CMU School of Drama

Friday, September 23, 2016

It Only Takes Six Seconds To Hear The World’s Most Sampled Song

FiveThirtyEight: Fans know that when a new Beyoncé, Kanye or Diplo track drops, it will likely contain a musical sample — an instrumental or vocal nugget from a song of yesteryear. That nugget will be rearranged, looped or otherwise given new context. Drake’s “Hotline Bling,” for example, didn’t just introduce us to an unusual dance style; its sped-up sampling of an 1972 R&B hit reintroduced the world to Timmy Thomas and the distinctive beat of “Why Can’t We Live Together.”


Kelly Simons said...

This article caught my eye originally because of how much I like learning about reincorporation. Most rap uses a huge about of demos and cuts from other songs, but this article is special because of how many songs this small snippet is used. I was shocked to hear the snippet, and how at different speeds it sounded like different songs. Based off of my listening I wouldn’t guess that the drum break was forty seven years old, it seems too modern. I know I’ve heard this drum break everywhere, from commercials to songs and even video games. It’s crazy that this tiny little piece of music has been kept and reborn into so many other pieces. This was an interesting article, and I’ll definitely be more aware of this drum break when I hear it in the future.

Claire Krueger said...

Now I'm not big into sound and I've never listened to a lot of music, new or old, but when I looked up the sound sample on youtube I was amazed at the fact that I could indeed recognize it from the Futurama opening theme song. Not knowing a lot about sound I was also surprised at the quality of the music even though it was released in 1960s.

I really like the part about the NYC blackout and I think I will be doing some looking into it for a personal project.
I'm curious to know if it is legit or just a wives tale like a baby boom nine months after a blackout.

If you want to here the sample you can find it at at 1:26

and then try to find it in Power puff girls:

Ruth Pace said...

I don't know if whoever reads these comments is in with the correct zeitgeist to have heard of rapper Drake's newest album "Views From the 6," commonly referred to simply as "Views." Regardless, this album, praised for its stripped-down production and mellower flows, has made its mark on the soundscape of the present, with a unique sound that is both reminiscent of another time but very definitely of the current cultural moment. This ties into the article because of the absurd amount of sampling present in Drake's production. Just as Bambaataa sampled obscure 60's B-Sides ("Amen Brother"), Drake/his producer have been mining early 2000s dancehall beats like they were gold.
And gold they have been. The iconic "Hotline Bling" hook is in fact a Timmy Thomas sample ( , and the even more ubiquitous "One Dance" relies heavily on a sample of singer Kyla's vocals from a 2008 song. (
I guess the point I'm trying to make is that sampling is far more prevalent than people may think, as this article attempts to clarify.

Alexa James-Cardenas ( said...

It was so funny, because before I read the article, and listened to that 20 second sound track, I immediately recognized it. To confirm my suspicions, I went to YouTube and looked up the old opening for the PowerPuff Girls. I was correct, it was the same. A little altered, but it was still the iconic rushed beat that got me excited every time I heard and was a big part of my childhood. It only makes me wonder what other songs, themes, melodies have I heard over and over again, and has an imprint into my head, has been an altered copy of just other song. It puts “nothing is original” to another perspective, and is that wrong? Is it wrong to use a beat that you know is going to grab people’s interest, because it has proven to do so before? Are you really being creative? Some might say, altering the sound bite to make it different takes creativity, but does that lesson the value of the song, because it’s not hundred percent yours? I believe that is the questions that someone has to strongly consider when taking a copied sound. Do I think any less of my childhood favorite show? I don’t think so, in fact, I think it is interesting that the PowerPuff Girls, a kid’s show from the late 90s, has used a melody that so many others have used too.
One thing that makes me sad is that the drummer died homeless and not knowing how much he has affected America’s culture, even till this day.

Alex Talbot said...

Every time I listen to popular music, I can't help but hear the similarities in sampling between different songs. I find sampling and the production of music super cool, despite being a lighting designer. I recently watched a Vox video on the production and sampling in Kanye West's music, and how well it's produced and sampled, and it blew my mind. Most people push off most rap because it seems simplistic, but if you go into the depth of it like Vox did, its very interesting how producers take a vocal track and layer it, effect it and add backing tracks and backing vocals to make it how you hear it on the final track. This article is really interesting because it shows how beats and tracks evolve over the years, and how 40 year old songs can show up everywhere even today slightly altered by production, and how something that old still works really well today in popular music and theme music.

David Kelley said...

The most sampled song bit is only six seconds long. That fact alone is stunning and extremely interesting. That more than 2,000 songs have sampled a particular drum beat from “Amen, Brother,” that number is astounding. looking at some of the people to have sampled the song N.W.A., The Prodigy, Slipknot, Janet Jackson, and even David Bowie you can clearly see that this song is incredibly versatile. i find it weird that Despite this tracks popularity, G.C. Coleman, never made any money from its popularity and he died homeless in 2006. however his bandmate Richard Spencer, also did not benefit from the widespread use of his band’s music till there was I go fund me that I remembered seeing this fact announced on reddit. All in all an interesting article.

Jamie Phanekham said...

