Breakbeat is a concept and style that encompasses a variety of music sub-genres and originated in the UK. A “break” — a sequence of syncopated 4/4 drum beats that are typically sampled from Rock, Jazz, Hip-Hop, and Funk — defines it. Since the 1970s, the genre has grown in range. Now it spawns new sub-genres such as Jungle, Drum & Bass, and Hardcore music.

The term “Breakbeat” refers to the fact that the drum loops come sampled from a “break” in a song. A famous example is the Amen break (a drum solo from The Winstons’ “Amen, Brother”), or the Think Break (from Lyn Collins’ “Think (About It)”). These songs have the foundational elements that would eventually help create the breakbeat genres.

DJ Kool Herc is recognized for developing breakbeat and laying the groundwork for hip-hop music. He made a noteworthy musical contribution to the Bronx, New York City, in the 1970s. Clive Campbell, his actual name, began isolating the aforementioned breaks from previous soul albums and often switching from one to the next. This lay the foundations for modern Hip-Hop.

Derivatives of Breakbeat

Since the rise of Breakbeat, numerous derivative genres have followed. For instance, Big Beat, a synth-heavy electronic music genre born in the 1980s. It features renowned artists such as Fatboy Slim, The Prodigy, and The Chemical Brothers. Also, Drum & Bass, a new wave of electronic music that appeared in the 1990s. It’s a quicker subset of the rave/jungle culture, popular in the UK at the time. It incorporates elements of Hip-Hop, Techno, and House.

Many DJs succeeded because they were able to make recordings using breaks sampled from previously released records. Most of the aforementioned sub-genres share a similar tempo. For that reason, DJs have been able to build sets full of diverse inspirations and sounds. These sets include tracks that use the same “break” backbone.

Breakbeat music is a versatile musical genre with a fascinating history. It allows listeners to hear a variety of sub-genres fused together to create one distinct genre of its own. It also inspires musicians and helps them learn about the pioneers who shaped the music industry.

Sampling in no way diminishes the artist who uses samples. Instead, it demonstrates mutual respect and affinity amongst the artists involved. Madonna’s “Hung Up”, for example, takes the beginning of ABBA’s “Gimme Gimme Gimme” to produce a dance-pop single that is far from the original disco song. She approached the composers, Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus for permission. This allowed both parties to appreciate the beauty of their music without infringing on or disparaging the other, which was the ultimate purpose.