It’s hard to believe that of the many Top 10 lists we’ve produced, it’s taken us this long to produce a list relating specifically to drum & bass, a genre the very foundation of which is the sampled drum break. Here we select what we consider to be 10 iconic breakbeats that have defined various moments in the genre’s evolution from early hardcore to contemporary drum & bass, via jungle, techstep and more:
10. DJ Trace & Pete Parsons – Sniper
The first entry on our list is something of a curio in that it is the only breakbeat featured here to have originated on a drum & bass record. Often referred to as ‘the Tramen’, a name derived from the name of producer, DJ Trace, and ‘Amen‘, the title of one of the constituent breaks used in its creation. The break first appeared on DJ Trace’s ‘Mutant Revisited‘ in 1996, but it is the clean break in the opening bars of the 1999 release ‘Sniper‘ from which others have primarily sampled it. DJ Trace has divulged in interviews that the break was in fact created by Dom of Dom & Roland but became associated with Trace thanks to his early and frequent use of it. The break itself is constructed from elements of three other popular sources: Alex Reece’s remix of Model 500’s ‘The Flow’, James Brown’s ‘Tighten Up’ and of course The Winston’s ‘Amen, Brother’. The break has become a go to source for drum & bass’s darker, techier mutations, usage in collaborations between Trace and both Technical Itch and Bad Company being good examples.
9. James Brown – Cold Sweat
The first of two appearances for James Brown on our list (four if you include his productions for Lyn Collins and Bobby Byrd), the lengthy breakbeat section from Brown’s ‘Cold Sweat’ is fairly well hidden at 4 and a half minutes into this 7 minute funk work out. With its rolling high hats, the break lends itself perfectly to the rhythmic textures of late 90s drum & bass. Whilst this period arguably delivered some of the break’s more iconic uses (see Roni Size‘s Bristol anthem ‘Brown Paper Bag‘), the break also appears in memorable jungle sides (Ellis Dee’s ‘Big Up Your Chest (Remix)‘) and cuts from the genre’s formative years (Tom & Jerry’s ‘Let Your Spirit Rise’).
8. Blowfly – Sesame Street
Blowfly‘s X-Rated comedy take on Sesame Street’s educational song for kids provides a somewhat unlikely source for the drums behind a catalog of classics. Perhaps the most creative use is Deep Blue‘s anthemic ‘The Helicopter Tune‘ in which the drums back an ever pitch-shifting conga loop to create sound patterns reminiscent of passing helicopter blades. The break also famously appears on M-Beat‘s crossover jungle smash ‘Incredible‘ featuring General Levy and another M-Beat classic in the form of the Foster Sylvers sampling ‘Style‘.
7. Ike Turner & The Kings of Rhythm – Funky Mule
The opening drum break from Ike Turner’s ‘Funky Mule’ differs from many breaks on this list in that it was never particularly heavily used in hip hop. Its life as a sample really begins with early hardcore (see uses in both ‘Menace‘ and ‘Believe‘ by Goldie‘s Rufige Kru and 4 Hero‘s ‘Journey From the Light‘). The break’s fantastically tough drum rolls made it highly suitable to both jungle and the harder wave of drum & bass that dominated the late 90s. Krome & Time‘s jungle tear-out ‘The License‘ sees the break put to good use alongside the Amen break and vocals from jungle favourite Buju Banton, whilst Source Direct‘s ‘Call & Response‘ places the break in altogether darker territory.
6. Kurtis Blow – Do The Do
The popular breakbeat from Kurtis Blow‘s 1981 single ‘Do the Do’ is one of the few frequently sampled drum & bass breaks to have originated from a hip hop record rather than from hip hop’s funk / soul origins or from drum & bass itself. The track also stands somewhat alone in that its popularity was largely limited to the mid 1990s. Famous uses of the break include Adam F‘s Bob James sampling classic ‘Circles‘, LTJ Bukem‘s iconic ‘Horizons‘ and Sound of the Future‘s dancefloor killer ‘The Lighter‘ (notable also for its somewhat uncharacteristic sample of Francis Lai!).
5. James Brown – Funky Drummer
Whilst undoubtedly one of the most iconic breakbeats of all time (sampled close to 1,000 times, largely in hip hop), Funky Drummer’s relevance to the development of drum & bass is more closely aligned with early hardcore than the genre’s more recent output. For classic examples see Egyptian Empire‘s dark and hectic ‘The Horn Track‘ (which combines the break with Amen Brother to great effect) or DJ Red Alert & Mike Slammer‘s similarly hectic, but far bouncier ‘In Effect’.
