The "Amen Break", "Amen", or imitations thereof, are frequently used as sampled drum loops in hip hop, jungle, breakcore and drum and bass music. It is 5.20 seconds long and consists of 4 bars of the drum-solo sampled from the song "Amen, Brother" as performed by the 1960s funk and soul outfit The Winstons. The song is an up-tempo instrumental rendition of an older gospel music classic. The Winstons' version was released as a B-side of the 45 RPM 7-inch vinyl single "Color Him Father" in 1969 on Metromedia (MMS-117), and is currently available on several compilations and on a 12-inch vinyl re-release together with other songs by The Winstons.
The Amen Break was used extensively in early hiphop and sample-based music, and became the basis for drum-and-bass and jungle music--"a six-second clip that spawned several entire subcultures"
As with many samples, neither the performer, drummer G.C. Coleman, nor the copyright owner Richard L. Spencer, the Grammy-award winning composer and performer of the hit "Color Him Father", has ever received any royalties for the pirated sampling. .
The song itself achieved fame within the hip hop and subsequent electronic music communities when former Downstairs Records' employee known as Breakbeat Lenny compiled it onto his 1986 Ultimate Breaks and Beats bootleg series for DJs. Lenny hired Louis Flores to edit four bars of the drum break at much slower speed than the remainder of the song. Although it created a jarring difference in tempo in the center of the song, it allowed Hip-Hop DJ's to extend the beat by switching between two copies of the record on two separate turntables at a danceable tempo while ignoring the rest of the song (this technique was created by Kool Herc in 1974 and became a trend at large in 1977 with the efforts of Grandmaster Flash) . By 1987, E-mu released the SP1200 sampler, altering Hip-Hop production techniques from drum machines to sampled loops. Most producers began to mine their loops initially from Ultimate Breaks and Beats series, causing the Amen break to gain a massive amount of fame in the late 80s hip-hop community, crossing over to the U.K. and European dance music scenes shortly afterwards. Eventually, the song was reissued in its original form at a higher quality sound, and since most contemporary electronic music producers were speeding up the sample, the bootlegged slower edited version fell out of favor.
By 1990, at the height of British rave culture, the Amen began to appear in an increasing number of so called breakbeat hardcore productions. Hardcore emphasized a unique, harsh, aggressive sound that drew strongly from hip-hop and early acid house. It added a hip-hop influence with the addition of breakbeats and increased the tempo. A strong reggae and ragga influence emerged in 1991/92, with uplifting piano melody loops or Jamaican reggae samples used at normal speed layered on top of frenetic 150 to 170 BPM breakbeats. This sound quickly evolved to a point where sliced and diced drum breaks (featuring whacky time stretched snare rolls), in conjunction with low frequency bass lines (sub bass), became the important features of many tracks; a style that was initially referred to as Jungle but then later, as the style progressed, and the rhythmic elements were refined, the term drum and bass was used to sum up the sound (which is quite literally what it was). Around the mid 1990s a number of so called IDM producers, who had been influenced by the Jungle/DnB sound, began to focus on the style and started exploring it in the context of electronica (making "danceable" club oriented tracks was not a prerequisite, in fact the more outlandish and obscure the manipulations, the more aesthetically pleasing the records were to aficionados - a trend that continues to this day in the form of breakcore). The amen break can still be found in many productions and there has in recent years been a renewed interest in the "old-skool" Jungle style. Luke Vibert, one of the many IDM producers who has explored this break (other examples include Squarepusher), has released several records under the moniker Amen Andrews, using the Amen on every track, heavily sliced and edited (yet recognizable).
It is also used by some cross genre artists such as DJ Axera and Gomanda and in many hip-hop tunes, such as N.W.A's Straight Outta Compton. The first Hip-Hop producer to dismember the drum sounds of the Amen break and reprogram them into a new pattern was Mr. Mixx of 2 Live Crew on their 1987 song "Feel Alright Y'all" from the Move Somethin' album, followed by the Mantronix sample-heavy track "King of the Beats" in 1988. The Amen break has also been used by rock music acts including Perry Farrell, Nine Inch Nails and quite frequently by The Mad Capsule Markets. It can even be heard in the background of car commercials and television shows such as The Amazing Race, Futurama, and The Powerpuff Girls. Beginning drummers are often taught it as a first exercise.
The Amen break's popularity probably lies in both the rough, funky, compressed style that the drums are recorded in as well as the "swing" and "groove" of the drummer who originally played the solo. The original song is also quite fast, making it more suitable for up-tempo music genres such as jungle and drum-and-bass. Additionally, it is easy to slice or rearrange with a sampler, thanks to the drummer's regularity. A few other popular drum and bass breaks are sampled from Lyn Collins' "Think (About It)", Bobby Byrd's "Hot Pants - I'm Coming, Coming, I'm Coming (Bonus Beats)", James Brown's "Funky Drummer", The Honey Drippers' "Impeach the President", and The Incredible Bongo Band's "Apache", which were all 1970s Bronx breaks rekindled by the Ultimate Breaks & Beats series of compilations in the 1980s. Other popular breaks which did not come out of the 1970s Bronx scene are: The 'Horizons' break which is mainly formed out of cymbals and splashes and the 'FireFight' break.
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