When it comes to music bricolage is a huge part it. Music is continually sampled, remixed and redone, and as opposed to the article about Trinity Shakespeare, the altering and collaging is a huge part of it. It's an interesting thing to juxtapose because in terms of theater, when another theater using set pieces and not crediting the designer was a form of stealing, using a beat like this so many times is just how music works and grows. Where musicians have always been sampling and taking from each other, it's so apparent now in electronica and hip-hop. Before, artists like Frank Sinatra and the whole rat pack's era of music would record the same songs over and over again, and now in the world of hip-hop, others' songs are sampled and recorded over. In music, rather than stealing, it's more like growth and more like an homage to previous artist.
Now that I've heard this song I could think of at least 5 right here that have it that weren't mentioned from Beyonce's "Why Don't You Love Me" to the electronic "I Love You So" by Cassius and Skream. The fact that so many songs have used this simple sound byte without most of us ever realizing it just shows the ingenuity in music.

Jasmine Lesane said...

Bear (Bare?) with me this is going to go pretty artsy, but I kind of feel like this website is one of the greatest tools for understanding the universal effects of art. It’s kid of like the epitome of design, there was something in that 6 second drum beat that said something better than anything else could. And the fact that it did this for so many types of music, from Beyoncé to Bowie says that this song from 40 years ago is still has an effect on us as people. That’s kind of what we’re trying to do right, make a piece of art that effects all types of people in a way that nothing else could. I think the reason it is that song in particular is because without any lyrics you immediately know that your blood is about to start pumping. I know the Janet song and the Beyoncé song that sample this, but even without any lyrics I know what this drum track is supposed to convey. And that’s why it has stuck around. It does its job well.

William Lowe said...

When one begins learning how to scratch, they will usually start with the DJ Whiteside Scratch Sequence No. 9 on one deck and the Amen Break on the other, looped for about three or four minutes. I think today it has become even more widely used because it is something that DJs learn on. It is also — honestly — a fairly simple drum pattern which can be looped cleanly and has a lot of different potential applications based on the speed and pitch of the sample and how it is impeded into a track. Chris Read is correct in the amount of swing on the sample; however, in DAWs today — I can especially speak for Ableton Live — it is extremely simple to add a swing to a track (I also would not be surprised if this exact swing would be a preset in the software to imitate the Amen Break). I’m surprised that the jungle genre used this sample because it seems a little plain and simple for those artists and that style of music. I also associate this beat, especially slowed down, with the Run DMC or Grandmaster Flash era of hip-hop/rap, so it was surprising with the statistics of how few hip-hop tracks have used the sample — especially compared to electronic/dance. I think part of this may be how much hip-hop relies on the drum beat to cary the track, when it’s not as important in EDM, so it would be prominently clear in a hip-hop track that you are using the Amen Break than in an EDM record.

Cassidy Pearsall said...

I listened to this clip and I freaked out. Finally, I had found the tune that has been stuck in my head forever. I never knew the history of sampling, and it's pretty interesting the tid bit about the NYC blackouts and the number of DJs in NYC tripled overnight.

I remember when Beyoncé lost "Best Album" to Beck like two years ago or whatever. A bunch of people claimed that Beyoncé didn't really write her own music because of the use of sampling. It isn't considered a "real" form of music. I think that sucks! I think taking a piece of art and using it to supplement your own song isn't wrong (as long as your credit the original artist). Collage is a unique and valid form of art! It can be bad like any other form of art, or it could be amazing, like Beyoncé. This history of music is diverse and vast, and just because you don't like it doesn't mean it isn't real!

Scott MacDonald said...

I’ve worked as a DJ on and off for about 6 years now, and it’s always intriguing to discover samples (or chains of sampling) in tracks. Because DJs encounter so much music, it often feels like an adventure in a jungle of songs which sample and reference other music. Often times it’s like falling down a wormhole of who-sampled-what. The arrival of is a godsend, honestly, because it is a huge resource for those “waitaminute, this sounds like…” moments. Especially when those samples reach very far from one genre to another (An older example: who would have thought that Amy Winehouse would be sampled in a track like “Fields” by xxyyxx?) I do wonder if WhoSampled will be able to keep up with the continued rise of heavy sampling used in post-trap/post-UK-garage genres which have grown in popularity in recent years. A lot of these artists are not well-known, but their works are finding their way into the mainstream and festival circuit. Another big area is the continued evolution of hip-hop into the 21st century of music production: there’s a whole new breadth of sampling from alt/electronic hip-hop artists who have really embraced the use of sampling in the digital age, making it even tricker to track samples through one song to the next. Sampling has definitely progressed further than taking a piece of a track and replaying it, since now music production software allows artists to very easily manipulate samples to the extreme, creating the foundation of a track from existing material, but having the result only distantly resemble the origin. The Amen Break is legendary (heck, I knew the groove on the drums before I knew it as a sample!) but it’s not the only one. While I think the area is often extremely overwhelming, the realm of sampling has been, and will continue to be very interesting.

Galen shila said...

This is really the story of technology. when DJing went from straight turn tables to samplers. And when you have certain limitations it breeds a certain kind of creativity. it seems every song these days uses samples but when this was first invented people had to be creative for it to sound good. It is amazing that something so simple became so popular. I think sampling really revolutionized the music industry. now back to the Amen break. It is true that it goes with almost anything. When first learning how to make music on the computer it is one of the easiest drum loops to use in a song.