Our series Breaking Down The Breaks highlights a drummer’s all-time favorite breaks. From the best grooves to sample origins.
Jonny Drop is the drummer of South London-based jazz/funk quartet The Expansions. His new library record for KingUnderground features three new compositions and 43 breaks and stems, ready for sampling. But not before we get to know the guy behind the grooves through six of his favorite breaks.
Ain’t It Funky Now – Grant Green (Idris Muhammad)
This tune has it all. Written by the godfather himself, James Brown, and expertly reinterpreted as a 10-minute long jam flex by Grant Green and his incredible ensemble. Released on the Green Is Beautiful LP via Blue Note Records. It was also released on 45 which I just happen to have a copy of, and it’s a bit of a gem judging by the Discogs Have/Want stats!
Not a ‘Drum Break’ tune as such, but I really can’t say enough about Idris Muhammed and his playing. I think out of all the top jazz-funk drummers he’s one of the best at just holding a groove down and bringing it to life (a little like Purdie and Gadson). Not massively technical, but just so much feeling! The Grant Green compilation Blue Breakbeats was my introduction to the tune and has been a firm favourite ever since. A regular go-to in the record bag for restaurants and dance-floors alike!
I love the sloppy, ‘roomy’ feel and fills especially in the ‘chorus’, and he just chugs along seamlessly throughout the 10 minutes, seemingly never bringing attention to the drums. All groove, all feeling. There are so many Idris drums I could have picked here, but this one felt right as it’s a nod to two other personal faves: Grant Green and J to the B.
Sting – Englishman in New York (Manu Katché)
By far my un-coolest entry, this one is a shout out to my mum. I was born in ’82 (young pup to some, ancient to others), and even though I look back on my mother’s taste in music as mostly excellent (lots of jazz & blues), she did love her some 80s pop.
What I love so much about this break is just how massive it is in comparison to the rest of this soft pop ballad (cue 80s snare reverb AIRHORN). Quite a juxtaposition. So anyway, as a kid, this was an instant air-drumming classic for my brothers and me on road trips across the channel to see our extended French family.
Webster Lewis – Do You Believe (Jimmy Hopps)
As sampled by Kruder & Dorfmeister on their remix session of Lamb’s ‘Trans Fatty Acid’. The K&D Sessions was a huge album of remixes that I fell in love with when my brother introduced it to me just over twenty years ago. Among the trip-hoppy dustiness of the sample selections K&D use, this drum break always pulled me right in. What a groove! I was unfamiliar with the original source until just a few years back, while I was trawling WhoSampled and came across the Webster Lewis original, taken from his album Live At Club 7.
“These are the kind of drums I’ve always wanted to be able to play. And after about 25 years on the kit, I can happily report I can hold this one down now.”
This original track is an incredible gospel crescendo, but really it’s all about that first minute when the drums just speak and work themselves out in a syncopated ride bell-heavy beast of a break. These are the kind of drums I’ve always wanted to be able to play. And after about 25 years on the kit, I can happily report I can hold this one down now.
J.T Allen – Freeway Crowd (drummer unknown)
Jeeeeez, what an intro! Part of the charm of soul and funk 45’s can be those massive gritty drum break intros. This one certainly checks that box. The first time I heard this I knew I’d be getting choppy on it. I sampled it on “This Is The One”, the B-side to my first 45 release Mind Field on the Albert’s Favourites imprint.
I don’t know a whole lot about the artist or the drummer, but I know I love the break itself. Shout out to the beautiful hi-hat work.
Junior Mance – Thank You Falletin Me Be Mice Elf Agin (Billy Cobham)
This Junior Mance LP, With A Lotta Help From My Friends, is masterful from start to finish. Absolutely love the instrumental soul jazz flavours on this one. Cobham brings that tough jazz-rock edge to the whole thing too. There are two tracks with standout breaks, my choice (“Thank You Falletin Me Be Mice Elf Agin”) and also “Don’t Cha Hear Me Callin’ To Ya,” which has a monster break towards the end of the track.
“This particular break was sampled by A Tribe Called Quest in Push It Along. Then, in turn, Push It Along was sampled by St Germain in Forget It from his debut, Boulevard. A sample of a sample!”
Cobham has been such a pillar of the global drumming community for going on 50 years, and he’s still galloping along. My band (The Expansions) had the pleasure of supporting him at The Jazz Cafe a couple of years back, and it was a great excuse to get all my Cobham-related records signed. Including this one. He said something to the effect of “Woah! I ain’t seen this in 30 years!” As he was signing it. I love that his signature has a scribble with a smiley face next to it. He was clearly ahead of the curve on emoji culture!
This particular break was sampled by A Tribe Called Quest in “Push It Along“, the opener of their seminal debut album People’s Instinctive Travels And The Paths Of Rhythm. Then, in turn, “Push It Along” was sampled by St Germain in “Forget It” from his debut, Boulevard. A sample of a sample! Love both those tracks and their respective LPs.
This break along with the rest of the album is a lesson in dynamics. Most of the tracks start of steady and relaxed but inevitably end up raucous and rockin’. As a player in an instrumental band, this has helped me to develop my expression and intensity on the kit as a composition progresses to its climax.
Poets Of Rhythm – Ham Gallery (Max Weissenfeldt)
Towards the end of the nineties/start of the naughties, there was a real resurgence in Nu-Funk and soul. With saturated drums and often breaks galore, these pieces could be very hit and miss (depending on your taste). More style than substance. Then there was this! Discern / Define was and still is an exceptional LP, and “Ham Gallery” is the b-boy friendly dance floor pick of the bunch. Bouncy Stubblefield-esque snare work makes it turn around nicely.
The album was edited by DJ Shadow (maybe that’s why it’s so damn good!) and released via Ninja Tune. I’d like to take a moment to shout out Ninja Tune. A lot of my drum/production inspirations come from growing up around those super sample-heavy trip-hop/instrumental hip-hop albums they were putting out in the early 2000s. Mr. Scruff, Bonobo, Amon Tobin, DJ Food, Coldcut, The Herbaliser, Skalpel… I could go on and on.