The Amen break is a drum break in the 1969 track "Amen, Brother" by the soul group the Winstons. The track was released as the B-side of the Winstons' 1969 single "Color Him Father". The drum break lasts about seven seconds and was performed by Gregory Coleman.
With the rise of hip hop in the 1980s, the break was widely sampled and became a staple of drum and bass and jungle music. It has been used on thousands of tracks of many genres, making it one of the most sampled recordings of all time.
"Amen, Brother" is an instrumental interpretation of the gospel standard "Amen" recorded by the Winstons as a B-side for their 1969 single "Color Him Father". The Economist described it as "sprightly enough" with an "energetic horn line", but with "little to distinguish it from hundreds of similar records released around the same time".
About 1 minute and 26 seconds into "Amen, Brother", the other musicians stop playing and drummer Gregory Coleman performs a four-bar drum break. For two bars, he plays the previous beat; in the third, he delays a snare hit; in the fourth, he leaves the first beat empty, following with a syncopated pattern and early crash cymbal.
DJs used turntables to loop breaks from records, which could then be rapped over. In 1986, "Amen Brother" was included on Ultimate Breaks and Beats, a compilation of old funk and soul tracks with clean drum breaks intended for DJs.
The Amen break became widely sampled in British dance music in the early 1990s, especially in jungle. One early, influential track using the break, "King of the Beats", "chopped up, layered and processed" the break "so that the drums became central to the track rather than simply a rhythmic bedding".
It has since been used on thousands of tracks, making "Amen, Brother" one of the most widely sampled tracks in history. It has been widely used across genres, from rock bands such as Oasis, to television theme tunes such as that of Futurama.
The copyright owner of the Amen break, along with the rest of "Amen, Brother", is Winstons leader Richard L. Spencer. Neither he nor drummer Coleman have received royalties for the break, and Spencer was not aware of its use until 1996, when an executive contacted him asking for the master tape. Spencer dismissed its widespread use as plagiarism, and said: "[Coleman's] heart and soul went into that drum break. Now these guys copy and paste it and make millions."
On 6 March 2011, BBC Radio 1 broadcast an hour-long documentary about the Amen break, presented by Kutski. The influence of the Amen break was also featured in The Economist calling it a "short burst of drumming [that] changed the face of music".
On August 7, 2017, NPR's afternoon news show, All Things Considered, also ran a short segment about the Amen break, making particular note of the (approximate) number of times it was sampled by other artists, as well as the diverse range of artists who did so. The article also contained an interview with Richard Spencer, The Winstons' bandleader, and related that he did in fact end up receiving payment, of a sort, for his work: "In the past few years, Spencer has received some recognition. In 2015, a DJ in the U.K. set up a GoFundMe page in Spencer's name as a thank you for the Amen break. Almost 2,000 people donated about $26,000. He posted a video of himself on Facebook holding a giant check. In October 2017, Spencer joined inductees such as Andy Griffith, James Taylor and Ben E. King in the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame."
A detailed analysis of how to play this break on drum set, and how to manipulate it for the drum and bass paradigm, can be found in the book Live Drum & Bass written by Ryan Alexander Bloom and also in the German language book Welcome to the Jungle written by Gerwin Eisenhauer.
- Butler, Mark J. (2006), Unlocking the groove: Rhythm, meter, and musical design in electronic dance music, Indiana University Press, p. 78, ISBN 978-0-253-34662-9,
Even more common, especially in jungle/drum 'n' bass, is a break ... which fans and musicians commonly refer to as the 'Amen' break.
- "Seven seconds of fire". The Economist. 17 December 2011. ISSN 0013-0613. Retrieved 20 March 2019.
- "Seven seconds of fire". The Economist. Retrieved 2018-10-14.
- Otzen, Ellen (2015-03-29). "Six seconds that shaped 1,500 songs". Retrieved 2019-03-20.
- Otzen, Ellen (29 March 2015). "Six seconds that shaped 1,500 songs". BBC News. Retrieved 29 March 2015.
'It's not the worst thing that can happen to you. I'm a black man in America and the fact that someone wants to use something I created — that's flattering,' he says.
- "BBC Radio 1's Stories: The Amen Break". BBC. 6 June 2011.
- "Funk Band Behind 'Amen Break' Drum Riff Receives Long Overdue Notoriety". NPR. 7 August 2017.
- Bloom, Ryan Alexander. Live Drum & Bass. New York: Hudson Music, 2018.
- Eisenhauer, Gerwin. Welcome to the Jungle. Germany: Dux, 2005.
- "A Tutorial on Cutting Up a Breakbeat Using a Tracker". PedagoNet.com. Retrieved 16 August 2012.
The tempo for the Amen, Brother breakbeat is approximately 136 BPM.
- The Amen break on freesound.org
- Video of an audio installation about the Amen break's history by Nate Harrison (archive.org mirror, Youtube mirror)
- Amen break on whosampled.com