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The 20 best tracks that sample the Amen Break

A drum solo that changed the face of electronic music

  • Dave Turner
  • 20 November 2018

Back in 1969, a drum solo that would direct hip hop and electronic music for 30-plus years was recorded. Gregory C. Coleman of Washington funk and soul band The Winstons was the man responsible for the drumbeat on their track 'Amen, Brother'. Little known to the band, it'd become the most sampled drumbeat ever, appearing in over 2500 tracks, from hip hop in the '80s to breakbeat, jungle, hardcore and drum 'n' bass through rave's early days up until the present day. There is a sad part to the story, though. The Winstons never received any royalties for the sample and Gregory Coleman passed away in 2006, homeless and penniless. However, a GoFundMe page was set up in 2015, raising £24,000 which went to The Winstons frontman Richard L Spencer.

Funnily enough, 'Amen, Brother' was just a B-side when it was released in 1969, the overlooked track that accompanied 'Colour Him Father', a Grammy winner for Best R&B Song in 1970. It'd be another 16 years until 'Amen, Brother' would start its journey into the limelight, when a version of it was included on the 'Ultimate Breaks & Beats' compilation in 1986. The E-mu SP-12 sampler was released soon after and you can guess what happened next. Salt-N-Pepa were one of the earliest hip hop acts to use the sample - in their 1986 track 'I Desire' - but most will recognise as the impactful opening - and foundation - of N.W.A's 1988 single 'Straight Outta Compton'.

Not long after, UK breakbeat and hardcore producers grabbed hold of the sample, sped it up and unleashed it into raves, securing its place in dance music history. That trend followed with jungle and drum 'n' bass producers, with artists from Photek and LTJ Bukem to Shy FX and Chase & Status utilising it.

Yep, the Amen Break is the most important sample in the history of electronic music. Below, in order of release date, are the best tracks that sample it.

1
Salt-N-Pepa 'I Desire'

The New Yorkers were one of the first hip hop groups to nab the Amen drum solo. You'll first hear it 11 seconds into 'I Desire', taken from debut album 'Hot, Cool & Vicious' and produced by Hurby 'Luv Bug' Azor. They placed a door (with the words 'Push It' written on it, obviously) in front of plenty of hip hop artists to go through and use the sample in the following years.

2
N.W.A 'Straight Outta Compton'

"You are now about to witness the strength of street knowledge," the opening line goes, then BANG! In comes the Amen, laying down the foundation of the title track from N.W.A's controversial debut album. As the inclusion of Salt 'N' Pepa above and the next few inclusions below show, the Compton rappers weren't the only act in hip hop to take advantage of the sample.

3
Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock 'Keep It Going Now'

Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock are probably best known for their platinum-status single 'It Takes Two', but 'Keep It Going Now' gets the love here as a track teeming with the Amen break. The drums are the foundation for relentless lyricism, with a potent alarm sound also present throughout. Keep it going now!

4
Ultramagnetic MCs 'Watch Me Now'

The Amen break sample is accompanied by samples of James Brown's group The J.B.'s, Melvin Bliss and The Jimmy Castor Bunch in this one by Bronx crew Ultramagnetic MCs. 'Watch Me Now' is the opener for Ultramagnetic MCs' debut album' Critical Beatdown', widely regarded as a hip hop classic and one you'll see in numerous 'Best Hip Hop Albums Ever' lists. We're down with that, so sit back, put this one on and feel the groove.

5
Success-N-Effect 'Roll It Up' (Bass Kickin Beats Remix)

Wooooosh! What an absolute monster. A rowdy remix of Atlanta hip hop pair Success-N-Effect's '89 single, the Amen's used devastatingly to create a jungle and hardcore treasure. It set the tone for up-and-coming producers and would have no doubt influenced some of the jungle tunes further down this list.

6
Carl Cox 'I Want You (Forever)'

Of course King Coxy jumped on the Amen train. Before the days of playing in Ibiza and touring the world, Carl was playing breakbeat and hardcore and making it as you've probably guessed from his inclusion here. 'I Want You...' was his debut release in '91, combining the clashing Amen sample and a delectable vocal sample.

7
Lennie De Ice 'We Are I.E'

Gunshots, reloads and a fat bassline combine with the Amen break to create one of the earliest jungle tracks. It was something entirely new at its time of release in '91, sending raves into a frenzy and feeding UK ravers with a raw taste. Lovely jubbly.

