Monday Mixtape- The Amen Break


Otherwise known as the most important 6 seconds in music, this drum break has been used on over 1800 commercially released songs. The Amen break is a 6 second drum break, from a 60’s cut by a group called The Winstons, from their 60’s cut, a cover of Amen Brother, a traditional gospel song, recorded in an afternoon as a B side.

The break itself is pretty funky, and has a nice syncopated beat in the last bar, and went largely unnoticed for years.

In the late 70’s, the block party scene that gave birth to hip hop came about. At these parties, DJs like Grandmaster Flash and Kool Herc would look for great breaks for dancing, and later emceeing over, get two copies, and spin them into each other to stretch these short breaks out for minutes of fun. Breaks like this were the holy grail for these DJs, and having one your rivals didn’t would give you an edge.

This eventually gave birth to sample culture, and the foundation of hip-hop. In the mid to late 80’s, acts who were there ain the early days of hip hop would know these beats, and use them under their tracks.

But after early use by Salt ‘n’ Pepa and Mantronix, the first huge track to use this sample was probably NWA’s 1988 game changer Straight Outta Compton.

But so far, so standard. James Brown’s Funky Drummer has been sampled on plenty of hip hop songs, from Public Enemy’s Rebel Without a Cause, to Bart Simpson’s Do the Bartman.

The sample then took on a second life as rave culture grew in England, and in breakbeat, drum ‘n’ bass and jungle especially. Name a jungle track, and it’s 50-50 it will be the amen break, perhaps cut up, but the same nonetheless. The syncopated snare hit in that last bar gives it that extra energy and looseness, which makes it just that touch more hard, more mad than other samples.

And then, as more people heard about it, it spread further and further. Indie bands have used it. Metal bands have used it. The artists formerly known as PJ and Duncan have used it. It’s the beat to the theme of Futurama. It’s everywhere!

So here are my essential Amen break tracks. If you disagree, feel free to listen to any of the other 1800 tracks that sample this classic!

As a small postscript, some kind and lovely person, on finding out that The Winstons had never received a penny for all this sampling, started a crowdfunder to get people to recognise their contribution to music, and raised $24,000 to say thank you.

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