The Amen break is a 5.2 second drum solo from an instrumental funk record called “Amen brother” performed by The Winstons. “Amen brother” was released in 1969 on Metromedia Records and was the B side to The Winstons 7″ single entitled “Colour him farther“. The Amen break was first popularised by Hip Hop artists in the late 80s/early 90s after its inclusion on the Ultimate breaks & Beats series compiled and edited by Louis Flores but would later go on to form the one of the key elements of Jungle music via the Rave scene in the early to mid 90s. To the present day the Amen break has been sampled hundreds of times by artists, producers and musicians from all different backgrounds and genres. From Jungle anthems like “Super sharp shooter” by DJ Zinc & The Ganga Kru to classic hip hop records like “Straight outta Compton” by N.W.A. It seems that this breakbeat has been sought after and sampled by everyone.
Check to see if you recognise the Amen drum break by clicking the clip below:
So now you are familiar with the drum break it is time to explore the Musical DNA that went in to creating such a popular sample that has been so prominent in classic Hip Hop & Dance music.
The Winsons single “Colour him farther” was released in 1969. “Amen brother” was the B-side to the single and at the time of its release sold over 1 million copies. The Winstons consisted of the following musicians and since the late 80s “Amen brother” has been their most recognised piece of music.
- Gregory C. Coleman (vocals, drums)
- Ray Maritano (vocals, alto saxophone)
- Quincy Mattison (vocals, lead guitar)
- Sonny Pekerol (vocals, bass guitar)
- Richard Lewis Spencer (lead vocals, tenor saxophone)
- Phil Tolotta (second lead, organ)
“Amen brother” is an up-tempo funk track similar in style to compositions by other classic funk artists at the time like Kool & The Gang, The Meters and the JBs.
The Winstons “Amen brother”
The history of the Amen drum break is as follows:
“Amen Brother” was a remake of a composition called “Amen” originally composed by Jester Hairston in 1963 for the film “Lillies in the field” that started actor Sydney Poitier. The Winstons completely transformed Hairston’s composition in to a classic funk record by playing it at a faster tempo as well as adding drums and various other instruments. Jester Hairston original can be heard in the clip below.
“Amen” from the film ”Lillies in the field” composed by Jester Hairston
The Winsons however were probably also inspired by soul band The impressions who in 1964 also recorded a version of Jester Hairston “Amen” containing the same melody as the original composition.
The Impressions “Amen” First released in 1964 on ABC Records
Further evidence to support the influence and inspiration of The Impressions can be heard on their 1967 hit entitled “We’re a winner” that was written by band member Curtis Mayfield. The song “We’re a winner” contains several of the same elements duplicated by The Winstons on “Amen Brother“. “We’re a winner” by The Impressions however is a vocal track that addresses the issues of racial politics in America in the 60s.
The impressions – “We’re a winner” released in 1967 on ABC-Paramount Records
It wasn’t until 1986 when The Winstons “Amen brother” track reappeared on the compilation album “Ultimate Breaks & Beats vol 1“. These compilation albums like the “Super Disco Breaks” series previous, were specifically aimed at Hip Hop DJs who would often obtain 2 copies of the same record so the instrumental drum break section could be played constantly between 2 turntables and a mixer. The tracks that appeared on the “Ultimate Breaks & Beats” series were also slightly edited and EQ’d differently by Louis Flores. With The Winstons “Amen brother” track Louis Flores had dropped the speed of the drum solo from 45 to 33rpm slowing the drum section down and making it slightly longer & Heavier than intended. The EQ on the tracks was also more bottom heavy than on the original pressings. As soon as the technology was available the “Ultimate Breaks & Beats” series along with “Super Disco Breaks” and James Brown records became the building blocks for making sample based hip hop music. This in turn lead to Rave, Jungle, and Drum & Bass producers re-sampling the loop from hip hop records as well as from Ultimate Breaks and other breakbeat series. Louis Flores edited version of “Amen brother” from ”Ultimate Breaks & Beats Vol 1” can be heard below.
