We all know what a musical sample is, right? But do we all know which is the most popular music sample of all times? As you play the clip below, you can get answers for both questions and stop reading this post.
In case you slept on the video above, one of the most fascinating interpretations of subcultures, the ownership of culture, the nature of art and creativity, here's what we will be talking about in the rest of this post.
The "Amen Break," a six-second drum sample from 1969 by the Winstons, is a ubiquitous piece of the pop culture soundscape. It has been used as a rhythmic backdrop in everything from late 1980s gangsta rap to corporate America's recycling hip-hop forms to sell cars and fashion items. It's probably the track for which the Winstons are best known. However, it is the b-side "Amen Brother," that has that classic drum break down right in the middle of the song which makes it perfect for sampling.
With the advent of the sampler in the 1980s the "Amen Break" came back to the forefront. The sampler is a beatiful apparatus, about the size of a VCR, that allows its user to record any sound into it for quick playback and rearrangement. The sampler as well as the turntable were principal tools largely responsible for the birth, development and dissemination of hip-hop. Nowadays, almost all commercially produced music has been, at least in part, realised with the sampler. Fans know that when a new Drake, Kendrick or Nicki Minaj track drops, it will likely contain a musical sample of yesteryear. But hip-hop and other electronic-based music genres pioneered the creative use of samplers and the "Amen Break" was one of the first drum samples to be experimented with.
Here is an early example, the track "Straight Outta Compton" by N.W.A. realeased in 1989.
According to THE measure, the wiki-style database whosampled.com whose users obsessively track samples, the "Amen Break" has been sampled more than 2,500 times and "Straight Outta Compton" is the most popular song in which the sample appears. In the UK right around the time "Straight Outta Compton" is released, the rave scene there explodes with musicians and DJs using samplers and the "Amen Break" to produce hardcore techno, ragga, jungle, and drum and base. Jungle music, in particular, an amalgamation of reggae toasting, heavy baselines and high-speed break beats, centers its aesthetic almost entirely around the diconstruction of the "Amen."
Here is a jungle music example, the track "Original Nuttah" by Shy-FX released in 1994.
Having all that said, here is what I decided to do. I decided scrape all the 167 pages of the "Amen Break's" whosampled.com entry in order to compare hip-hop and electronic music tracks in which the sample appears. That way hip-hop artists, such as Eric B. and Rakim, could be compared to electronic music artists, such as Squarerpusher.
2658 songs, 1367 artists, 9 genres since 1986. That was my dataset. Of the 45 artists in the graph above, let’s take a look at who is on top.
Counting how many times the sample has been used, Technical Itch, the British drum and bass artist known for his dark and intense hard style beats and founder of Tech Itch Recordings and its child Penetration Records is undoubtedly the champion of "Amen Break" sample having used it 45 times. On the other hand, counting how popular a song in which the sample appears, N.W.A. reached the top with just one song. It is important to mention here that no hip-hop artist in my dataset has used the sample more than two times. However, most of them appear higher than electronic music artists do in the popularity rankings of whosampled.com The graph below reveals such an antithesis in numbers.
Luke Francis Vibert is a prolific British electronic music composer. Initially he was positioned somewhere in the middle of my graph. However, summing up all the times he has used the sample under his many aliases, I managed to distinguish all his different entries in my dataset and move him right to the second position.
Canadian producer of vastly varying types of electronic music, gained a profile in experimental techno circles with his signing to the Planet Mu label.
Nebula has used the sample 18 times. He has produced 19 tracks in total. Who knows what he was going through that one time.
In his album Comparing Paths Enduser has used the sample in 9 songs. The album consists of 13 songs.
"With Mantronix's 1988 Kings of the Beats, rhythm becomes thermodynamic; intensities and pressures, drops and rises, stalls and stutters, peaks and plateaus. King of the Beats imposes a state of inertia from the start. Beats drag, press down on the shoulders, tug at the armpits, then seep across the back as sirens loop into high frequency swarms. Editor Chip Nunez microsplices tape of The Winstons' Amen Brother break into a polyrhythmic arrangement of looped loops. The effect oscillates between the impedimental and the impellant, veers from drumstates of anticipatory inhibition to pent-up propulsion and back again." ~ Kodwo Eshun, 1998
Finally, here is a top-5 list of tracks-artists that did not make it to my hip-hop VS electronic music graph, but deserve to be mentioned for the sake of the "Amen Break".
#1. Futurama Theme