You can’t mention sample-based music and not talk about drum breaks. In the early 1970’s, years before producers had begun chopping up old records on samplers, Jamaican-born and Bronx-based DJ Kool Herc introduced a new approach to mixing records, paving the way for the development of Hip-Hop beatmaking. At the time, when playing extended disco mixes and heavy funk, Herc noticed that it was the instrumental versions, and often the percussion-only breaks in the middle of those records, which sent the crowds wild. He began extending these instrumental passages by hand, switching from one record to the next, chopping from break to break. Bedroom producers soon began looping drum breaks on cassettes, and eventually, the arrival of dedicated digital samplers and drum machines made the job easier, allowing far greater control and manipulation.
The WhoSampled database has recently crossed the 20,000 samples mark, and since every sample is classified according to the part sampled, it allows us to pull out some interesting statistics, such as the most sampled drum breaks across all genres. But this list isn’t about boring statistics – the following ten records have served as the canvas for literally thousands of tracks that accompanied our lives in the last 30 years. So, without further ado, here’s the countdown.
10. ‘Ashley’s Roachclip’ by The Soul Searchers (1971)
The break from ‘Ashley’s Roachclip’ was made famous by its use on ‘Paid In Full‘ by Eric B. & Rakim. It became a late 80’s / early 90’s chart music staple, famously used on ‘Set Adrift on Memory Bliss‘ by P.M. Dawn, ‘Unbelievable‘ by EMF and even Duran Duran‘s 1993 single ‘Come Undone‘. In 2008, Lloyd and Lil Wayne paid tribute by using it again on ‘Girls Around the World‘.
9. ‘The Big Beat’ by Billy Squier (1980)
Perhaps the greatest rock break of all time (although an honorable mention should certainly go to Led Zeppelin‘s ‘When the Levee Breaks‘), Billy Squier’s ‘The Big Beat’ delivers exactly what the title promises: a huge kick and snare groove, which sealed hits for Jay-Z on ‘99 Problems‘ and Dizzee Rascal on ‘Fix Up, Look Sharp‘.
8. ‘Hihache’ by Lafayette Afro Rock Band (1973)
France-based 70’s funk outfit Lafayette Afro Rock Band’s ‘Hihache’ is a golden-era Hip-Hop staple. Coupling the break with chops from Steve Miller Band‘s ‘Fly Like An Eagle‘, Marley Marl laid a hit beat down for Biz Markie‘s ‘Nobody Beats the Biz‘ in 1988. For a more recent example, check out how Timbaland flipped it on ‘Feel the Beat‘ by LL Cool J in 2004.
7. ‘Papa Was Too’ by Joe Tex (1966)
The earliest record in this list, Joe Tex’s ‘Papa Was Too’ is a heavy-hitting affair that was adopted by Hip-Hop artists looking for a tougher sound. Das EFX‘s ‘Real Hip Hop‘ is among the more notable appearances, alongside EPMD‘s ‘Jane‘ and Ice Cube‘s ‘24 With an L‘.
6. ‘Apache’ by Incredible Bongo Band (1973)
Still a dancefloor favourite today, ‘Apache’ is one of the original b-boy breaks, and perhaps the most famous, both for the soaring surf guitar build and the two defining bongo loops, one taken from the beginning of the record and the other at the start of a lengthly percussive mid-section. Grandmaster Flash took it out of the dj booth onto vinyl for his cut-up classic ‘The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel‘ in 1981, whilst label mates Sugarhill Gang interpolated the whole track for their Hip-Hop tribute ‘Apache‘. The break also made it onto all three of Double Dee & Steinski‘s ‘Lessons‘ (and even onto DJ Shadow‘s ‘Lesson 4‘). For a more modern twist on this classic, Switch‘s dancefloor hit ‘A Bit Patchy‘ tightens the loop and turns it into an electronic club monster, complete with outbursts of the unmistakeable surf guitar.
