Breakbeat or sometimes just "breaks" is a broad genre used in description of a collection of sub-genres of Electronic Dance Music, generally identified by the use of a non-standard 4/4 drum pattern, as opposed to the steady beat of House, Techno or Trance. The rhythms and beats in Breakbeat can be noted by their use of syncopation.
Towards the end of the 1970s and into the early 1980s, Hip Hop DJs began to use breaks (the section in a Funk or Jazz song where the music “breaks” and gives way to the rhythm section to play unaccompanied). Kool DJ Herc’s breakbeat style was to play the same record on two turntables and play the break repeatedly by alternating between the two records.
This inspiration was improved upon by early Hip Hop DJs Afrika Bambaataa and Grand Wizard Theodore. This all gained a lot of popularity in clubs, because of the extended Breakbeat gave a great backdrop for breakdancers to present their skills.
"The Amen Break", which was taken from The Winston’s song “Amen, Brother” is widely taken to be the most used break ever, it was even the break used on “King of the Beats” by Mantronix, and has taken by countless other songs. Another popular breaks was from James Brown’s “Funky Drummer” and “Give it Up or Turnit a Loose”.
Into the early 1990s, many Acid House producers started to make use of breakbeat samples, to create breakbeat hardcore, also known as Rave. The Hardcore scene then split into sub genres, for example, Jungle and Drum n Bass, a number of these songs had a darker style. A good example would be Goldie’s album ‘Timeless’.
With the advent of digital sampling and computer based music editing, breakbeats became a lot easier to create and use, the computer provided the producer with an easier way to do stuff, instead of cutting and splicing tape sections or constantly backspinning 2 records at the same time, computer programs could be used to cut, paste, and loop breakbeats endlessly. Digital filters, reverb, reversing, time stretching, and pitch shifting became available with great ease as well, one popular example of this would be The Prodigy. The advantage of sampled breakbeats over a drum machine is that the sampled breakbeats sound like a real live drummer is playing them, which, of course, was initially true.
With the rise in popularity of breakbeat music and the advent of computers, breakbeat sample CDs became readily available, often without the knowledge of the original artists. Sadly "The Winstons", who hold the copyright to the Amen Break, which was commonly used in this context, have not received any royalties for use of the Amen break.