DJ Kool Herc was the first to do it.
In 1972, he started spinning instrumental breaks, jumping from track to track whilst isolating the most dance-friendly element of the popular songs. He called this technique the 'Merry-Go-Round,' and it proved to be a crowd pleaser. As the year went on, Herc presumably continued to experiment with the idea. At a now-legendary Sedgwick Avenue party, Herc laid out his enduring musical contention: using two identical records, he seamlessly looped the break from James Brown's "Give It Up and Turnit a Loose," allowing resident hypeman and MC Coke La Rock to make feel-good announcements as the b-boys danced. Whilst there's no single moment in which the entirety of 'hip hop' was invented, it's hard to ignore the enormity of what happened in that Sedgwick Avenue recreation room on August 11, 1973.
The advent of the break revolutionised the way artists interacted with the past. It brought forth a generation of crate diggers, veterans of sifting through long-forgotten records searching for obscure instrumentals or malleable sounds. As hip hop spread from the Bronx, becoming a staple of East Coast block parties, disc jockeys would rely on stacks of vinyl records. These were a commodity - some were hard to find due to their popularity, whilst others were hard to find due to their obscurity.
In the late '70s, one Harlem-based producer, Paul Winley, started to collate a series of popular and useful breaks for fledgling DJs. Winley got his start writing for his brother's successful doo-wop outfit, The Clovers, subsequently signing to Atlantic Records and continuing his songwriting career out of the legendary Brill Building. After writing a swathe of hits throughout the '50s and '60s, Winley begun to branch into hip hop. The label released 12 Malcolm X records throughout the '70s, records which would be later sampled by the likes of Public Enemy, The Jungle Brothers and Schoolly D. It wasn't until the label released the illegal, unlicensed series of breakbeat compilations that Winley truly broke into the world of rap.
The first instalment of Super Disco Brake's was released in 1979, the very same year hip hop came to prominence with The Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight." Winley's Super Disco series spanned six instalments, released over the course of five years. These unsanctioned, 'under-the-table' offerings reproduced a mix of work ranging from popular and oft-sampled work to prospective breakbeats from amongst Winley's own roster. In a showing of familial love, Volumes 2 and 3 included tracks from Winley's wife and daughter, the latter an aspiring emcee in her own right.
The Super Disco Break's series is emblematic of hip hop's early history: an unlicensed, countercultural hustle underpinned by a truly egalitarian vision of musical involvement. In spreading breaks throughout the booming scene, Winley helped keep the musical movement accessible to anyone with a record player and the will to learn. In celebration of hip hop's forty-fifth birthday, we're going to break down the tracks included on the first-ever breakbeat compilation, charting their influence and place in the now-colossal genre.
Super Disco Brake's: Volume One
Volume One was released in 1979, the year that hip hop made the jump from Bronx parks and basketball courts to wax. The eight-track collection pulls popular breaks by Bob James, The Magic Disco Machine and Dennis Coffey, as well as less-popular additions from Pat Lundy, The New Birth and Creative Source. All in all, there are 800 samples on Volume One, more than half of which appear on the very first track.
The first track is Bob James' "Take Me to the Mardi Gras," an instrumental 1975 cover of Paul Simon's '73 single. It features a popular drum break.
The earliest identified sample is featured on Crash Crew's "Breaking Bells (Take Me to the Mardi Gras)," a 1982 Sugar Hill single produced by label matriarch Sylvia Robinson. It's since been sampled on over 400 tracks, including cuts by Run-DMC, A$AP Rocky, Beastie Boys, N.W.A, The Chemical Brothers, Ice Cube, Kurtis Blow and Slick Rick.
Pat Lundy's "Work Song" was released on Pyramid, a New York disco label active between '76 and '81.
Despite its appearance on this breakbeat compilation, the track never took off like James' "Take Me to the Mardi Gras" - it's been sampled in just one track, Big Daddy Kane's 1989 title track, "It's A Big Daddy Thing." Lundy's track is itself a cover of Cannonball Adderley Quartet's 1960 track.
