Say Amen, Somebody


Nate Harrison tells the tale of a seven-second drum beat that transformed pop music, and that raised countless questions about intellectual property in the process.

[Via Randy Barnett.]

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  1. Say Amen, Somebody

    Hey man, I saw that movie last year at an international film festival.

  2. brotherben – your turn…

    Smacky – at the Cedar-Lee Theater? 🙂

  3. VM,

    Nope. At the Cleveland International Film Festival. 🙂

  4. Cleveland.International.Film.Festival.


    (insert polka, and formal bowling-wear, and “corned beef on raisin bread” comment here)

    keed keed

    [ducks, runs off]

  5. VM,


    Just for that you’re going to be the last person invited to my formal bowling-wear prom and debutante ball. And don’t even think about asking to borrow another gown from me! You ruined the last one.

  6. The “Amen”-loop video? Welcome to 2004!

  7. I’m pretty sure the world would be much better if all users of this breakbeat were sued out of existence at the first illegal use of the break.

  8. hrumph.

    /kicks cupcake

    it goes

    Can I get an amen?

  10. I’m picturing a group, (herd?)of Cleveland debs

    Mimi Bobeck comes to mind.

  11. AMEN

    especially, “moonover@parma.com”


  12. It may a bit old-news to most (I only heard about it last year), but it’s a fascinating video. I boggled when I heard the break, because you hear it everywhere.

  13. Boom boom chuck a boom chuck.

  14. It’s an amazing story that this drumbeat is so widespread in hiphop and even inspired an entire genre of music. Meanwhile, the RIAA continues to sue college kids. Open copyright leads to big bucks being made. RIAA-style copyright leads to dwindling sales and finger pointing.

  15. Hey Lamar. Would it shock you if a proponent of strong copyright protection said that sampling may be a legitimate form of “fair use”?

  16. This is way cool and all, but the importance of the “Amen break” drumbeat pales in comparison to the “Shave and a haircut, five cents” door knock.

  17. Carrick: I just shot Earl Grey through my nose. Is this related to our discussion on derivative vs. original works?

  18. Is this related to our discussion on derivative vs. original works?

    Yes. Discussions on H&R rarely get past the ‘tastes great / less filling’ level of debate. There are many interesting nuances that never get raised.

    As I tried to say many times the other day, people that truly infringe copyrights give political cover to other people that would like to destroy the whole concept of fair use.

    I would like the creators of original works to have rock-solid control of their products. But that is only viable with rock-solid support of fair use.

  19. Stevo wins another one.

  20. Another interesting question is whether sampling runs afoul of “droit moral”. Your opinion Lamar?

  21. “Shave and a haircut, five cents”

    I have never heard “five cents” before. I have always heard “two bits.”

    Stevo, either you’re slipping or you’re much, much older than I am, because five cents is less than two bits, and no one has used “two bits” in many years.

  22. Two Bits, Four Bits, Six Bits, A dollar . . .

  23. re: Lamar

    It’s probably not worth it to take the time toto explain how incredibly wrong you are, and how both the creators of sampled music, and the music industry as a whole, has benefitted immensely from the innovations of fair-use sampling.

    I’ll guess you come from the camp that feels that Hiphop/any DJ music at all ‘isnt really music anyway’, ergo, ‘so what if it’s generated billions of dollars of economic activity’.

    If i’m wrong, let me know.

    Second point – god, it sounds so gay when he says, “Ahh-men”… its Aay-men dude! Aaay-Men. No tomaaato.

    I’ve seen a dozen documentary pieces like this, and they are generally done by people outside the hiphop world who are so new to the whole breaks scene that they vastly overemphasise things…e.g. “most important in the world”… come on.

    there are tons of breaks that have been as widely influential and reused… ashley’s roachclip, skull snaps’ new day, give it up/turn it loose, think, funky president, etc. The only real difference is that Amen spawned the Jungle/D&B genre… and that whole thing is already 10+ years over with, and never really expanded into everything the way hiphop has.

    These accedemic types seem hip/insightful maybe to people who are completely out of it altogether… “Sampling? What??? isnt that Illegal? My word.”

    for more contemporary innovative interest = check out Baltimore Club music…

    Basically, House music, made properly funky finally. It’s based (often) around the Think break, which is used like percussion over a 3-on-the-floor 120-130bpm pattern. For reference, see the works of DJ Technics et al


  24. Gilmor: My point was that under a strict copyright regime (such as the RIAA’s lawyers are pursuing) much of hip-hop would NOT have ocurred, and all that commerce would not have been generated. Also, under the RIAA’s regime, there would be no “fair use” sampling. Carrick and I seem to agree that taking samples is not infringement like burning a copy of a DVD and hawking it.

