The 10 Most Sampled Breakbeats of All Time

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)

Breakbeat appears at: 3:31

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)

Breakbeat appears at: 0:11

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)

Breakbeat appears at: 0:01

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)

Breakbeat appears at: 0:00

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)

Breakbeat appears at: 0:01 and 2:23

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)

Breakbeat appears at: 0:00

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)

Breakbeat appears at: 1:27

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)

Breakbeat appears at: 0:00

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)

Breakbeat appears at: 5:35

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)

Breakbeat appears at: 0:01

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.

39 Comments on “The 10 Most Sampled Breakbeats of All Time”

  1. DJ Anubis
    April 29, 2010 at 9:33 pm #

    Thanks, love these “best of samples”-posts! They come in very handy, can’t tell you how much I used that HipHop-samples page! Thx guys ;)

  2. Drpepperfan
    April 29, 2010 at 11:49 pm #

    Man, I was so sure Funky Drummer was gonna be number 1. Great list though. :)

  3. aniel198
    May 1, 2010 at 10:23 pm #

    Big up for this dope post !

  4. Phoenix Byrd
    May 2, 2010 at 3:28 am #

    Yoooo.. the crazy thing is, I said in my head watch it be “Impeach,” and sure enough it was. This used to be and still is my favorite break to freestyle over. Good Job.. I rarely see this list gotten correctly. Herby Luv Bug used this beat whenever possible.. _peace fellas..

  5. bob john
    May 3, 2010 at 12:05 pm #

    does anyone know the break beat with a guy in the background saying “you bet it is” it was used in this song (Black Noise – Me Plus You) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ja3mKx8ZbQU at exactly 45 seconds i rekon that should be in the list or atleast a top 20

    • Kid Who
      May 4, 2010 at 2:03 pm #

      @bob john: it’s from Lyn Collin’s ‘Think (About It)’. You can hear it on this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eHn48b7iWF0 at 1:35 and then again at 2:03 (it’s both of those breaks cut together). Classic jungle break! It wasn’t listed on our top ten as we compiled the list by the number of entries on our database – as this break is often used with the vocals it isn’t always listed as ‘drumloop’ throughout our database. We will be doing a post of the top 10 all time most sampled tracks in the near future – ‘Think (About It)’ will definitely feature there!

      • bob john
        May 11, 2010 at 11:26 am #

        cool man thnx for the reply, all i can say thank you all for wat u guys are doing here = D

  6. SB Classic
    May 12, 2010 at 5:18 am #

    This is an incredible site! What a fantastic piece.
    The one thing that I am struck with is the amazing talent of the original artists. All of these cuts gave me a whole new appreciation for all of them. Keep up the good work and thank you.

  7. Amati
    May 24, 2010 at 8:56 am #

    Is that Honey Drippers beat in the “Scrubs” theme…?!

    • Wilson King of the Beat
      May 27, 2010 at 9:46 pm #

      You know it! good ear!

  8. pointblank
    July 31, 2010 at 1:41 pm #

    great list of samples

  9. Joel
    January 2, 2011 at 3:48 am #

    The Billy Squire backbeat was also used in one of the most famous early Rap beefs ever: The Roxanne Wars

    • DJMMCEE
      April 20, 2012 at 3:18 am #

      yup… actually, the pattern was used… then parts of the record were scratched by mixmaster ice and howie tee in Roxanne’s Backside

  10. Thee Gold Teef
    January 4, 2011 at 3:35 pm #

    You forgot ESG in that list.

  11. asdf
    January 4, 2011 at 4:42 pm #

    What about When the Levee Breaks? It must rank up there!

    • guywhoreadthearticle
      April 19, 2012 at 5:29 pm #

      Did u even read the article?

    • DJMMCEE
      April 20, 2012 at 3:19 am #

      It was not sampled as many times as these were

  12. N2BreakBeats
    February 14, 2011 at 3:24 am #

    I would like to add that #2- Funky Drummer, was also used by Sinead O’ Conner’s Stretched over your grave song during the early 90’s on the same CD as her only hit, Nothing Compare to You. Nice Post!!!!!

