equipment and I went out and bought a mic. We just got it together like that. We had the speakers and equipment, and we always used to come up to his house and practice.
How old were you?
Young teenagers, you know.
Owning turntables in the ’80s wasn’t commonplace like it is now, that must have been real special bringing them home for the first time.
Oh, yeah. Just to have turntables in your house was a big thing if you was a DJ, because a lot of people didn’t have those. When he got his, I think he bought one the first time. So he had a turntable, then he bought a mixer. He had one mixer and one turntable, then he finally had enough money to get the other one.
How long did it take before you clicked and could play parties?
I would think it took us maybe a good two years before we got everything together. We did it in the house for a long time, trying to get it together, then every once in a while somebody would have a block party. We would try to get on there, try to get something together, but I would say we gave it two years before we got it together enough to hit the big stage.
Who influenced you stylistically? Was there anyone you tried to emulate early on?
I gotta say from those times, like I said, I listened to the Crash Crew. I listened to Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Sugarhill Gang. So basically I did Master Gee style from the Sugarhill Gang. Master Gee was one of the ones I looked up to. Reggie Reg from the Crash Crew was one of the guys I looked up to. Scorpio from the Furious Five, I really liked his style. Basically I just watched cats like that and came up with my own, you know?
Then you put out a single that got the attention of Profile Records, right?
That single was called “Make It Hot.” It got a little buzz on the street. DJ Red Alert was playing it. We got a little buzz on the street with that one. I guess that did help get the attention of Profile, to see that we were doing something, but basically with Profile, once we did the demo of “It Takes Two” I think they heard it, and once they heard it they wanted to sign me. That was pretty much it with that.
It’s been reported that you made the song in two nights.
Yeah, I would say two nights, it was pretty much done.
What is the origin of “It Takes Two?” Do you recall the first time you started sampling James Brown and Lyn Collins’ “Think (About It)?”
It was on a breakbeat album that all the DJs used to get. We heard the sample and we was like, “Whoa, I want to use this,” and we was like “Yeah, we want to use this,” and then we found something else and said, “Let’s blend that.” Basically we just blended two things together and had ideas to make it all sound bigger. Went in the studio, and it all came together like magic. It wasn’t really hard to do. It came together. It was like magic.
I didn’t know until today that the beat was inspired by Strafe’s electro track “Set It Off.”
It was something different at the time, that’s what I was shooting for. I wanted it to be something different than was out at the time, to be a totally different ball game. I wanted a record that could go anywhere, not just the rap parties. I wanted to be able to play the R&B parties, dance music parties. I just wanted to be able for the song to be anywhere, and I think we met all the elements of that.
What was the first indication to you that the song would be a hit beyond the Tri-State area?
Well, at least in my area, one you hit the prime time radio spot that meant you were pretty much good to go. A lot of rap record didn’t get played during prime time, so once I was in the house and I heard it on the radio and it was four o’ clock in the afternoon. I jumped up right there and started screaming, because I knew we was good to go.
And life was different from then on.
Oh, definitely. It was a whole big life change. It was amazing. I don’t even have enough words for that kind of feeling. That was a great feeling to have, just to hear our record playing like that.
I remember the impact that song had at the time. Nothing like that had come before it.
Yeah, it was crazy. I remember walking down the street and hearing it blasting from a car. Everywhere you go the record was on. You walk in a store, the store’s playing it. “It was like, “Wow! I can’t believe this is happening.”
A lot of people think Teddy Riley produced the track, and Complex said that he came up with the sample, which you denied in a recent Rolling Stone interview. What did Teddy Riley contribute to your music?
Well, he had nothing to do with “It Takes Two.” I heard that before. I was like “What?” Teddy was nowhere around for “It Takes Two.” He had a track (on the It Takes Two album) called “Crush.” It was a slow jam. That was the only thing he had to do with that album. Other than that, he was nowhere around “It Takes Two,” so I don’t know where people got that from. … Me and Teddy is good. We know each other, but I don’t know how they mixed that up. They might see his name on the album and assume he wrote “It Takes Two.”
You and E-Z Rock got back together for 1994’s Break of Dawn. How long did you stay together after that?
We stayed together for a while, but then as time went on we started doing our own things. We had a couple of business issues and couldn’t agree on some things, and we just went our separate ways right there. We always stayed friends. It was not like we hated each other. We talked on the phone, and once in a while we would hang out. We wasn’t enemies.
Did “It Takes Two” alone make you both financially secure for life? Did that set you up?
Well, yeah, basically. I didn’t have to work a job, thank God. It definitely did set us up.
When people come to see you now, what’s the vibe like that you get from them? Do you look out at the crowd and see people instantly overjoyed as soon as they hear “It Takes Two” start?
Actually, it’s amazing. It feels like when the song first came out. The reaction is the same. They go crazy when the song comes on. And also, the crowd varies. You have young kids in the audience that weren’t even born when the record came out, and they know the song word for word. So that’s amazing, to see the young kids come up, you know.
Do you ever think of E-Z Rock when you’re performing onstage?
Yeah, definitely. When I’m onstage I feel like he’s there with us. I always feel he’s there with us, and when he wasn’t there I always missed him because we had been together so long. When we hit the stage now, gotta give a shout-out to him because we did it together. Like I said, he’s there with us onstage all the time.