Nas’ “One Love” is a Pause-Tape Beat

I n March of 2016 Micro-Chop interviewed producer 14KT about his evolution as a producer — from his early days making pause-tapes and rapping through a pair of busted headphones to his work on Cool Edit Pro, Adobe Audition, and Maschine. After the interview was posted, listening to his Beats 96' — 97' [Pause Tapes] compilation further piqued my interest in the pause-tape method. The realization that someone had made real, quality instrumentals using this technique came as somewhat of a shock and it seemed like a topic worthy of additional exploration.

DJ Premier’s interview with DJ Vlad where he reveals “One Love” was a pause-tape.

Some internet snooping revealed that pause-tapes play a much more significant role in the history of rap music than most people realize, with the Beastie Boys, The Bomb Squad, A Tribe Called Quest, and many others making use of pause-tapes for early, iconic albums. The research that happened as a result of the KT interview eventually led to a long-form Micro-Chop article about the history of pause-tape production, uncovering multiple classic songs and hidden gems that started out with nothing but a tape, a cassette deck, and a stack of records.

A particularly mind-blowing discovery came from a 2011 interview with VLADTV where DJ Premier explained that Q-Tip made the unforgettable sample flip on “One Love” via pause-tape. This might come as a shock to some readers, but it shouldn’t be a complete surprise, as Tip previously said that perfecting pause-tapes loops during his teenage years showed him he had the discipline needed to become a successful producer. “I must be, like, on some other shit, if I could sit here for hours and hours and do this with these records and get these little pieces and just continually loop it like that,” he said in a 2013 interview with Red Bull Music Academy.

“That’s why I changed ‘Represent,’ because no way he was outdoing me with that shit.” — DJ Premier

In addition to teaching himself how to make beats with pause-tapes, Q-Tip also leaned heavily on them between 1989 and 1990 during the making of People’s Instinctive Travels and The Paths of Rhythm, sometimes utilizing beats he had made rough versions of several years earlier. It is interesting to note that he still used pause-tapes when he produced “One Love” for Nas’ Illmatic some four years later. By 1994 Q-Tip was a well-established recording artist and more sophisticated sampling technology was available — one would assume he had access to it at this point in his career.

The official “One Love” music video.

Was Tip still making pause-tapes on a regular basis in 1994, or was “One Love” just a random one-off? And if he was still making them with some regularity, what was it about pause-tapes that he preferred to the other tools he could presumably get his hands on at the time?

Beyond making a game-changing song with the most primitive production technique imaginable, it seems Q-Tip’s contribution to Illmatic also forced his peers to step up their own production techniques. After revealing how the “One Love” beat was created in the DJ Vlad interview, Premier goes on to say that he revised his “Represent” instrumental after hearing Tip’s masterpiece. “That’s why I changed ‘Represent,’” he told Vlad. “Because no way he was outdoing me with that shit.”

“I must be, like, on some other shit, if I could sit here for hours and hours and do this with these records and get these little pieces and just continually loop it like that.” — Q-Tip

As “One Love” continues to endure some 23 years after its initial release, it remains an important reminder from one of rap music’s golden eras that sometimes the best songs come from the humblest origins. With all the advancements in recording, post-production, and sampling, one of the most beloved records from Nas’ entire catalog started out as a simple pause-tape.

Connect with Q-Tip on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and on Twitter @qtiptheabstract.

If you enjoyed this piece, please consider following my Micro-Chop and Bookshelf Beats publications or donating to the Micro-Chop Patreon page. You can also read my work at HipHopDX or follow me on Twitter.