Sampled drum breaks have been the foundation of many modern genres of music – here are some of the most sampled
Whilst they were once simply a drum solo in a performance or recording, drum breaks broke free of the tracks that contained them, and led charmed new lives in other tracks.
Where it all began
How did this happen? Initially, a New York DJ by the name of Kool Herc spotted that the audience would go crazy during the breaks, and hit upon the idea of using two turntables and two copies of the same record to extend the breaks, and to mix one break with another. Hip-hop was born.
Later, when sampling technology became more widespread, so did the use of sampled drum breaks, a practice that is still very much a part of hip-hop and other genres today. So much so, in fact, that now, certain breaks have become ingrained in the culture of the genres themselves.
Here, we take a look at five of the most sampled drum breaks ever.
1. The Amen Break: The Winstons “Amen Brother” (1:27)
Video by: The Winstons
Is this the most well known break of all time? Funk-Soul band, The Winstons’ track ‘Amen Brother’ was a B-Side to the track ‘Color Him Father’. The single sold over a million copies, but it was a five second section of the B-side that propelled this track to become arguably one of the most influential recordings in musical history.
Gregory Cylvester played the drum part in 1969. Aside from the incredibly sharp attack, and harmonically rich tone to the drum sound, it was played with the sort of groove that is impossible to recreate in any synthetic way.
Used in tracks by everyone from NWA, to Mantronix, and became the standard tool for jungle and drum and bass production.
2. Funky Drummer Break: James Brown “Funky Drummer” (5:35)
Video by: The James Brown
James Brown is, perhaps unsurprisingly, the most sampled artist of all time. This is no small part due to the inimitable talents of his drummer, Clyde Stubblefield. The break has the kind of loose groove any drummer would kill for.
Remarkably, Stubblefield didn’t rate the break as his best work, stating that he simply improvised the break in the moment. But then, when you’re responsible for the groove on ‘Cold Sweat’ and Give It Up or Turn It Loose’, then I guess you’re heartbeat would probably have a groove to shame most drummers… 😉
Funky Drummer was used on the likes of Eric B and Rakim (‘Lyrics Of Fury’), LL Cool J (‘Mama Said Knock You Out’), Public Enemy (‘Bring The Noise’), 808 State (‘Pacific 202’) and countless others.
3. Substitution Break: Melvyn Bliss “Synthetic Substitution” (0:00)
Melvyn Bliss was by no means a well-known artist. A crooner who plied his trade in the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s, this track was a B-side to single ‘Reward’- an attempt by the artist to break through to a wider audience. The opening break, played by the legendary Bernard ‘Pretty’ Purdie, would ensure that that would certainly be the case.
This is often described as the definitive ‘boom bap’ break. And, with its punchy kick thumps, open, ‘spitty’ snares, and lolloping, rolling groove, it’s hard to disagree.
Sampled by the likes of Naughty By Nature (‘O.P.P.’), Depeche Mode (‘In Your Room’), De La Soul (‘Potholes In My Lawn’), Coolio (‘I Remember’), and plenty more besides.
4. Impeach The President Break: The Honeydrippers “Impeach The President” (0:00)
Video by: TheThe Honeydrippers
Many claim that this track is the most sampled drum break of all time. It’s fair to say that this break has become the template for what many hold to be a hip-hop groove.
Punchy and ‘rounded’, but still with a characteristic loose shuffle, this is a slammin’ break, with an added bit of sizzle from the hi-hats.
Sampled by De La Soul, Ice Cube, Dilated Peoples, Soul II Soul, Meredith Brooks, Wu Tang Clan, the Tekken 3 End Theme… the list goes on and on.
5. Apache Break: The Incredible Bongo Band “Apache” (0:00 and at 2:23)
Video by: The Incredible Bongo Band
Another of the most recognisable of all drum breaks, this has featured on everything from Grandmaster Flash’s ‘The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel’, to seminal release ‘Lessons’ by Double D and Steinski, Young MC’s ‘Know How’, J. Majik’s ‘Your Sound’, Jurassic-5’s ‘Jurass Finish First’…
Characterised by its heavily compressed and reverbed kick and snare, and (of course) perhaps the most recognisable bongo part of all time, this still sounds fresh.
These famous breaks are still sampled regularly to this day, though now, perhaps, they reference and evoke the spirit and feel of the hip-hop records that first sampled them, rather than the soul and funk era that hip-hop records referenced.
If you’re a digital DJ, looking for some inspiring material to drop into a set, you could do far worse than these. And if you have a sample-based rig, like Maschine, there are few more inspiring start points.
To the pioneering crate diggers and samplers, we doff our collective caps 😉
Joe is a contributor for the Dawsons Music blog. Specialising in product reviews and crafting content to help and inspire musicians of all musical backgrounds.