At block parties in the 1970s, DJs like Kool Herc would isolate the drum breaks of disco and funk records and loop them, allowing for more dancing, and eventually providing space for early rappers to work their magic. Initially, these loops would have been achieved by switching between two decks with the same record playing, creating a seamless flow. With the 80s came the advent of the drum machine, allowing for the sampling of individual one-shots.
Even today, well beyond the days of strictly sample-based production, the beat remains vital. Whether it’s the skittering hi-hats of trap, the muscularity of boom-bap, or the off-kilter drum sampling of J Dilla, the sounds of the drum machine have become a staple of hip-hop.
Thus, given how fundamental the beat is to hip-hop history, you might be wondering: what is the most sampled drum beat in hip hop?
Thanks to the enormous database developed by WhoSampled, we now know that the most sampled drum beat in music history is the iconic drum break from The Winstons’ 1969 track, "Amen, Brother." This brief, seven-second long section has become colloquially known as the Amen break, thanks to its sampling in more than 6000 songs across various genres and styles. The break—known for its quick tempo and driving rhythm—remained unused for nearly two decades until its re-emergence on a 1986 compilation for producers called Ultimate Breaks and Beats. From there, the track was used on tracks by Salt-N-Pepa, Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock, and most famously, on NWA’s iconic hip-hop classic, "Straight Outta Compton." Fun fact: did you know the break was even sampled in the Futurama theme song?
Given the aforementioned Amen break, special mention should go to The Winstons’ magnificent Gregory Coleman—especially considering the harsh fact that he never received royalties for his performance. Nonetheless, the most sampled drummer of all time is actually the funk maestro, Clyde Stubblefield. Thanks to his work with James Brown’s band, Stubblefield has become cemented in the annals of hip-hop history.
Alongside a host of other much-sampled highlights, his iconic, improvised drum break on "Funky Drummer" has been sampled over 1000 times, used by the likes of Run DMC, Public Enemy, N.W.A, and the Beastie Boys. With its funky sixteenth notes and its driving rhythm, it’s a major landmark in the history of sampling.
We’ve mentioned "Funky Drummer" and "Amen, Brother." But what about the other most sampled drum beats in hip hop? Lyn Collins’ "Think (About It)" contains a very short but widely sampled snippet at around 1:23. Fans will recognize the catchy drum break from tracks like Kanye West’s "Lost in the World," and the iconic Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock release, "It Takes Two." Famous for its inclusion of attention-grabbing shouts, "Think (About It)" is another track that has become a major landmark of hip-hop culture.
Melvin Bliss’ "Synthetic Substitution" features another iconic drum break, sampled by artists like RZA, The Ultramagnetic MCs, and 50 Cent. It’s estimated to have appeared in over 650 tracks. Elsewhere, fans of J.Cole, The Notorious B.I.G, and Nas will have heard the endlessly catchy opening moments of The Honey Drippers’ 1973 funk track "Impeach the President".
Another exceptionally famous sample comes from Incredible Bongo Band’s "Apache." Although its most well-known use remains Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five’s 1981 track, "The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel", overall the track has been sampled 445 times. It’s perhaps most notable for its use of hand percussion; a rare inclusion in hip hop.
Aside from the usual sampling of funk, soul, and disco tracks, one unexpected source for many producers has been Led Zeppelin’s famous 1971 release, "When the Levee Breaks." Sampled by everyone from Eminem to Dr. Dre to Beastie Boys, it’s certainly one of the more surprising entries on the list.
These are just a few of the most sampled beats in music history. For a more detailed list, take a look at WhoSampled’s comprehensive rundown.
There are several ways to go about sampling drums from tracks.
Firstly, you can find the track’s drum break and loop it, laying the foundation of your beat. This is the oldest and simplest way of sampling. Traditionally, due to the low cost of records, DJs and early hip-hop producers would go to their nearest record store and engage in a practice known as "crate-digging." This refers to the process of searching through stacks of vinyl for a usable drum break or melodic sample. In the early days of hip-hop, DJs would loop the same record across two different decks, giving the emcee space to rap. On Tracklib, you can actually find the same records without setting a foot in a record store. Here are some examples of the drum beats we have to offer:
Aside from those golden age techniques, nowadays you can chop up the beat, isolating specific sections or even specific hits (snares, kicks, hi-hats). This allows you to program your drum pattern however you want while retaining the individual drum sounds of the sample. Though this process was once achieved through physical drum machines like the AKAI MPC 3000, now producers can utilise countless VST samplers instead. These are software emulations of traditional samplers, allowing the beatmaker to chop, edit, and loop samples at will. VSTs like Big Fish Audio’s Momentum are a vital (and free!) tool for producers.
The drum beat, and drum sampling, are almost inextricable elements of hip-hop. The drums can be loud and aggressive (NWA, Public Enemy, The Notorious B.I.G, etc.), subtle and laid-back (The Alchemist, A Tribe Called Quest, etc.), or addictive and off-kilter (J Dilla, Madlib, etc.).
But whichever of these drum sampling styles you gravitate towards, it’s vital to have a library of music to explore, and a means of legally clearing the material before using it in your own work. This is where Tracklib comes in.
With Tracklib’s expansive catalog, producers can now bring the record store to their laptop, gaining unprecedented access to a wide range of iconic tracks and hidden gems. We’ve even created collections of tracks with endlessly sampleable drum breaks. Check out our Unexpected Breaks collection, the open drums in Ultimate Breaks & Tracks, or the curated drums in Classic Breaks and Loops.
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