4. Incredible Bongo Band – Apache
Best known as the B-Boy anthem that defined the sound of hip hop’s DJ architects, including the likes of Grandmaster Flash and Kool Herc, ‘Apache’ has also yielded significant influence on the development of drum & bass. With it’s tempo increased to the realms of 150 bpm+, it takes on a more delicate feel than many of the breaks on this list and as such found favour with many producers of the so-called ‘intelligent’ drum & bass of the mid ’90s. For a slightly tougher take on the break, many sampled Young MC’s ‘Know How’ which features a punchy open sample of the break in its closing bars. Characteristic uses include Goldie‘s groundbreaking Inner City Life and Source Direct‘s ‘A Made Up Sound‘ (released on Goldie’s Metalheadz imprint).
3. Bobby Byrd – Hot Pants (Bonus Beats)
Occasionally mistaken for ‘Think’ (see #2 below), the Hot Pants break (also produced by James Brown) shares a very similar prominent tambourine line. Whilst the drums are a prominent feature of the original version of the track, the Urban label’s 1987 reissue contains a handy 2.5 minute long ‘Bonus Beats’ track containing just the drums and it is from this version that most will have taken their samples. Much like another of the James Brown productions on this list, Funky Drummer, Hot Pants is arguably more closely associated with hardcore than it is with jungle and more recent drum & bass sub genres. The Prodigy’s crossover smash ‘Charly‘ famously used the break, as did Bukem’s ethereal proto-intelligent masterpiece ‘Music‘.
2. Lyn Collins – Think (About It)
Think’s history as a sample source predictably begins with hip hop, seminal producers of the late 80s such as 45 King, Marley Marl and many others having heavily utilized the break long before hardcore or jungle took hold. One of this iconic James Brown productions’ unique characteristics however is that it contains several distinct break sections rather than just one, including an incredibly useful passage which contains just the break’s distinctive tambourines. As such it’s one of the more versatile breaks on this list and has been used in iconic tracks including ‘Origin Unknown‘s broody Andy C produced 1993 anthem ‘Valley of the Shadows‘, and the defining intelligent-meets-jungle floor filler ‘Burial‘ by Jumping Jack Frost alias Leviticus.
1. The Winstons – Amen, Brother
It should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the genre that we’ve given the The Winstons‘ ‘Amen, Brother’ the number one spot on our list. The undisputed king of the jungle breakbeats (and the 2nd most sampled record of all time), it’s the breakbeat that defined the genre. As with many other breaks on this list, these drums first came to prominence as a sample source in hip hop, gracing numerous tracks in the late 80s from the likes of Salt N Pepa, through to Ultramagnetic MCs. It’s NWA’s use of it that proved one of the most popular of the period and it’s not unlikely that this is where many hardcore / early jungle producers would have first heard it. Amen Brother itself borrows its musical content from a pair of tracks by the Impressions, ‘We’re a Winner’ and ‘Theme from Lillies of the Field (Amen)’, although it’s the open drums played by Gregory C Coleman that appear a minute and half into the track for which it will forever be remembered. Notable examples of the break’s usage include the Shy FX produced crossover jungle smash ‘Original Nuttah’, Ganju Kru‘s jump up anthem ‘Super Sharp Shooter‘ and Bukem’s fledgling intelligent soundscape ‘Demon’s Theme’.
The breaks listed above, although featuring on some of drum & bass’s most memorable cuts, really only scratch the surface of the many, many drum samples that give the genre its variety. Popular breaks that didn’t make the cut included James Brown’s ‘Tighten Up’ (the break that provides Photek’s ‘Seven Samurai’ with its crashing high hats), Model 500’s The Flow (Alex Reece Remix) (the first appearance of the drums that backed Reece’s 1995 anthem ‘Pulp Fiction‘) and Supreme Nyborn’s 80s hip hop break ‘Versatile Extension’ (the high hat led break sometimes known as ‘The Sandman’ that characterised many mid 90s intelligent cuts including DJ Trace’s ‘After Hours’). Almost all of the popular breaks utilized in early sample based hip hop have also found their way into drum & bass’s palette, Skull Snaps’ ‘It’s a New Day’, The Commodore’s ‘Assembly Line’ and Dyke & The Blazer’s ‘Let A Woman Be A Woman …‘ to name just 3 obvious examples. There are surely many more examples to be added to WhoSampled, so if you know of a usage of any one of the above not currently listed, please get involved by visiting www.whosampled.com and hitting the ‘Submit‘ link at the top of the page!
Words: Chris Read