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How ‘It Takes Two’ Defined Hip-Hop’s Golden Age

Rob Base never thought “It Takes Two” would become a massive hit. He and DJ E-Z Rock were just aiming to make a neighborhood party record, straight from the streets of Harlem, to get bodies moving in their local clubs and skating rings.

But “It Takes Two” blew up into a monster hit around the world, forever changing hip-hop. The music business was shocked when this raw rap anthem crashed into the U.S. Top 40, with zero crossover or compromise. “It Takes Two” transformed history, yet it’s also a dance-floor banger that never fails to light up a wedding or party. On Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs, “It Takes Two” comes it at 116.

Rob Base makes it undeniable right from the start, declaring, “I wanna rock right now!” “It Takes Two” was strictly minimal, built on a James Brown sample from the 1971 Lyn Collins hit “Think (About It).” JB wrote, produced, and released the song on his own label People Records. But Base turned it it one of the most iconic hip-hop breaks, looping the moment when Collins and Brown trade off their ““whooo! yeah! whooo!” yelps.

“It Takes Two” first broke out on rap radio, becoming one of the definitive classics of hip-hop’s Golden Age, the beatbox soundtrack to the legendary summer of 1988. But to everybody’s surprise, “It Takes Two” just kept on traveling. It was easily the most hardcore rap hit to go Top 40 at that point — it was surreal to hear it on pop radio, in between Rick Astley and Belinda Carlisle. “It Takes Two” changed the way people thought about hip hop, at a time when it was still considered a fad. It also altered the way people thought about sampling, reviving James Brown for a new era.

On this week’s episode of Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs, hosts Rob Sheffield and Brittany Spanos discuss “It Takes Two,” how it changed pop history, and why it lives on. They’re joined by a special guest: Rob Base himself, as he tells the story of how the song came together. But like everyone else, Base was stunned when their street beats conquered the world.

In 2004, Rolling Stone launched its 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list. Tabulated from a massive vote that had artists, industry figures, and critics weighing in, the list has been a source of conversation, inspiration, and controversy for two decades. It’s one of the most popular, influential, and argued-over features the magazine has ever done.

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So we set out to make it even bigger, better, and fresher. In 2021, we completely overhauled our 500 Songs list, with a whole new batch of voters from all over the music map. Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs takes a closer look at the entries on our list. Made in partnership with iHeart, Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs finds Brittany and Rob discussing a new song each week, delving into its history and impact with the help of a special guest — including fellow RScolleagues, producers, and the artists themselves. It’s our celebration of the greatest songs ever made — and a breakdown of what makes them so great.

Check out the latest episode above, on iHeart, or wherever you get your podcasts, and look for new episodes every Wednesday.

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