Amen break

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Part of the waveform for the Amen break, including the crash at the end

The Amen break is a drum break that has been widely sampled in popular music. It comes from the 1969 track "Amen, Brother" by the American soul group the Winstons, released as the B-side of the 1969 single "Color Him Father". The drum break lasts seven seconds and was performed by Gregory Coleman.

With the rise of hip hop in the 1980s, the Amen break was used in hits including "Straight Outta Compton" by N.W.A and "Keep It Going Now" by Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock. In the 1990s, it became a staple of drum and bass and jungle music. It has been used in thousands of tracks of various genres, making it one of the most sampled recordings in music history.

The Winstons received no royalties for the sample. The bandleader, Richard Lewis Spencer, was not aware of its use until 1996, after the statute of limitations for copyright infringement had passed. He condemned its use as plagiarism, but later said it was flattering. He said it was unlikely that Coleman, who died homeless and destitute in 2006, realized the impact he had made on music.


The Winstons were a multiracial soul band from Washington, D.C., who played throughout the southern United States. They were led by Richard Lewis Spencer.[1] In early 1969, the Winstons recorded the single "Color Him Father" in Atlanta.[2] For the B-side, they recorded an instrumental based on the gospel song "Amen" and a guitar riff Curtis Mayfield had played for Spencer.[2][3] The result was "Amen, Brother",[3] which took 20 minutes to compose.[2] Though "Color Him Father" became a top-10 R&B hit and won a Grammy Award, "Amen Brother", received little notice at the time of release.[2] The Winstons struggled to secure bookings with their multiracial composition and disbanded in 1970.[2]

Drum break[edit]

At about 1 minute and 26 seconds into "Amen, Brother", the other musicians stop playing and the drummer, Gregory Coleman, performs a four-bar drum break that lasts for seven seconds. For two bars, Coleman plays the previous beat. In the third bar, he delays a snare hit. In the fourth bar, he leaves the first beat empty, then plays a syncopated pattern and an early crash cymbal.[3]

Drum notation for the Amen break
Drum notation for the Amen break

The drum break was added to lengthen the track, which had been too short with just the riff. Spencer said he directed the break, but Phil Tolotta, the only other surviving member of the band in 2015, credited it solely to Coleman.[2]


In the 1980s, with the rise of hip hop, DJs began using turntables to loop drum breaks from records, which MCs would rap over.[3] 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.[3]

Salt-N-Pepa's 1986 single "I Desire" had 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.[4] 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".[3]

The Amen break has been in used in thousands of tracks, making it one of the most widely sampled tracks in history.[3] It was widely sampled in British dance music in the early 1990s, especially in drum and bass and jungle.[5][3] It has been used in multiple genres, including rock music by acts such as Oasis, and in commercials and television themes such as Futurama.[3][6]

The Amen break became popular as it was easy to manipulate and offered a simple way to create jungle music.[3] The English drummer Tom Skinner cited the appealing "crunch" of the recording quality.[3] Producers have manipulated it by altering its pitch or speed, or re-ordering its components to mimic ghost notes or other effects.[3]


The copyright owner of "Amen, Brother", including the Amen break, was the Winstons bandleader, Richard Lewis Spencer.[3] Neither he nor 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.[3] He was unable to take legal action, as the statute of limitations for copyright infringement is three years in the US.[1]

Spencer condemned the sampling as plagiarism and said he "felt ripped off and raped".[2] He said in 2011: "[Coleman's] heart and soul went into that drum break. Now these guys copy and paste it and make millions."[3] 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."[2]

Coleman died homeless and destitute in 2006.[2] Spencer said it was unlikely he was aware of the impact he had made on music.[2] In 2015, a GoFundMe campaign set up for Spencer by the British DJs Martyn Webster and Steve Theobald raised £24,000 (US$37,000).[2] Spencer died in 2020.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Amen Break musician finally gets paid". BBC News. November 11, 2015. Archived from the original on September 12, 2023. Retrieved February 23, 2021.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Otzen, Ellen (March 29, 2015). "Six seconds that shaped 1,500 songs". BBC News. Archived from the original on April 11, 2018. Retrieved March 29, 2015.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o "Seven seconds of fire". The Economist. December 17, 2011. ISSN 0013-0613. Archived from the original on October 14, 2018. Retrieved March 20, 2019.
  4. ^ Dave Turner (November 20, 2018). "The 20 best tracks that sample the Amen Break". Mixmag. Archived from the original on December 9, 2019. Retrieved December 8, 2019.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ Norton, Quinn (December 2008). "Sample This, Lawman". Maximum PC. Future US. p. 12. ISSN 1522-4279. Archived from the original on August 3, 2022. Retrieved August 2, 2022.
  7. ^ Staff, WSOCTV com News. "Family remembers Grammy winning singer/songwriter Richard Spencer". WSOC. Archived from the original on January 10, 2021. Retrieved February 23, 2021.

Further reading[edit]

  • Ryan Alexander Bloom (2018). Live Drum & Bass written. New York: Hudson Music.
  • Gerwin Eisenhauer (2005). Welcome to the Jungle (in German). Germany: Dux.

External links[edit]