Let’s get into a bit of historical genre defining breakbeat DNA. The Amen break is widely known (at least in terms of the ole “that sounds familiar” phenomena) thanks to the art of sampling. Unfortunately, the musicians behind “the Amen break” aren’t sitting any prettier in terms of cash because of having been flipped (sampled) so often. So, before we dive in, I’ll begin by first sharing the link to a worthy cause, – The Winstons Amen Breakbeat Gesture – Go Fund Me project. The project was put together by Martyn Webster, A DJ from UK. You should consider donating. Here is why;
What if I told you that there is one breakbeat that is so well-known, due to its wide use, that it underscores what we know as classic hip-hop and is the crux of genres like Jungle and Drum-N-Bass? I’ll be the first to admit that while I am a proponent of beat making, I don’t know where every breakbeat comes from. I actually always thought this break was from some derivative or another of James Brown’s Funky Drummer. Pardon my ignorance to all of you music historians that are surely frowning in displeasure right now.
However, I do know some DJs and music historians that could tell you just about anything about any break, loop, chop or one shot from just about any song you could possibly play. That said, I think its safe to say that many of these folks can surely name this particular break with a certain immediacy if you played this classic 6 second, 16 count snippet from a record called “Amen, Brother” by a group called The Winstons.
Sadly, the architects of this break have never received a single cent from its use by way of this sampling sport. According to Martyne Webster, “Gregory Coleman, the drummer who actually played the beat, also never received any royalties from the sample, he sadly died a broke and homeless man around 2006.”
Unfortunately, this is not a tale that exists in a silo. There are scores of gospel, soul, jazz, funk and recording artists from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s that suffer the same consequences in some form or another. Many may not even know that they’re works have been sampled (and that is indeed an entirely different topic of discussion for another time). But this is a particularly interesting story in itself.
Although, many folks may not know the history of the break, it’s DNA can be traced back to The Winstons’ 1969 Metromedia B-side release, “Amen, Brother”. This joint was on the B-side to the Grammy award-winning single entitled “Color Him Father”. “The Amen break” just may be the most sampled breakbeat of all time. In fact, WhoSampled.com tags “Amen, Brother” as being sampled in over 1000 songs (more like 1400+ according to their own DB entries). Want to bet, you know this break? Take a listen…
The Amen break has definitely been used in something that you’ve heard before. Certainly so if you’ve listened to any classic hip-hop such as Salt-N-Pepa’s I Desire, Mantronix’s King of the Beats, Ultramagnetic MC’s Critical Beatdown, Eric B & Rakim’s Casualties of War and the list goes on to include songs by artists as diverse as David Bowie and Slipknot. Even “Hip-Hop’s Richest Man” Dr. Dre came by, perhaps, his most classic tune with it on N.W.A’s Straight Outta Compton.
In today’s breakbeat game, I’ve often wondered how true are the many claims by sample pack creators that “these samples and breaks are 100% original” and subsequently “license free” for your use in your own original music. Landon Proctor seemingly exposed a sample pack producing company called Zero G for their alleged use of the Amen Break in the “Zero G Jungle Warfare Volume 1” release.
Speaking of which, here is a very informative, nearly 20 minute long documentary by Landon Proctor about the Amen Break.
Shout out to Landon for the thorough look at this beloved breakbeat, but if you want to dive even deeper into this storied break and it’s “DNA”, you may be interested in Salaam, K., & Salaam, M.’s blog post which I believe is taken from a conversation in their radio show / podcast back in 2006. Here is a most interesting excerpt citing that perhaps “the sampled” may have indeed borrowed a bit themselves as they were linked to Curtis Mayfield prior to heading over to Metromedia Records to record “Amen, Brother”.
“But before Curtis, I’ve got to mention that two of the Winstons’ band members, Mattison and G.C. Coleman were former members of the Otis Redding band. The Winstons had signed to Curtis Mayfield’s Curtom label before the label had a distribution deal and left the label before they had their big hit. But before, during and after their Curtom label days they were also the back up band for Mayfield’s group, The Impressions.
Mtume, when you hear “Amen, Brother” you hear the gospel song “Amen,” well, it’s not just a generic “Amen,” instead this is the 1964 Curtis Mayfield version sped up. When I heard “Amen, Brother,” I immediately heard the 1967 “We’re A Winner” (also sped up).” – Excerpt courtesy of Salaam, K., & Salaam, M. (2006, March 12). breath of life » THE WINSTONS / “Amen, Brother”. Retrieved from http://www.kalamu.com/bol/2006/03/12/187/
Indeed, I can hear the interpolation of the classic gospel song in this rendition of Amen. Having been flipped into a soul/funk groove in ’69 and appended with modern terms of cool and endearment, “Brother”, seems befitting of the groove. I can even hear our ancestral african drums talking a bit in here. The soul is deep.
Lest we forget, as mentioned earlier on, entire genres (i.e. Jungle & Drum-N-Bass) owe nearly their entire existence to this one particular break. Let’s take this one out with a little listen to Amen, Brother by The Winstons. Donate to the cause here http://www.gofundme.com/amenbrother
Again, Donate to the cause here http://www.gofundme.com/amenbrother