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Breakbeat (sometimes breaks or breakbeats) can refer to two distinct but related things: It is both an electronic music genre and the distinct percussive rhythm from which this genre takes its name, usually characterized by the use of a non-straightened (percussion instruments do not play directly on beat) 4/4 drum pattern (as opposed to the steady beat of house, techno and trance). These rhythms may be characterized by their intensive use of syncopation and polyrhythms. A common feature of breakbeats is its 'shuffling' hi-hats and its beat-skipping kick drums. Both meanings are closely connected to hip hop and b-boying (breakdance).

As a musical device, breakbeats have been known and used for almost a hundred years, but the name and modern meaning of the term traces its origins to the rise of hip hop in the United States during the 1980s. The eponymous electronic music genre is widely regarded as a derivative of the United Kingdom's early rave music, where breakbeats were added to the music to form what became known as breakbeat hardcore. However, breakbeats had been used by American hip hop DJs and turntablists in instrumental sets well before the advent of rave in the UK, and it could be argued that the two scenes developed in parallel.

Today, breakbeat lives on in the form of strong regional scenes in the US and UK. Breakbeats are frequently used in the production of such diverse music genres as hip hop, jungle or drum and bass, hardcore, UK garage (including 2-step, breakstep and dubstep) and even pop and rock. Since the 1990s, breakbeat has been used extensively as background music to TV adverts as well as in action film soundtracks, especially in the form of big beat.



The most likely origin of the word "breakbeat" is the fact that the drum loops that were sampled occurred during a "break" in the music, as in the Amen break which is a drum solo from a soul song. However, it is a common thought that the name derives from the beat being "broken" and unpredictable compared to other percussive styles, something which is also reflected in the name of the related genre broken beat. Whether this was part of the original meaning of the word or is purely a folksonomy remains unclear, but it is safe to say that the term has evolved to encompass both sentiments.


Breakbeats were used in the 1920s by jazz and swing bands. A popular breakbeat song of the 1920s was the "Charleston". In the late 1970s and early 1980s, hip hop turntablists, such as DJ Kool Herc, began using several funk breaks in a row, using irregular drum patterns from songs such as James Brown's "Funky Drummer" and The Winstons' "Amen Brother", to form the rhythmic base for hip hop songs. DJ Kool Herc's breakbeat style involved playing the same record on two turntables and playing the break repeatedly, alternating between the two records. This style was copied and improved upon by early hip hop DJs Afrika Bambaataa and Grand Wizard Theodore. This style was extremely popular in clubs and dancehalls because the extended breakbeat provided breakers with more opportunities to showcase their skills.

In the early 1990s, acid house artists and producers started using breakbeat samples in their music to create breakbeat hardcore, also known as rave music. hardcore scene then diverged into sub-genres like jungle and drum and bass, which generally had a darker sound and focused more on complex sampled drum patterns. An example of this is Goldie's album Timeless.

Josh Lawford of Ravescene prophesied that breakbeat was "the death-knell of rave" because the ever changing drumbeat patterns of breakbeat music didn't allow for the same zoned out, trance-like state that the standard, steady 4/4 beats of house enabled. In 1994, the influential techno act Autechre released the Anti EP in response to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 using advanced algorithmic programming to generate non-repetitive breakbeats for the full duration of the tracks to subvert the legal definitions within that legislation.


In the 1980s, breakbeat became an essential feature of many genres of breaks music which became popular within the global dance music scene, including big beat, nu skool breaks, acid breaks and Miami bass.

DJs from a variety of genres work breaks tracks into their sets. This may occur because the tempo of breaks tracks (ranging from 110 to 150 beats per minute) means they can be readily mixed with these genres.

Some artists well known for breakbeat include Afrika Bambaataa, Whodini, Davy DMX, Deekline, Dynamix II, 2 Live Crew, Cybotron, Nubreed, Hybrid, Phil K, Dirty Harry, NAPT, DJ Icey, Stanton Warriors, Nasty, Krafty Kuts, Freestylers, K-Swing, Soul Of Man, DJ Sharaz, Annie Nightingale and performance troupe Lucent Dossier Experience.

Breakbeats are used in many hip hop, jungle and hardcore songs, and can also be heard in other music, from popular music to background music in car and jean commercials on the radio or TV.

Sampled breakbeats

With the advent of digital sampling and music editing on the computer, breakbeats have become much easier to create and use. Now, instead of cutting and splicing tape sections or constantly backspinning two records at the same time, a computer program can be used to cut, paste, and loop breakbeats endlessly. Digital effects like filters, reverb, reversing, time stretching and pitch shifting can be added to the beat, and even to individual sounds by themselves. Individual instruments from within a breakbeat can be sampled and combined with others, thereby creating wholly new breakbeat patterns.

The "Amen break"

The Amen break, a drum break from The Winstons' song "Amen, Brother" is widely regarded as one of the most widely used and sampled breaks among music using breakbeats. This break was first used on "King of the Beats" by Mantronix, and has since been used in thousands of songs. Other popular breaks are from James Brown's Funky Drummer (1970) and Give it Up or Turnit a Loose, The Incredible Bongo Band's 1973 cover of The Shadows' "Apache", and Lyn Collins' 1972 song "Think (About It)".

Legal issues

With the rise in popularity of breakbeat music and the advent of digital audio samplers, enterprising companies started selling "breakbeat packages" for the express purpose of helping artists create breakbeats. A breakbeat kit CD would contain many breakbeat samples from different songs and artists, often without the artist's permission or even knowledge. One example of this is the Amen break, from a song by The Winstons, who hold the copyright. However, a company named Zero-G Limited released a "jungle construction kit" containing hundreds of audio samples, one of which appeared to be an exact copy of the Amen break, slightly sped up, for which at the time Zero-G Limited appeared to claim copyright, since a copyright symbol was included on the product's packaging. However, when it came to Zero-G Limited's notice that there may be another claim on the copyright of the audio sample in question, they removed it from the product. The sample had been provided to Zero-G by a DJ named Danny DeMierre who had claimed it was his original work and a written contract between the DJ and Zero-G Limited had given assurances to Zero-G Limited in this respect. When the copyright of the sample was later called into question, Zero-G immediately removed it from their product and referred the matter to Mr DeMierre. The Winstons have not received royalties for third-party use of samples of the break recorded on their original music release.


Big beat

Big beat is a term employed since the mid-1990s by the British music press to describe much of the music by artists such as The Prodigy, Cut La Roc, Fatboy Slim, The Chemical Brothers, The Crystal Method and Propellerheads typically driven by heavy breakbeats and synthesizer-generated loops and patterns in common with established forms of electronic dance music such as techno and acid house.

Progressive breaks

Acid breaks

In electronic music, "acid breaks" is a fusion between breakbeat, acid, acid techno and other forms of electronic dance music (EDM). Its drum line usually mimics most breakbeat music, lacking the distinctive kick drum of other forms of EDM. One of the earliest synthesizers to be employed in acid music was the Roland TB-303, which makes use of a resonant low-pass filter to emphasize the harmonics of the sound. The first acid breaks track is credited to Zak Baney in 1987 for his track "Acid Break".

In more recent times, artists such as Champion Breaks have started a resurgence of this sound, using mainly Amen breaks, Reese bass, and 303 acid lines to create energetic, and sometimes frenetic acid breaks songs.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Breakbeat" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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