How do you feel about sampling: is it an act of artist-to-artist homage that connects music between generations and across genres, or a technique used by lazy producers to bolster their otherwise-flagging instrumentals?
Well, to be honest, it doesn’t really matter what your answer is – what is important is that both sides of that argument will have been in agreement on November 11 that something objectively good happened in the world of sampling. Richard Spencer, the frontman of funk and soul band The Winstons, who retired from music in 1971, received a £24,000 royalty cheque as a result of a crowdfunding page on GoFundMe in honour of the much-used drum break from the band’s 1969 track, ‘Amen, Brother’. It’s a genuinely feel-good story that finally provides Spencer, the former owner of the song’s copyright, with financial compensation for a piece of work that he arranged – sadly, the player of the famous six-second drum solo, Gregory Coleman, died homeless and broke in Atlanta in 2006.
This case is particularly honourable as it does much to right one of music’s biggest wrongs: the 1969 sample (which starts at 1:26 in the above video) has, according to the incredibly detailed archives at whosampled.com, been sampled 1,862 times, making it one of the most-used samples of all time. Coleman’s hugely impressive drumming skills have served as a convenient breakbeat for a number of genres, from hip-hop to techno. And yet, until now, no member of The Winstons, let alone Coleman, had received a penny of payment for their creation being used in this manner – Spencer and his bandmates had in fact been unaware for years that their music was being used without their permission.
And so the chances are very strong that, like millions of others, you’ll have come across Coleman’s beat while listening to any one of the 1,862 tunes that it’s been used in. Here are just a few examples of when and where it’s been used in popular music:
NWA – ‘Straight Outta Compton’
The vitriolic opening to one of the most provocative albums of all time benefits hugely from Coleman’s drumming: the beat that producers Dr Dre and DJ Yella used for the title track was from ‘Amen, Brother’, and, in collaboration with Ice Cube, MC Ren and Eazy-E’s spitting verbal testimonies, made for an intense four-and-a-half minutes of game-changing hip-hop.
Tyler, The Creator – ‘Pigs’
The currently-banned-from-the-UK leader of the now-defunct Odd Future used to dispute ever using samples, but his past two albums, ‘Wolf’ and ‘Cherry Bomb’, have openly used both instrumental and vocal elements from other songs. This includes The Winstons’ drum break, used here as the beat for this typically in-character moment of self-deprecation from Tyler.
Oasis – ‘D’You Know What I Mean’
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Yup, Oasis sampled it – crazy, right? The first single from ‘Be Here Now’ uses Coleman’s rhythms, which must have been a slap in the face for Alan White.
Nine Inch Nails – ‘The Perfect Drug’
Trent Reznor is evidently a fan of The Winstons: for ‘The Perfect Drug’, written for the 1997 David Lynch film Lost Highway, Coleman’s beats are fed through the industrial grinder that most NIN sounds are forced into, coming out the other side sounding menacing and terrifying and oh please make it stop.
Slipknot – ‘Eyeless’
Ah, cuddly ol’ Slipknot: when they’re not pushing their fingers into their eyes (don’t try that at home now, kids), they’re writing songs about not having eyes. Make up your mind, fellas. Anyway, ‘Amen, Brother”s beat is sampled here, albeit sounding like it’s been forced kicking and screaming into the Large Hadron Collider.
The Prodigy – ‘Firestarter’
The Prodigy have started many (figurative) fires in their career, and you could say that they owe a great deal of influence to Coleman’s beats. One of the most primal elements of The Prodigy’s sound is their frenzied rhythm section, with ‘Firestarter’ a fine case in point. And, surprise, surprise – it used a sped-up version of ‘Amen, Brother”s six-second drum solo as its take-off point.
Skrillex – ‘I Know Who You Are’
Before the Canadian noise-merchant made a killing off of the back of dubstep’s rise, he was into making similarly unlistenable drum’n’bass tracks: ‘I Know Who You Are’ is an appropriate example, and, yep, there it is again – The Winstons’ famed drum beat, sped up beyond *nearly* all recognition.
Plan B – ‘Ill Manors’
Whatever happened to Ben Drew, eh? Well, that’s a question for another day – but he’s relevant here for using that sample that we’ve been banging on about. Phenomenally successful at the time of his 2012 film/concept album ‘Ill Manors’, the latter’s title track got much of its frenetic energy from a warp-speed manipulation of the ‘Amen, Brother’ breakbeat.