Drum breaks are fundamental building blocks in the development of electronic music and hip-hop. We take a look at 7 of the best and most influential drum breaks in electronic music and hip hop and how they've been used over the years.
Sampling is, arguably, the most transformative technological development in modern music history. Drum break, orchestral stab and vocal sampling are foundational for the development of 80s synth pop, early hip hop, 90s jungle and a range of other styles that developed in the 80s and 90s.
Drum breaks from obscure funk and soul B-sides have become the basis of a dizzying number of drum and bass and hip hop tunes, with some of the most popular breaks being sampled thousands of times. dBs students in our Electronic Music Production and Music Production & Sound Engineering degrees will already be intimately familiar with using these breaks as tools for production, but, if you're interested in learning more about the ancestry of electronic music and hip hop, we'll take you through 7 of the best and most influential drum breaks in music history and how they've been used over the years.
Amen, Brother - The Winstons
The 'Amen Break' holds the undisputed title of 'Most influential break' in music history. The four-bar drum solo (coming in at: 1.26) is the most sampled loop in recorded music and has been used way over 5,000 times by artists ranging from David Bowie and Amy Winehouse to N.W.A, Shy FX, Tyler, The Creator, Tessela, DJ Rashad and The Prodigy.
The sheer number of tunes that sample 'Amen, Brother', over a range of genres and spanning decades, is pretty staggering. For an obscure B-side that was barely noticed when it was released, it's become one of the most important tracks in modern music history.
Think (About it) - Lyn Collins
James Brown's "Yeah!" and Bobby Byrd's "Woo!" laid over the tambourine and skip snare loop is one of the most recognisable sounds in electronic music. The 'Think Break' is the backbone of an enormous amount of drum and bass and the variety of vocal chops mean that an incredibly short section of the original can give producers a huge amount of mileage in the studio.
The sample was routinely used in jungle and drum and bass in the 90s, but it's also the backbone of countless hip hop beats from the likes of J Dilla, RZA, Kanye West and DJ E-Z Rock as well as more left-field electronic music producers including Four Tet, Jamie XX, Aphex Twin and Squarepusher.
Hot Pants (I'm Coming) - Bobby Byrd
Like the 'Think Break, the 'Hot Pants Break' is also used in a vast number of drum and bass and jungle tunes. The tambourine and drum loop that rolls underneath the track is the bedrock for a huge amount of electronic music and hip hop.
Favoured by the more atmospheric, 'intelligent' drum and bass producers from the 90s, like LTJ Bukem with 'Music', as well as breakbeat hardcore - see The Prodigy with their debut single release Charly - the tune also features vocal chops at varying points that gives producers a full larder to work with in the studio.
Cold Sweat - James Brown
James Brown has his fingerprints over many of the most influential funk drum break samples used in hip hop and electronic music. Both the 'Think' and 'Hot Pants' breaks were written and produced by him, but 'Cold Sweat' is the only break in this list that was written, produced and performed solely by James Brown.
The break in 'Cold Sweat' is hidden towards the end of the track, starting at 4.21. Although Funky Drummer is arguably the more famous of James Brown's drum breaks, the rolling hats in 'Cold Sweat' create a texture that inspired the rhythmic style of late-90s drum and bass producers. Bristol's Roni Size used this sample for his iconic Brown Paper Bag.
Apache - Incredible Bongo Band
Three of the most important names in the formation of early hip hop - DJ Kool Herc, The Sugarhill Gang and Grandmaster Flash - all used the Incredible Bongo Band's Apache sample while nurturing the sound that would later become hip hop.
Kool Herc pioneered the legendary 'Merry-Go-Round' technique, where he would mix between drum breaks on two turntables for people to dance to at block parties in South Bronx, New York. He's widely credited with first popularising the use of the Apache break during this period, making it foundational in the birth of the genre.
The 'Apache Break' is also widely used across the spectrum of drum and bass, most notably in Goldie's masterpiece 'Inner City Life' as well as the more 'intelligent' drum & bass of the mid '90s.
Do The Do - Kurtis Blow
The usage of the Kurtis Blow 'Do The Do' break (coming in at 2.29) differs from the rest of the breaks in this list, as it's one of the few instances of electronic music producers sampling from a hip hop track, rather than going back to find the funk source material.
The track's popularity hit its height during the mid-1990s; it was used extensively by producers in that era, but not as frequently before or since. Adam F's 'Circles', LTJ Bukem's 'Horizons' and Sound of the Future's 'The Lighter' are the most famous examples of it being used and the shift from finding funk break samples to hip hop shows vividly how intertwined the two genres, which largely have their homes on either side of the Atlantic, are.
Good Times - Chic
Although not a drum break, the bassline sample from Chic's 'Good Times' created the backbone of one of the most iconic early hip hop tunes: The Sugarhill Gang's 'Rapper's Delight'. The sample is instantly-recognisable and, whether you like hip hop's most saccharine track or not, it undoubtedly helped popularise the genre and catapult rap into the mainstream.
If you've enjoyed learning about the best and most influential drum breaks in electronic music history, keep an eye on our blog for more insight into electronic music production and information on our courses.
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If you're interested in learning more about production techniques and starting your journey to coming a producer, check out our Electronic Music Production and Music Production & Sound Engineering undergraduate degrees.