We take a look at one of dance music’s most well loved samples, the ‘Think’ break, taken from Lyn Collin’s classic funk track ‘Think (About It)’.
According to Whosampled.com‘s comprehensive database of sampling, ‘Think (About It)’ is the second most sampled track in history, behind only the Winston’s genre-creating ‘Amen, Brother’. The Winston’s classic drum break has been sampled at least 5378 times. ‘Think (About It)’ has been sampled at least 3017 times (‘at least’ because there are plenty of bootlegs, re-edits, dubplates and promo-only tunes that aren’t listed). And its influence reaches out beyond dance music too, with mainstream artists like Right Said Fred, Michael Jackson, 2 Unlimited and Boyz II Men using the ‘Think’ break too.
‘Think (About It)’ was released by US soul singer Lyn Collins in 1972. It was a James Brown production, played by his revolutionary early 70s band the JBs. Its drum breaks and tambourine break, along with the ‘Amen’, ‘Apache’, ‘Hot Pants’ and ‘Funky Drummer’ breaks would go on to be sampled thousands of times. The very sound and character of UK hardcore, jungle and drum and bass has been at least partly defined by just a few breakbeats and ‘Think’ can be thought of as a ‘foundational’ building block of UK dance music.
It is unique among the ‘classic’ breaks in that there are actually several drum sections that get sampled. Played by then-JBs drummer John “Jabo” Starks, the famous “yeh, woo!” drum break appears at 1.21, followed by another much sampled 1 bar break at 1.34. Then there’s the “too bad hank” version at 2:02, at 2.15 there’s another clean 1 bar of drums and at 2:21 there’s also possibly the finest tambourine loop ever recorded to wax.
Tailor Jae: “…the snares have such great tonality and are really punchy”
London DJ Tailor Jae is a fan of the ‘Think’ break and its tambourine section. “I’ve found that the ‘Think’ tambourines often help lift a break sequence. It’s great used as a layer underneath other breaks, but can also shine in its own right. The break is extremely distinctive and versatile with the little vocal stabs helping it to be instantly recognisable. It’s also got a great groove and the snares have such great tonality and are really punchy.”
‘Think’ spent six weeks on the Billboard chart in Autumn 1972 then languished in obscurity for a few years. Popular on London’s early-to-mid 80s rare groove scene, ‘Think’ was given a new lease of life when it got a re-release in 1986. Polydor had been alarmed to find that much of their James Brown and related artists catalogue was being bootlegged due to their popularity at rare groove parties and so began to re-release them. ‘Think’ first re-appeared on ‘James Brown’s Funky People Volume 1’. The following year it also appeared on ‘Ultimate Breaks and Beats 16’, the same year as the Emu SP1200 sampler was released and it began appearing on hip hop records by Salt N Pepa, the Cookie Crew, Grandmaster Flash, Kool Moe D, Spoonie Gee and Sugar Bear.
By 1989 it was ubiquitous, appearing on hundreds of hip hop, house and hip house records from the likes of Heavy D and the Boyz, De La Soul, MC Mell’O, Inner City, Roxanne Shanté, FPI Project, Sly and Robbie, Janet Jackson, Nightmares on Wax, Steve Silk Hurley and many more. Breaks lovers Lennie D and Frankie Bones also used it on their ‘Just As Long As I Got You’ in ’89 too, a record that was influential on the UK’s burgeoning hardcore scene which would soon birth jungle, then drum & bass.
US hip house producers were keen on it in the late 80s as well. Tyree Cooper used it on ‘Turn Up The Bass’, Let the Music Take Control’, ‘Hardcore Hip House’ and in his ’87 remix of Fast Eddie’s ‘Let’s Go’. Fast Eddie was also using it himself on ‘Acid Thunder’ and ‘Yo Yo Get Funky’ in ’88. And obviously it was used liberally on Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock’s huge ‘It Takes Two’ in 1988.
Sped up funk breaks were appearing in countless hardcore records in the early 90s and the ‘Think’ break was used in, amongst others, Insomnia’s ‘Down To Earth’, A Guy Called Gerald’s prescient ‘Musical Magical Midi Machine’, piano tunes like Part-E’s ‘Give Me Your Love’ and rave tracks like Under the Influence’s ‘Lost in Music’ or The Skeleton Krew’s ‘Luv to Luv Ya’.
Submorphics: “…it always brings a timelessness party vibe…”
Without the sampled drums of seventies funk records, drum & bass would have sounded very different indeed. D&B artist Submorphics has recorded on Hospital, Shogun and Metalheadz and has used the ‘Think’ break in his productions: “It’s so versatile and usable because of its loose, raw and funky feel with plenty of shuffle in the hi-hats. I love it because it is constantly being redefined, yet always brings a timelessness party vibe to any track it’s used in.”.
