From staying on beat to breath control to the projection of his or her vocals (just to name a few things), there’s a lot to execute correctly in order for a rhyme on wax to captivate listeners. And like a movie director who shoots a scene multiple times before moving on to the next one in a film, music producers often need rappers to rhyme many takes before a song is good enough to go be mixed and mastered.
In rare cases though, rappers are able to nail their vocals on the first attempt. It’s a truly amazing feat, especially considering that some of rap’s most famous songs were recorded in such a way. Therefore, AllHipHop.com has put together a chronological list of some of these records. We are sure there are more, but this list also includes credible sources proving that these artists really were done in one.
These songs may have been recorded in one take, but they certainly deserve multiple spins!
“Rapper’s Delight” by The Sugarhill Gang (1979): NPR conducted an interview in 2000 with Joey Robinson, son of Sylvia Robinson (the person who assembled The Sugarhill Gang), and he said, “She saw where a DJ was talking and the crowd was responding to what he was saying, and this was the first time that she ever saw this before. And she said, ‘Joey, wouldn’t this be a great idea to make a rap record?'” The NPR piece then goes on to indicate that Big Bank Hank, Wonder Mike, and Master Gee met Sylvia Robinson on a Friday and then they recorded “Rapper’s Delight” the following Monday in just one take.
“South Bronx” by Boogie Down Productions (1986): In a 2003 documentary, KRS-One said, “It was 25 dollars an hour for an 8-track studio. We did two hours – 50 dollars, a lot of money. What you hear on the “South Bronx” is one take. Scott was complaining that I took too long. The guy didn’t even mix record, no mix. We kept one and we gave one to Red Alert.” And the rest is history.
“I’m Only Out for One Thang” by Ice Cube feat. Flavor Flav (1990): While Ice Cube’s solo debut is widely recognized for its sociopolitical content, there are some moments of comic relief. One of them is his collaboration with Hip-Hop’s greatest hype man, Flavor Flav. In a 2010 article commemorating the 20th anniversary of AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted, Cube stated, “We put the track up, and he was running late, so we knew we’d only have one take. When we messed up at the end, we just kept movin’.”
“N.Y. State of Mind” by Nas (1994): During a recent interview with BBC Radio One, Nas and Zane Lowe discussed Illmatic’s first song. Zane mentioned that legend has it that Nas recorded the first verse of “N.Y. State of Mind” in one take. Nas confirmed it by replying, “Yeah. I was following his [DJ Premier’s] expertise. I did what he said. If he said, ‘this was it, that was good.’ Then that was good.”
“Hail Mary” by 2Pac feat. Kastro, Young Noble, Yaki Kadafi, and Prince Ital Joe (1996): Pac recorded music fast, and “Hail Mary” was no exception. In a magazine article, Young Noble recalled the process of how this hit-song came together. “Altogether, “Hail Mary” took maybe 30 minutes. It probably took about 15 minutes to write it and about five minutes to lay it. We laid the s**t, my verse was already written. I had it in my book I wrote the last little hook part, “Outlawz on a paper chase…” That was going to be the hook at first. I had that hook already and I was like, ‘yeah Pac I got a little hook.’ He was like, ‘Nah, we going to put that at the end.’ And then he came up with the “Hail Mary” s**t.”
“Hard Knock Life [Ghetto Anthem]” by Jay-Z (1998): When Jay-Z was on the road with Puff Daddy’s “No Way Out” tour, DJ Kid Capri played “Hard Knock Life” from Annie before every show. After seeing the crowd’s reaction to it, Damon Dash quickly got in touch with the producer of the track that Capri was using, DJ 45 King, to buy that beat for Jigga to rhyme on. In a Vh1 interview, 45 King said, “I brought the tape to the studio. He [Jay-Z] laid down the vocals one time. He did it in one take.”
“The Dream Shatterer [Original Version]” by Big Pun (2001): D.I.T.C. member and producer Buckwild discussed in 2011 how he witnessed Pun record the original version of “The Dream Shatterer.” According to him, “I remember we went to Mystic Studio in Staten Island. He went inside the booth and sat on a stool, and just breathed fire through the whole song. I’ve never seen him finish a song without doing punches. Me, Cuban Link, and Triple Seis were there. And it was incredible.” As a result of sample clearance issues with the beat, a different version of “Dream Shatterer” appears on Capital Punishment. However, the version that Buckwild saw Mr. Rios lay down was released posthumously on the Endangered Species album.
“Heart of the City [Ain’t No Love]” by Jay-Z (2001): In 2009, Young Guru, one of the engineers on The Blueprint, spoke about Hov recording this Kanye West-produced classic. “At that time, if you remember, the Jay and R. Kelly song [“Fiesta (Remix)”] was popping. We’re sitting in the studio, that [“Heart of the City”] beat is on for about a half hour, 45 minutes, and just by coincidence the “Fiesta” video starts. Jay taps me, like, “I’m ready”… He walks out the door of the A room, walks down the hallway into another door, gets in the booth [and] spits all three verses. Walks out that hallway, walks back in the door, and the “Fiesta” video is still on. That’s how fast he recorded that song.”
“Lose Yourself” by Eminem (2002): Rolling Stone interviewed Steve King, the engineer and mixer of “Lose Yourself,” and this was his recollection of Eminem recording his Oscar-winning smash: “[He] laid down the verses spontaneously. He did all three verses in one take and killed it. Jaws dropped — we were like, ‘Oh, my God!’ When he was on the movie set, he didn’t get to spend as much time in the studio as he’d have liked. This story had been building up in him, so when he did that first take, it was incredible — it just came out of him.”
“Tie My Hands” by Lil Wayne feat. Robin Thicke (2008): One of the most memorable tracks from Lil Wayne’s 2008 blockbuster album is “Tie My Hands” – a record which addresses the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina and the government’s slow response to come to the aid of those desperately in need of assistance. Engineer Andrew “Drew” Correa, at one time, said this about the record, “He [Wayne] did that whole record in one take. He was smoking a blunt, and he’s like, ‘Yo, just play it all the way through and I’mma get all three verses in one shot.’ He really felt attached to that record.”
“Bugatti” by Ace Hood feat. Future and Rick Ross (2013): During an interview with L.A. radio, when asked about recording the hook to Ace Hood’s hit in one take, Future responded with these words: “Yup, “Bugatti” in one take. I’m being completely honest. When I say one take, I [did] the whole track. I still completed the whole track. But even when I did it in one take, the first time I said it, they were like, ‘You already did the hook the first time you were saying something.’ It was one take, one track.”
What’s your favorite rap song recorded in one take? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below and add any you might know!