“Amen brother” Louis Flores edited version from Ultimate Breaks & Beats
Hip Hop music and culture had been going on since the 1970s in New York and had already established itself in different locations across the world. It wasn’t however until the mid to late 80s that sampling technology had allowed artists to sample & Repeat sections of music without needing a DJ using the back to back method with 2 copies of the same record. Since “Amen brother” was included on the “Ultimate Breaks & Beats” series Hip Hop artists had begun to sample sections of The Winstons track most notably being the drum break.
One of the most popular tracks to sample the “Amen brother” drum break was “Straight outta Compton” by N.W.A. “Straigh outta Compton” was the title track from the group’s debut album and the harsh and tuff sound of the Amen drum break was the perfect complement to the controversial and uncompromising lyrics of the group. “Straigh outta Compton“by N.W.A reached double platinum sales without radio airplay or any major tours.
N.W.A “Straight outta Compton” 1988 Ruthless Records
What would further popularise the Amen drum break as well as most of the other drum breaks on the “Ultimate Breaks & Beats” series was a set of what would now be considered as early DJ battle weapons. The most popular of these early battle weapons were the “Beats, Breaks & Scratches” series that were produced by Simon Harris and released on Music Of Life Records from 1987 onwards. The “Beats, Breaks & Scratches” albums contained between 8 & 10 three minute drum loops ideal for DJs & rappers to practice over, mix with and eventually sample.
By the early 90s there were so many classic Hip Hop records that had sampled the “Amen brother” drum break. Below are a few of my personal favourites.
Third Bass “Wordz of wizdom” from “The cactus album” 1989
Erik B & Rakim “Casualties of war” from the “Don’t sweat the technique” LP 1992
Standin Ovation “Shadows of mayhem” 12″ single 1992
What started with hip hop music and sampling soon spread to other forms of music. While hip hop in the US started to slow down in tempo here in the UK Hip Hop inspired producers to experiment with break beats giving birth to Rave music, Jungle, and Drum & Bass. A lot of the Rave or Hardcore producers had grown up listening to popular Hip Hop artists like Public Enemy and N.W.A and were re-sampling break beats and speeding them up. In the early 90s the new music was simply known as Rave but as the scene progressed its followers split in to 2 sub genres known as Happy Hardcore and Jungle/Drum & Bass. The “Amen” break was like several other breaks popular with Rave producers but as the Rave scene split the ”Amen” drums became a signature for many Jungle tracks.
SL2 “SLelectro” XL Recordings 1992
It’s hard to imagine what Jungle music would have sounded like if The Winstons had never recorded “Amen Brother” as it was sampled on so many Jungle tracks. Below are a selection of my personal favourites tracks from the Jungle scene that sampled the “Amen” break.
DJ Zinc/The Ganja Kru “Super sharp shooter” 1995 Ganja Records
Dead Dred “Dred bass” Moving Shadow Records 1994
Urban Shakedown “The Arsonist” Labello Blanco Records
The Fugees “Ready or not” DJ Hype remix
Amazingly the “Amen” break is still being sampled today over 40 years after The Winstons released “Amen Brother“. Again and again the signature sound of the “Amen” drums can be heard in music across the board from Dance, to Rock and even occasionally on Pop records.
Music as we know it today would sound a lot different if it wasn’t for Jester Hairston‘s composition of “Amen” for the film “Lillies in the field“. If The Impressions had not been inspired to cover “Amen” and record “We’re a winner” then The Winstons may not have been inspired to record “Amen brother“. If Louis Flores had not edited “Amen Brother” and included the track on “Ultimate Breaks & Beats” it would have not been sampled as excessively on golden age Hip Hop records. Which in turn would not have paved the way for Rave, Jungle, Drum & Bass and most other forms of modern Dance music.