  13. Phil
    February 15, 2011 at 2:21 am #

    How in the hell is “Scorpio” by Dennis Coffey not on this list???

    The conga break has been sampled by EVERYBODY: Public Enemy, Rage Against The Machine, Beastie Boys, Moby, Young MC, and on and on and on…

  14. onetwentymn
    July 7, 2011 at 1:41 am #

    Awesome! Just awesome. I know I’m late into this, but I just discovered WhoSampled, and it’s been an immense resource for me.

  15. greta p.
    August 14, 2011 at 3:02 pm #

    great list. intelligent and funfull.

  16. chris
    August 18, 2011 at 4:40 pm #

    funky drummer was also sampled by eric b and rakim on lyrics of fury I think they made the best use of it

  17. niki
    November 15, 2011 at 1:07 am #

    I know several songs that have been sampled 2-4 times.
    Such as Bill Wither’s, “Just The Two Of Us” for Ghost Town Dj’s “My Boo” and Keri Hilson’s “Pretty Girl Rock”. Another sampled beat is Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature” for SWV “right here” Tyra B “Givin’ me a rush” and Chris Browns’s “She Aint You”

  18. Funkywhite
    November 19, 2011 at 5:26 am #

    Also, Tower of Power’s Squib Cakes has been sampled a lot. Billy Squier’s “The Big Beat”… REALLY? How on earth did that beat Led Zepplin’s “When the Levee Breaks”? No freakin’ way, man. NOT EVEN. I NEVER EVER EVEN HEARD OF THIS DAMN SONG until I saw your post. Seriously, though, is it because Jay Z sampled it? REALLY? You’re serious about “The Big Beat” being the most famous Rock Break? I’m going to have to disagree man. All the others on the list are awesome. Great post! :)

    • Reefer Franklin
      July 20, 2013 at 6:22 am #

      Dude you’re way off base here, When the Levee Breaks are extremely dope drums, even more so after you’ve heard how they got that HUGE drum sound…but EVERY experienced hip-hop crate digger recalls the first time they got a copy of The Big Beat, it is an essential archetype of hip-hop culture.

  19. 1988London1992
    December 5, 2011 at 7:01 pm #

    You say the Amen break was used by loads of “jungle tunes in the early 90s” – not really true as jungle didn’t exist in the early 90’s (not before late 93/94 anyway)’ – I think you mean hardcore producers.

  20. hsx98
    June 27, 2012 at 6:25 pm #

    Amen Break has to be THE top, I mean it practically paved the foundations entirely for Hardcore, through to Jungle which evolved into the sheer culture of Drum & Bass now! To think, such a copycat culture itself could’ve actually evolved into something else entirely.

  21. James
    September 6, 2012 at 11:26 pm #

    I’m kind of surprised Mountain’s Long Red didn’t make the list. That has been heavily sampled.

  22. gandahar
    January 21, 2013 at 3:06 am #

    @Funkywhite : You have a poor oldschool hip hop background, Billy Squier Big Beat was really famous in that time, just buy any scratching vinyl and you’ll have a little peice of this drumloop somwhere…

  23. Dj Rockin-Ron
    February 28, 2013 at 4:42 pm #

    you forgot “you’ve lost that lovin feelin”by Isaac Hayes.used by mary j blige,biz markie etc.

  24. Freddie Guinyard Jr
    July 17, 2013 at 5:55 pm #

    I would have thought Bob James “Nautilus” or “Take Me to the Mardi Gras” would have been in the to 10.

  25. wes
    August 22, 2013 at 3:25 pm #

    Reblogged this on A Biscuit In The Sun and commented:
    A discussion about samples & borrowed concepts in reggae got me thinking. Where a guitarist might riff on another’s signature lick or a band might borrow a time signature/chord progression entire, sampling became the modern furtherance of the same method. Listening to these ‘most-sampled breakbeats of all time’ is a musically and temporally bifurcating experience.

  26. Taylor
    October 1, 2014 at 8:44 pm #

    What about Barry White I’m gonna love you just a little more, the meters groovy lady, al green I’m glad you’re mine, tower of power ebony jam

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