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The Voice Behind One Of Hip-Hop's Most Famous Hooks

Lyn Collins, pictured here in 1970, inspired the chorus to Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock's pioneering hip-hop hit "It Takes Two."
Michael Ochs Archives
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Lyn Collins, pictured here in 1970, inspired the chorus to Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock's pioneering hip-hop hit "It Takes Two."

Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock's debut album, It Takes Two, was released 30 years ago this month. It contains one of the most defining singles in hip-hop, anchored by the unmistakable hook: "It takes two to make a thing go right / It takes two to make it outta sight." The epochal riff is a sample from Lyn Collins 1972 single "Think (About It)." Collins died in 2005, but thanks to this hip-hop rework of her single, her name is canonized in music history.

The original "Think (About It)" begins with a message for the guys — specifically the kind of guys who stay out late and assumed their woman would sit quietly at home and just take care of things. Collins' message, essentially, was that women don't need you.

But it was really the drums that drew Rob Base and his partner, the late DJ E-Z Rock, to the track. They first heard it on a record full of drum beat compilations.

"First, we picked out the break beat," Base says, "But then when I listened to the whole song, I was like, 'Yo, this song is dope.' We realized it was one part, when she said, 'It takes two to make a thing go right.' I was like, 'Wow, this could a nice hook, too.' "

But it wasn't Lyn Collins' voice that would end up on the final mix. Profile Records chose Rhonda Parris, who, besides "It Takes Two," put out a house-club single of her own, 1987's " No No Love."

"I love the way she did the hook, but then the record company wanted to bring in another singer to do it for copyright reasons or something like that," Base remembers.

But even though it wasn't Lyn Collins' voice on "It Takes Two," other artists started covering "Think (About It)," and she started getting calls. The song helped her find a renewed identity of her own, which is important when you consider her boss.

"Now, she was going and making appearances on different shows, and it wasn't under the guise of James Brown," says Lola! Love, a friend of Lyn Collins and dancer for James Brown.

Love says that Collins grew up singing in Abilene, Texas, and was handpicked by Brown to be his female counterpart. But as Love explains, Brown was a taskmaster.

"To be the singer, to be the female goddess on his show, she had to be — when he was around — she had to be a star at all times," she says. That meant looking the part, acting the part and sounding the part. But Collins still wanted to maintain her own voice as an artist.

"He didn't really discover me, I discovered him," Collins said in response to a Soul Train audience member in 1973 when they asked her how Brown discovered her. "I had an ambition, I wanted to sing. So I bugged him quite a bit, until he listened to me."

Brown was given credit for Collins' success throughout her career. He even produced and released Collins' only two albums, 1972's Think (About It)and 1975's Check Me Out If You Don't Know Me by Now. Up until her death at the age of 56, she was known as "the female preacher." But it wasn't until 16 years after "Think (About It)" that her holy vocals were re-purposed by rap pioneers to ensure Lyn Collins a legacy of her own.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Andrew Limbong is a reporter for NPR's Arts Desk, where he does pieces on anything remotely related to arts or culture, from streamers looking for mental health on Twitch to Britney Spears' fight over her conservatorship. He's also covered the near collapse of the live music industry during the coronavirus pandemic. He's the host of NPR's Book of the Day podcast and a frequent host on Life Kit.