One for the treble, two for the bass

I’ve been hearing this line in a lot of hip-hop songs: “One for the treble, two for the time” or “One for the treble, two for the bass” or some variation. I wanted to find out what everybody’s quoting. After some internet detective work, here’s what I’ve got.

The phrase is a play on the opening of Carl Perkins’ Blue Suede Shoes, as made famous by Elvis:

One for the money, two for the show
Three to get ready, now go, cat, go

For the hip-hop world, the main reference point seems to be Spoonie G’sSpoonin’ Rap” from 1979. Old school! Spoonie’s line is enigmatic in its meaning.

You say one for the treble, two for the time
Come on y’all, let’s rock the [whistle]

Spoonie’s Rap inspired some other early hip-hop artists. Two years later, Grandmaster Flash opened “The Adventures Of Grandmaster Flash On The Wheels Of Steel” with a scratch of Spoonie G. West Street Mob starts “Break Dance Electric Boogie” with Spoonie too, though they interject a word of their own — “You say a-one for the treble, two for the time, come on y’all, let’s BREAK DANCE” (said in vocoded robot voice.)

Other songs that quote or reference “Spoonie’s Rap:”

  • Kurtis Blow – “Under Fire
  • Common – “Food For Funk” (not on Youtube, sadly)
  • DJ Khaled ft. Ja Rule, Fat Joe & Jadakiss – “New York Is Back” — combines Spoonie G with Carl Perkins, “One for the treble, two for the show.”

The other big hip-hop reference point is Davy DMX, who uses a different variation of the phrase in his song “One For The Treble.”

One for the treble, two for the bass
Come on Davy D, let’s rock this place

This song, and Spoonie’s, both really signify for Mos Def, who quotes them on at least three of his tracks: “Undeniable,” “Hip Hop” and “Oh No” ft.Pharoahe Monch & Nate Dogg.

A Tribe Called Quest quotes Davy DMX about a minute into their song “Oh My God” featuring Busta Rhymes:

Other people quoting Davy DMX:

This couldn’t possibly be all the instances of this meme out there. If there are more interesting ones, let me know.

Update: hear a Spotify playlist with most of the songs mentioned here, and in the comments.

11 thoughts on “One for the treble, two for the bass

  1. I heard it in Mos Def’s song Oh No

    “One for the trebel, two for the bass, welcome to the great incredible paper chase”

  2. You forgot about the worlds most dangerous group: NWA… “It goes one for the treble two for the bass, she got nut all over her face”

  3. In the Hip-hop world I believe this sample made it’s first appearance in the song “One for the Treble” by A.D.O.R.

  4. Great post! I was wondering where this came from. There is another variation of this phrase out there by Public Enemy in their song Louder than a Bomb. “Called one for the treble. The rhythm is the rebel.” Interesting.

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  6. I haven’t heard any other examples, but the only time I’d heard the meme was in the Tech N9ne song. I’m glad you tracked it down :)

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