5. ‘It’s a New Day’ by Skull Snaps (1973)
A highly distinctive drum break that crossed over from Hip-Hop in the early 90’s to Electronic music in the mid 90’s. In 1989, Stezo‘s ‘It’s My Turn‘ coupled the killer beat with effects from the intro of ESG‘s ‘UFO‘, creating Hip-Hop history. Das EFX’s ‘Mic Checka‘ and The Pharcyde‘s ‘Passin’ Me By‘ are two timeless early ’90s classics built on this break, while The Prodigy‘s ‘Poison‘ sealed its position in the Electronic music hall of fame. Movie buffs will certainly remember the beat from Rob Dougan‘s ‘Clubbed to Death‘, which featured extensively on the soundtrack to ‘The Matrix’.
4. ‘Amen, Brother’ by The Winstons (1969)
Famously known as the ‘Amen break’, this timeless breakbeat would probably be positioned even higher up the list if we had even more Drum & Bass tracks listed. Starting its journey as an iconic breakbeat as the driving force behind Hip-Hop classics such as ‘Straight Outta Compton‘ by N.W.A and ‘King of the Beats‘ by Mantronix, it went on to become the essential weapon in the arsenal of Jungle producers in the early ’90s, and continues to play an important role in modern Drum & Bass. Scene landmarks such as ‘Super Sharp Shooter‘ by The Ganja Kru and ‘Original Nuttah‘ by UK Apachi and Shy FX demonstrate the energy and intensity of the cymbal-heavy break when pitched up to around 170 beats per minute. For in-depth information about the break and its history, check out this fantastic 18-minute video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5SaFTm2bcac
3. ‘Synthetic Substitution’ by Melvin Bliss (1973)
Perhaps the greatest of all boom-bap breaks is Melvin Bliss’ ‘Synthetic Substitution’, with its pounding kicks and rolling swing. Ultramagnetic MC’s used it to devastating effect on ‘Ego Trippin’‘, and the driving kicks were a hit for Naughty by Nature, providing the backbeat for ‘O.P.P.‘ and RZA pitched it down for extra bite on ‘Bring Da Ruckus‘ for Wu-Tang Clan‘s first album.
2. ‘Funky Drummer’ by James Brown (1970)
James Brown’s infectious drum breaks, often complete with his energetic screams and grunts, are legendary for their use as samples, and ‘Funky Drummer’ is undoubtedly the king of J.B. breakbeats. It’s a distinctive rolling beat provided by James Brown’s legendary drummer Clyde Stubblefield, who is behind some of J.B.’s most well-known grooves and hence is probably the most sampled drummer in history. Check out Sweet Tee and Jazzy Joyce‘s seminal ‘It’s My Beat‘ for an old school flip of this b-boy favourite. Other famous appearances include Public Enemy‘s ‘Bring the Noise‘ and ‘Fight the Power‘ (and plenty more), LL Cool J’s ‘Mama Said Knock You Out‘ and Big Daddy Kane‘s ‘Mortal Kombat‘. Like the Amen break, this breakbeat crossed over to fuel a countless number of breakbeat rave tracks in the early ’90s, and still serves as an awesome readymade retro infusion to new tracks, such as 2009’s ‘Go Hard‘ by Lethal Bizzle feat. Donaeo.
1. ‘Impeach the President’ by The Honey Drippers (1973)
And the number one slot goes to… ‘Impeach the President’ by The Honey Drippers! This hard-hitting funky soul break is the backbone for countless golden-era Hip-Hop classics. Check out DJ Premier‘s tough chops on Biggie‘s ‘Unbelievable‘ for a stone-cold classic Impeach beat. Prince Paul takes a different approach for De La Soul on ‘Ring Ring Ring (Ha Ha Hey)‘ and lays the drums down over a killer disco loop from The Whatnauts. And if that’s not old school enough for you, Audio Two‘s hip-hop anthem ‘Top Billin’‘ boasts a beat made entirely from this break, expertly chopped by Daddy O. As noted by WhoSampled user King Blue Slims on the Honey Drippers’ artist page on the site, this break has been sampled in every year since 1987. ‘Nuff said.