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]

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The natural history of the Funky Drummer break

The Funky Drummer Parts One And Two” by James Brown and the JBs is one of the most-sampled recordings in history.

But even though the track is a cornerstone of hip-hop and other sample-based electronic music, for the first decade after its release, it was an obscurity. It’s a nice groove, but as a song, it’s not as catchy as James Brown’s big hits like “Sex Machine” or “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag.” It doesn’t have verses or choruses; instead, it’s just an open-ended groove, with extended solos traded back and forth between James Brown on organ and Maceo Parker on tenor sax.

It’s a mother

Four and a half minutes into the recording, James Brown tells the band: “Fellas, one more time I want to give the drummer some of this funky soul we got going here.” He tells drummer Clyde Stubblefield, “You don’t have to do no soloing, brother, just keep what you got… Don’t turn it loose, ’cause it’s a mother.” That last word will turn out to be prophetic.

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