Sample the Amen Break

Sample the Amen Break


How an obscure six-second drum solo became one of the most sampled clips in music history, and spawned whole subcultures

11th September 2014
By Jeremy Kingsley

Much of today's music is built around samples of other recordings, in one way or another. Whole genres depend on it. The 'Amen break', a six-second drum solo plundered from an obscure 60s soul record, is one of the most sampled clips in music history: first adopted by the pioneering samplers of 80s hip-hop, before being diced, layered and endlessly manipulated beyond recognition – laying the foundation of jungle and drum'n'bass. Its story is one of reuse, of creating new from old: how sampling and digital manipulation propelled new forms of creative expression and spawned whole subcultures. Here's how it happened.


The Winstons: Amen, Brother

The B-side to a long-forgotten single Color Him Father, Amen, Brother was an unremarkable, same-same soul track rushed through production. The six-second, four-bar break kicks in at 1:26 minutes.


In the 80s new, inexpensive sampling machines let musicians cut and copy other records. Hip-hop, pioneered by their use, sampled soul, funk, R&B and jazz. In 1986, a DJ compilation of samplable tracks – Ultimate Breaks and Beats, Volume I – featured Amen, Brother, the break slowed down to make it easier to work with.


NWA: Straight Outta Compton

Early samplers didn't distort or manipulate the break, resolving to loop just its first two bars at various speeds as a driving beat, as heard here in one of its earliest popular reappearances.


Mantronix: King of the Beats

As sampling hardware grew more sophisticated its creative use flourished. Artists broke apart the Amen's individual drum-hits to recombine them anew. Mantronix's instrumental collage, featuring a layered and heavily processed Amen break, introduced it to UK rave producers.


Shut Up and Dance: Raving I'm Raving

The Amen crossed the Atlantic, picked up by the UK rave scene and became popularised in breakbeat – a drum'n'bass precursor featuring heavily syncopated, polyrhythmic drums at high tempos. Hardcore duo Shut Up and Dance used the break extensively.


Shy FX feat. UK Apache: Original Nuttah

In the mid-90s, jungle and drum'n'bass artists experimented with rhythmically complex, high-tempo, chopped-up beats, making extensive use of a highly fragmented Amen. Original Nuttah takes just its higher frequencies, at high speed, emphasising the snare-drum hits.


Squarepusher: Vic Acid

Here's where the Amen's fragmentation and abuse gets ridiculous, as producers push sampling arrangements to uneasy listening limits.


Oasis: D'you Know What I Mean?

The Amen's influence spread far, crystallising in a generation's musical subconscious, while reverentially hat-tipped by producers of all genres. The Amen can purportedly be heard in tracks from Oasis and Amy Winehouse to the themes of the Powerpuff Girls and Futurama.


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