Can you guess the title and who performed the most sampled song in history?
“By its count, more than 2,000 songs have sampled a particular drum beat from “Amen, Brother” that’s now known as the Amen Break”.
Listen to this groovy four-bar pattern from the Winstons’ drummer G.C Coleman.
With its wiki-style system, music lovers identify and add hundreds of song samples from across the decades to WhoSampled. To keep their information accurate and credible, head of content Chris Read and his team of moderators double check each new entry before allowing them to go live on the site. According to FiveThirtyEight:
“Over the last eight years, more than 400,000 songs featuring more than 225,000 samples have been cleared”.
The Amen Break previously only beat Fab 5 Freddy and Beside’s “Change the Beat” by a slight margin, until the WhoSampled database expanded from just hip hop to cover other genres last year. Now the Amen Break clearly takes the lead for most sampled song ever and proving it has massive versatility. Not only did N.W.A sample it, but also The Prodigy, Slipknot, Janet Jackson, and David Bowie.
The first person to use the Amen Break was Afrika Bambaataa, a legendary DJ in late 70s New York City. The early DJs, already secretive of their favourite songs and disguising them when they played them, had to find a way to make themselves heard above a hoard of new DJs. After a blackout led to the looting of expensive turntables and audio equipment, the number of DJs in New York City appeared to explode overnight.
“[early hip hop producer Louis] Flores, who MC’d with Bambaataa, said that Bambaataa had found the track “Amen, Brother” on the B-side of a once-popular 1969 soul record by The Winstons, and kept it in his secret stash…The whole song was eminently danceable, but the party really got going during that six-second drum break a minute and a half into the track. Flores said Bambaataa would slow the break down — going from a 45 rpm to 33⅓ rpm — and play it again and again as B-Boys (or “break boys”) tore it up on the dance floor”.
In 1984, the development of the sampler, a gadget like a tape recorder that “allowed anyone to record a sound and play it again and again at different pitches at the touch of a button” led to an surge of musicians looking for their favourite breaks to use in their music.
But what’s so special about the six second Amen Break?
The drumming itself, apparently. It has a ton of character and there’s a lot going on throughout the entire sample. Plus, it still sounds good even when it’s distorted. The six-second Amen Break even appears in the Futurama theme song, in The Powerpuff Girls title screen, SimCity 4, and Jeep commercials.
Drummer G.C Coleman, who died homeless ten years ago, unfortunately never benefitted from the Amen Break’s popularity. The Winstons’ frontman Richard Spencer also never received any royalties, but two versions of a GoFundMe started by a couple of British DJs last year asked people who have benefitted from the sample to give back. So far, they have raised $33,000 for Spencer. Not a lot for the number of times the Amen Break has been sampled, but more than Spencer would have seen otherwise.