As jungle proper began to emerge in ’93, influential, genre-defining tunes like Origin Unknown ‘Vally of the Shadows’ and the Foul Play remix of Omni Trio’s ‘Renegade Snares’ both used the ‘Think’ break. ’93 was also the year of Goldie’s ‘Ghosts Of My Life’ and Nookie’s ‘Shining In The Darkness’, a pair of ‘Think’ break tracks that dropped on the influential Reinforced label. Through all these releases you can hear the break slowly mutating as it gets sped up, chopped, processed and re-sampled. Its tone and timbre was subtly altered every time a producer did something new with it. As tempos increased and the break was pitched up further, the vocal components often became abstracted, changing from human into the squawks and tics of a tinny robot menangeire.
Drumskull: “It’s incredibly satisfying to slice up & build into multiple variations of itself.”
London DJ and producer Drumskull has used the ‘Think’ break a few times and thinks that in addition to its musical content, the associations that it brings up are also part of its charm: “It’s the playing in the original drum pattern and the variety of pitch and tonal qualities in the drum hits that bring interest to a track. It completely lends itself to being looped and sliced and quickly brings a funkiness along with the vocal adlibs that bring energy. When it’s looped up close to its original tempo it’s immediately reminiscent of 80s hip hop while when it’s pitched up it brings the energy, excitement and flavour of early hardcore and rave. It’s also just incredibly satisfying to slice up and build into multiple variations of itself.”
By the mid-90s, the ’Think’ break was getting solidly rinsed out in jungle tunes like ‘Bastards’ from Shut Up and Dance, ‘Burial’ by Leviticus or DJ Hype’s ‘Roll The Beats’ as well as sitting underneath the frenetic Amen-ageddon of Remarc’s ‘Sound Murderer’ and his classic ragga-jungle cut ‘RIP’. But UK producers like Mark Archer, formerly of rave outfit Altern-8 were also using it in their house productions (‘Bells of N.Y.’ Xen Mantra’s Beefy Bell’s Mix). Likewise, Underworld and the Chemical Brothers also used the ‘Think’ break at house/techno tempos in the mid-90s.
As jungle developed into drum & bass, ‘Think’ breaks were used liberally in the smooth, jazz-inflected drum & bass from the likes of LTJ Bukem, Doc Scott, Peshay and Hidden Agenda. Tunes like PFM’s massive ‘Dreams’ and their ‘Western Tune’ both from ’95 on Bukem’s Looking Good label took the ‘Think’ and sped it up to become a twinkling, rattling layer of rolling percussion on top of their deep synths and warm pads. Ed Rush and Dillinja also both put out a series of searing ‘Think’ tracks in the mid-90s. Photek and Shy FX both used it and Roni Size’s influential ‘It’s A Jazz Thing’ from ’94 also featured a highly manipulated ‘Think’.
In 1999 Squarepusher used it several times in his ‘Selection Sixteen’ album, with ‘Mind Rubbers’ in particular with its twin ‘Amen’ and ‘Think’ snare-attack taking finely tuned precision beat science another step. By 2002, ‘Think’ was still a regular part of drum & bass records like Loxyy and DJ Ink’s ‘Heavy Metal’ and Styles of Beyond’s ‘Subculture’ but was also getting used by producers like Luke Vibert to bring some funk to his raw acid breaks track ‘Acid2000’. And this is the interesting part of the ‘Think’ story. Far from being overused, despite being sampled on literally thousands of tracks in the 90s, the last two decades have seen artists as disparate as Special Request, Four Tet, Franky Wah, Mella D, Floating Points, Overmono, Chase & Status, Lone, Octo Octa, Skee Mask, Jamie XX and Radio Slave all return to the ‘Think’ break, often with exciting new results.
At least part of ‘Think (About It)’ was derived from ‘Think’ by the 5 Royales from 1957. James Brown was well known both for his dictatorial production style and for taking credit for the musical contributions from his band and singers, and it’s possible that Collins also contributed lyrics or melody to ‘Think’. Certainly, the feminist lyrical content of the intro doesn’t sound like something Brown would write. Collins passed away in 2005, Brown in 2006 and the number of surviving members of his band goes down every year so we’ll probably never truly know how much of ‘Think’ was down to Collins or Brown.
But regardless, Lyn Collins was a highly talented singer, with a small but excellently-formed back catalogue and her contribution to modern music deserves to be acknowledged. James Brown’s band, the JBs contained some of the most influential musicians in modern music history, and drummer John ‘Jabo’ Starks’ ‘Think’ drum beat became one of the most influential rhythms ever recorded. He and the rest of the funk musicians who turned Brown’s vision into timeless music should always be remembered.