    Also, you say that you don’t have enough time to explain why I’m wrong, but you don’t tell me what I’m wrong about. To be honest, I’m not sure what your point is. You are aware that there is, according to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, no such thing as “fair use sampling” right?

  25. And, no, as a musical form, hip hop is pretty lame (those who can play, play. Those who can’t, sample) (Or: sampling doesn’t show your musical talent, it shows your musical taste). As a poetic form of expression, it used to be boundless, but now it is the same crap over and over. Hip hop is currently where hair metal was in 1991.

  26. As a poetic form of expression, it used to be boundless, but now it is the same crap over and over.

    I don’t think this sentence makes sense.

  27. It’s hip hop, it doesn’t have to.

  28. There is a lot of good, creative hip hop going on. It is not played on the radio. Start with anything MF Doom is a part of. Hard to go wrong.

  29. For the most part, I don’t really like hip hop (though Atmosphere me likes) because it isn’t all that musical and it glorifies being a shitty person. Of course, so does rock and roll, and I like rock, so go figure. I am a man of contradictions.

  30. Diff’rent strokes for diff’rent folks.

    Although, you know, there is a lot of positive hip hop and a lot of DJs are very musical.

    It takes diff’rent strokes to move the world.

  31. Yeah, I didn’t mean to make this an anti-hip hop tirade. I’m not against the music form at all. The Herbaliser got me through the 90’s, etc. I have similarly bad things to say about boring pop and boring rock of today. It’s all a blanket generalization and should be taken as such.

  32. MC Frontalot!

  33. “Shave and a haircut, five cents”

    I have never heard “five cents” before. I have always heard “two bits.”

    Stevo, either you’re slipping or you’re much, much older than I am,

    There’s no reason both can’t be true.

    because five cents is less than two bits, and no one has used “two bits” in many years.

    I think I first heard it on Sesame Street or Electric Company or Zoom or possibly even Captain Kangaroo, or some show like that, and they probably said “five cents” instead of “two bits” because little kids don’t know what a “bit” is. I still don’t.

    Actually I remember that, whatever the show was, they joked that it should be “ten cents” now because of inflation.

    I think the speaker was a guy named Bob. Wasn’t there someone named Bob on Sesame Street? I can almost see him.

  34. YES! It was this guy:

    Bob McGrath

    Warning if you’re at work: Christmas song soundclip ambush.

  35. Stevo,
    Two bits is a quarter. I don’t recall the etymology. Probably pretty easy to find.

  36. Lamar=
    I play piano and guitar and sing and have taken summer courses at Berklee…

    And I sample

    You are wrong, and you are just an ignorant observer of an art you don’t actually understand


  37. JG,

    Diff’rent strokes for diff’rent folks.
    No more, no less.

  38. Back at Central School (elementary) we learned the origin of “two bits.” Whether it is true or not – I believe it is – here it is.

    There was a Spanish coin – the milled dollar – in use in the Americas – way back when before air conditioning, color television and Japanese cars – that had grooves in it that allowed the user to break it into 8 pieces. “Two bits” were thus a quarter dollar. Thus, also, the term “pieces of eight.”

    Later, at HMHS, we were able to understand the “two bits cheer” although it seemed even in those long ago days – before CDs, the internet and Chinese cell phones – to be a rather anachronistic cheer.

    Thank you for allowing me to use one or two bits of my useless knowledge and to remember “E” in her cheerleading outfit.


  39. Gilmore:

    I’m not sure why you don’t think I’m a musician. I’ve only been signed to a label and toured the country once, so I guess my resume is thin compared to your summer school at Berklee.

    We obviously have different philosophies about what it means to “create” music. As to rhetorical realities, it’s best to avoid ad hominem attacks when you have no idea who the hominem is you’re attacking.

    Also, I’m wondering why you think an ignorant observer with no understanding of the art would take such a strong position on sampling? That said, I’m not against throwing in some flair, but as the Amen beat shows, people are using other people’s work as the basis for their own. I don’t care if you can play like Chopin….if your output is somebody else’s with your input relegated to “flair” then I’m not going to be too impressed, and I can’t imagine you would be either.

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