Celebrating 50 Years of the Amen Break
Note from the editor: We’d originally planned to publish this article at the tail end of 2019. However, when the Beatport store went down, that became impossible. But the legacy of the Amen Break is too rich to ignore, even if our celebration comes a few days too late. Thanks for reading.
In 1969, soul group The Winstons recorded a 7-inch record titled “Color Him Father” in Atlanta, Georgia, that would go on to win the group a Grammy Award for Best R&B Song in 1970. What the group never could have guessed was that the record’s B-side, an instrumental titled “Amen, Brother,” carried a four-bar drum break that would alter the history of contemporary music for decades to come.
The Winstons’ drummer GC Coleman’s sprightly, organic six-second drum solo has made “Amen, Brother” the most sampled record in history. But how did this happen? The song first resurfaced in 1986 when a sound engineer by the name of BreakBeat Lou edited and released a compilation album titled Ultimate Breaks and Beats, which included the long-forgotten track. Pitching the drum break down to 33 rpm, hip hop producers, DJs and rappers alike were quick to recognize its blaring sonic potential.
First came Salt-N-Pepa, who repurposed the break for their 1986 song, “I Desire.” Then, iconic rap group NWA used it for their flagship tune “Straight Outta Compton” in 1989, and Miami DJ Felix Sama added a deep 808 kick to the beat in Success-N-Effect’s track “Roll It Up,” which soon made its way to the UK and became the definitive prototype to the genres hardcore, jungle, and drum & bass.
An avalanche of heady, rave-inducing music followed throughout the ’90s, with the Amen Break acting as the backbone of legendary tracks by the likes of Aphex Twin, LTJ Bukem, Squarepusher, The Crystal Method, Amon Tobin, Goldie, Chase & Status, The Prodigy, Carl Cox and many more. Some estimate the Amen Break has been sampled at least 1,500 times.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of this essential sample, we’ve compiled 50 of the best tracks that feature the Amen Break into a Spotify playlist below. And to buy the tracks, check out our playlist here.