It’s been called the most important six second drum loop, it’s virtually spawned an entire genre, it’s subject to much debate in all corners of the internet from the legal ins-and-outs to how best to chop it up. In-fact it’s so famous it’s probably entered the unconscious musical vernacular like the Wilhelm scream did with foley, yes it’s the Amen break.

The track this ubiquitous drum break was lifted from was entitled ‘Amen, Brother’, and was recorded by The Winstons in 1969. It’s actually as a b-side to their single Color Him Father released on Metromedia. The song was actually a cover of Jester Hairston’s Amen, written for the 1963 Sidney Poitier film Lilies of the Field. The break kicks in around 1.26, listen below:

With over 1882 listed citings on Who Sampled that’s not even scratching the surface of how many records have plundered their record boxes to samples this six seconds of drumming history. Here’s an excelled documentary on the history of the amen and its usage, which I won’t be able to cover all of. It’s probably the most comprehensive one out there, so really worth watching it:

High profile uses of the Amen include Shy FX and UK Apache, the Futurama theme music, Mantronix, LTJ Bukem, Oasis, N.W.A, David Bowie, The Prodigy, Primal Scream, Renegade, Tinie Tempah, Squarepusher, Egyptian Empire (which is also sampled in The Prodigy’s Climbatize), and hot off the press – Meridian Dan.

Without diving into the legalities of drum break sampling, it’s fair to say there has been some tension with its liberal usage in hip hop and jungle with little monetary compensation. Recently however, Long live beautifully crafted Jungle! user Martyn Webster started a campaign to remunerate The Winstons for their recordings (sadly the drummer Gregory C. Coleman died in 2006) initially setting out to raise £1000. Without high profile support they smashed their target and raised £24,000. You can read about it here.

Image via Facebook.

*update* I have just discovered this quote from Richard L. Spencer, the sole surviving member of the group (who holds the copyright to the recording) told the BBC:

I felt as if I’d been touched somewhere where no one is supposed to touch. Your art is like your children, it’s like a part of you. I felt invaded. I felt like my privacy had been taken for granted. And as a historian, as a social scientist, I also felt like the history of African-American music from the 1800s to the present is basically carted ff by other people who became very wealthy and rich and we’ve usually been left out. [sighs] You almost have to do like we did when we gave up Africa and just go… well, that’s the way it is. I’m flattered that you chose it, but please make it a legal interaction here and pay me. The young made that played that drum beat died homeless and broke in Atlanta, Georgia around 1996.

[quote via 20jazzfunkgreats]

The break has seen unparalleled popularity within jungle and drum’n’bass, being a cornerstone of the genres. In this article we’re going to have a look at some approaches of chopping, processing, resampling, layering and hopefully doing something fresh with it.

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