If you think you haven't heard it, then you haven't been listening to a lot of music over the past 30 years—ranging from hip-hop and electronica to heavy metal and even the likes of David Bowie. The Amen Break is six seconds of fiery drumming laid down on a track by funk and soul group The Winstons in the 1969 track "Amen, Brother," and first sampled by legendary DJ Afrika Bambaataa in the late 1970s. Back in 2011, The Economist reported that the "short burst of drumming changed the face of music," and BBC Radio 1 did a full segment a year later. The website WhoSampled.com now says it's the most sampled song in history, at 2,262 times (and counting) across a range of genres.
But what makes the short drumming clip so universally loved by modern musicians? FiveThirtyEight reports that a power blackout (in New York in 1977, which led to looting and the sudden existence of pricey audio equipment in parts of the Bronx and Brooklyn that dramatically increased the number of DJs) and a new piece of equipment (the sampler, which came out in 1984) are behind the break's rise, while a few DJs say its distortion and flash of kicks and snares make it rich with character. And, of course, it's now utterly recognizable—featured prominently in the Futurama and Powerpuff Girls theme songs, David Bowie's "Little Wonder," and much more. Unfortunately, drummer Gregory Coleman never saw a penny despite all the sampling, and he died homeless in 2006. (Bambaataa is considered one of the godfathers of hip hop.)