The Amen break is a drum break that has been widely sampled in numerous music genres. It comes from the 1969 track "Amen, Brother" by the soul group the Winstons, released as the B-side of the 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. Neither Coleman nor copyright owner Richard Lewis Spencer received royalties for its use; Spencer said it was unlikely Coleman, who died homeless and destitute in 2006, realized the impact he had made on music.
The Amen break is taken from "Amen, Brother", an instrumental interpretation of the gospel standard "Amen" recorded by the American soul group the Winstons. The Winstons recorded it in early 1969 in Atlanta, Georgia as a B-side for their 1969 single "Color Him Father".
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.
In the 1980s, with the rise of hip hop, DJs began using turntables to loop drum breaks from records, which MCs would rap 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.
Salt-N-Pepa's 1986 single "I Desire" saw one of the earliest uses of the Amen break. A number of releases in 1988 took it into the mainstream, including "Straight Outta Compton" by N.W.A and "Keep It Going Now" by Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock. In "King of the Beats" by Mantronix (1988), the Amen break is "chopped up, layered and processed so that the drums became central to the track rather than simply a rhythmic bedding".
The Amen break was widely sampled in British dance music in the early 1990s, especially in drum and bass and jungle. 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. According to WhoSampled, a user-generated website cataloging samples, the Amen break is the most sampled track in history, appearing in over 2000 tracks.
The copyright owner of "Amen, Brother", including the Amen break, is Winstons leader Richard Lewis Spencer. Neither he nor drummer Coleman 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 condemned the sampling as plagiarism, and said: "[Coleman's] heart and soul went into that drum break. Now these guys copy and paste it and make millions." However, in 2015, he said: "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."
Coleman died homeless and destitute in 2006. Spencer said it was unlikely he was aware of the impact he had made on music. In 2015, a GoFundMe campaign set up by British DJs Martyn Webster and Steve Theobald raised £24,000 (US$37,000) for Spencer.
- "Seven seconds of fire". The Economist. 17 December 2011. ISSN 0013-0613. Retrieved 20 March 2019.
- 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.
- Dave Turner (November 20, 2018). "The 20 best tracks that sample the Amen Break". Mixmag. Retrieved December 8, 2019.
- 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.
- Otzen, Ellen (2015-03-29). "Six seconds that shaped 1,500 songs". Retrieved 2019-03-20.
- Goldenberg, David (2016-09-22). "It Only Takes Six Seconds To Hear The World's Most Sampled Song". FiveThirtyEight. Retrieved 2020-01-13.
- 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 by Gerwin Eisenhauer.
- "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
- Bloom, Ryan Alexander. Live Drum & Bass. New York: Hudson Music, 2018.
- Eisenhauer, Gerwin. Welcome to the Jungle. Germany: Dux, 2005.