Rob Base is a hip-hop pioneer whose hits with the late DJ E-Z Rock have sold so far out of this world that even aliens in outer space know that "it Takes 2 to make a thing go right."
He went from winning rap battles at nightclubs in the Bronx to passing out flyers on the streets of Harlem to signing with one of the most important early labels to launching through the stratosphere.
Today, Rob Base is still touring on the strength of all that hard work. And on June 13, he hits the stage at Magic City Casino alongside Debbie Deb and Lisette Melendez. Here's what he had to say about sampling records, crowd control, and "Joy and Pain."
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Crossfade: Wasup, man. How's it goin'?
Rob Base: It's early for me. I'm a night person. Things good. I'm just here at home gettin' ready to come down to Miami.
First off, my condolences to EZ Rock, 1967 to 2014, R.I.P.
Did you guys ever play Miami together?
Oh, a lot, a lot. That was one of our main markets. The first show I can remember us doin' down there was when Luke Skkywalker brought us down there. It was one of them clubs he had, and we came down there. It was packed, and we had a great time. It's like a vacation every time we're there.
How was Puerto Rico?
It was off the chain out there in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
What equipment did you use to cut the sample for "It Takes 2?"
It's been so long ago. I would say the MPC, but I'm not even sure. I think it was the MPC. We was in the studio, we found the loop we liked, and the engineer actually helped us. We didn't know studio equipment, we knew turntables. He knew the equipment and that's how we got that together. His name was Dave Kowalski, and whatever we needed, he knew what to do. Last time I spoke to him, we laughed about the old days. He worked with groups like Guy and a lot of different groups. it was amazing.
How old were you back then?
I had to be my early 20s, like 21, 22.
What studio did you record it at?
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It was Hillside Studios in New Jersey. We used to be in there from 8 o'clock at night to 6 or 7 in the morning. We spent a lot of time in there. We had a management deal with a company called World 2 World Records, and we were signed to them as an independent. This is before we signed to Profile.Our first song was "Make It Hot," and then "It Takes 2," and then we got signed to Profile Records.
How'd you get picked up by the management company?
I was a battle rapper back in the day doin' a lot of local competitions and things like that; performing in Harlem, and the Bronx, and areas like that. There was so many battles, and I was makin' a name in the Harlem scene. I was at every party. I was there in those, we used to call them city-wide battles. They were competitions where there could be like 15 groups at a time. They would pick the best three, and then the last two, and then there was only one. Like that.
Was there a best line that you remember?
I was a party rapper, so I knew how to get the crowd into what I was doing. It was never really lyricism. I just knew how to get the crowd into it. That's how I would win my battles.
You gotta have the people on your side. Crowd control is what I was always best at. Back then, if you ain't have a big record, you wasn't known as a big rapper. So if you could get the crowd to roll with you, that was it.
What record store did you shoot the opening of the video for "It Takes 2"?
I can't remember the name of it, but it was on 125th Street in Harlem. It wasn't planned. We were in the street shootin' the video, and as we was goin' down the block, they invited us in and said, "Ya'll could come in here and film," and we went in there and we shot.
How did you come up with the opening lyric, "I wanna rock right now/I'm Rob Base and I came to get down/I'm not internationally known/But I'm known to rock the microphone"?
Actually, when we did the song, we only had like a couple of hours before we went to the studio and the whole song was basically already written. But I went and got in the booth and the line just fit right. It just fit in. It was amazing.
How did you first meet Biz Markie?
Biz, he was, I think he was from Long Island or Staten Island at the time. He used to come around and do shows with one of the promoters named Mike & Dave Productions. And me and Biz we hooked up from there. We used to actually hand out flyers for the promoter, and that's how me and him hooked up, street promotion. Everybody went through Mike & Dave back in them days: Doug E. Fresh, Big Daddy Kane, Crash Crew, groups like that. We performed with all them, with Eric B. & Rakim, Bobby Brown. It's a long list.
What do you think about how far it has gone?
It's hard to believe. When I first started, it was like a Tri-State area thing. And now it's worldwide. So it's amazing.
How did you come up with the song "Joy and Pain"?
That sample was from a song that Moms and Pops used to play back in the days in the house. One night, I went to a skating rink around the way from where I lived that was called The Rooftop. I was in there and they played that song and everybody was singing along to the chorus with it, and I was like, "This could be a rap song, let me work with that." And that's how I came up with it, thanks to Frankie Beverly and Maze.
What you got for Magic City Casino?
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It's gon' be crazy. Gon' be hype. And anybody that ever seen me perform knows it. I do a lot of crowd participation. It's gonna be very exciting.
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Rob Base, Debbie Deb, and Lisette Melendez. Friday, June 13. Magic City Casino, 450 NW 37th Ave., Miami. The show starts at 7:30 p.m. and tickets cost $40 plus fees. Ages 21 and up. Call 305-649-3000 visit magiccitycasino.com.