8
Eric B. & Rakim 'Casualties Of War'

Eric B. & Rakim's four-album run came to an end in 1992 with 'Don't Sweat The Technique'. 'Casualties Of War' was the fourth and final single from the album, bringing together the Amen, mischievous horns and Rakim's free-flowing bars. Just listen to that deep, booming bassline, too <3

9
Altern-8 'Re-Indulge'

Rave doesn't get more rave-y than Altern-8, the mask-wearing Sheffield duo responsible for copious piano-powered dancefloor weapons in the early '90s. Gleaming piano chords and rousing synths take precedent on this one, but the Amen's present for the entirety, gently tapping away beneath all of the euphoria.

10
LTJ Bukem 'Atlantis (I Need You)'

Classic. Classic. Classic. Just one of those tracks that'll forever be in the hearts of lovers of all things jungle and drums. From the glistening strings that it opens with to the cosmic bleeps and 'mmmhmmm' vocals, it's hands-down LTJ Bukem's best work.

11
Aquarius 'Dolphin Tune'

We all know Photek is a bit of a genius (there's a reason he was signed to major label, right?) and Aquarius was another alias of his to produce damn good jungle and drum 'n' bass. This is just that, littered with gorgeous pads and, you guessed it, dolphin clicks. All underlaid with the Amen break, of course.

12
Shy FX & UK Apachi 'Original Nuttah'

It's the Goodfellas sample at the start and UK Apachi's hectic lyrics that'll stand out to most, for sure, but let's not forget The Winstons' 'Amen, My Brother' is the basis of Shy FX's best known work. How many times have you tried to recite 'Original manamananamana nuttah'? Be honest.

13
DJ Zinc 'Super Sharp Shooter'

The S. The U. The P the E the R. The S. The H. The A the R the P. The S. The H. The O the O. The T the E the R. And so on. DJ Zinc really did knock up a proper naughty jungle number in 'Super Sharp Shooter'. That bouncy bassline would've soundtracked many late-night rides for souped-up motors back in the day, no doubt.

14
Peshay 'Piano Tune'

Jungle doesn't get much more uplifting than this one. It's all euphoric piano chords and searing synths, topped with the uptempo Amen and a load of damaging bass kicks. Sick of the way your alarm sounds? This one's one hell of a wake-up call.

15
Source Direct 'Secret Liaison'

LTJ Bukem's Good Looking Records is full of gold. Go through the label's back catalogue and you'll be in a jungle and d'n'b wonderland for hours. It welcomed jungle legends Source Direct into the fold just once, but their input is one of the finest jungle tracks ever made. So dreamy, so epic.

16
The Prodigy 'Mindfields'

"This is the dangerous," the vocal goes. That it is. Liam Howlett and co. created a scintillating head-fuck with 'Mindfields', taken from 1997 album 'The Fat Of The Land', which could easily slot into the OSTs of The Matrix or Blade.

17
Venetian Snares 'Szamár Madár'

Those epic strings. The operatic vocals. Then...'WTF!?' No, your computer hasn't crashed, the world isn't ending. Planet Mu mainstay Venetian Snares is just fucking with you, before bringing the Amen back in to continue the breakcore rocket with a classical twist.

18
Chase & Status 'Hurt You'

Yeah, there's a whole load of drum 'n' bass tracks that could be included in this list, but we went for this one. 'Hurt You' was the first single released from Chase & Status' debut album 'More Than Alot' and, even though they'd been releasing tunes for years before, the LP propelled them to a higher level and on the road to the superstardom they enjoy today. Those vocals, that revving bassline and playful bleeps result in a d'n'b belter.

19
DJ Rashad 'Drank, Kush, Barz'

Chicago footwork pioneer DJ Rashad left us with so much when he passed away in 2014. Even though the genre had been bubbling for a number of years, it was only when Rashad's debut album 'Double Cup' on Hyperdub came out in 2013 that the wider music world started to take notice. DJ Spinn joined Rashad on 'Drank, Kush, Barz', which loops heavily throughout before the Amen rolls in towards the end.

20
Tessela 'Hackney Parrot' (Special Request VIP)

Not many parties in 2013 went by without Tessela's wild 'Hackney Parrot' being dropped and sending a wave of elation through the dancefloor. It was only right that a man known for his nostalgic rave trips - Special Request - was called upon for a remix. His VIP mix adds a whole lotta weight to the original to create an absolute rocket.

Dave Turner is Mixmag's Digital News Editor, follow him on Twitter

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