Fred Wesley's and The J.B.'s "Blow Your Head." Wesley, a onetime member of Brown's backing band, also attained reverence in hip hop for his tenure in Parliament-Funkadelic.
The Magic Disco Machine were an outfit comprised of Motown musicians and producers. They released two records in '75 and '76.
"Scratchin'" was first sampled on Run-DMC's "Jam Master Jay," and notably appeared on MC Shan's "The Bridge," a 1986 track which started one of hip hop's most famous beefs. It's been sampled more than 100 times in the years since, appearing on tracks by Eric B. & Rakim, N.W.A and Slick Rick.
The fourth featured artists, New Birth were a funk group formed by two Motown alumni. "Got To Get a Knutt" was included on their 1972 LP, Birth Day, and makes reference to many commercial slogans of the day.
"I Can Understand It," though the biggest hit off New Birth's Birth Day, has never been sampled. A cover of Bobby Womack's original, released the same year, it peaked at #35 on the Hot 100.
New Birth, sometimes referred to as The New Birth, went by multiple names: they released five albums as The Nite-Lighters and two as Love, Peace and Happiness, though New Birth was the only title they used after 1973.
The first of two Creative Source tracks featured on the Super Disco Brake's series, "Corazon" is a cover of a similarly-named Carole King song. Creative Source, a West Coast funk group, released their four albums in just three years.
Volume One closes with Dennis Coffey's "Scorpio."
"Scorpio" is the only track on Volume One to have been sampled prior to its inclusion - it appeared on the sole 1976 single by Belgian band Sex Convention. It's since been sampled in classic tracks by Young MC, Public Enemy, The Fugees and Lord Finesse & DJ Smooth. It's also well known through the short version of the Futurama Theme, in which it appears.
Super Disco Brake's: Volume Two
The second instalment, also released in 1979, features more prominent breakbeats that its predecessor. Volume Two has turned out 1767 samples, more than 80 percent of which come from "Funky Drummer," a true staple of hip hop percussion.
Amazingly, James Brown's "Funky Drummer" wasn't sampled until 1985, when it appeared on MC Quick Quintin and MC Mello J.'s "The Classy M.C.s." Since then, the distinctive drum break has become one of the most sampled of all time, appearing on over 1,400 tracks.
The titular "funky drummer" is Clyde Stubblefield, who retired from Brown's group just one year after playing the break. He moved to Madison, Wisconsin, where he lived until his death in 2017.
The break on Juice's "Catch A Groove," whilst less pervasive than Brown's "Funky Drummer," is an oft-sampled hip hop staple.
In the years since its 1983 sample debut, the break has appeared on tracks by Beastie Boys, EPMD, Public Enemy (repeatedly) and Boogie Down Productions. It also appeared on Jazzy Jay's "Def Jam," the eponymous single released on the Russell Simmons/Rick Rubin label.
A true businessman, Winley inserted some of his own tracks onto the otherwise-unsanctioned Super Disco Break's records. Harlem Underground Band's "Smokin Cheeba-Cheeba" was produced by Winley and released on his label in 1976
A classic in its own right, Bill Withers' 1972 single, "Use Me," is an infrequently sampled track with some pretty notable credits.
The track made the first of its 36 appearances on "Księżniczka Mego Serca," a 1976 Polish track. The prominent drum break, which occurs at 0:58, has since appeared on Kendrick Lamar's "Sing About Me, I'm Dying Of Thirst," the beating heart of GKMC, and tracks by UGK and Nas.
Cyamande's "Dove" was included on their 1972 debut. Winley Records released a number of Cymande singles throughout the late '70s and early '80s, though they were only signed to the label for their final 1981 record. It appears that Winley Records distributed singles from their third LP, which went unreleased in the US.
Whilst The Meters have become an oft-sampled group in hip hop, "Sophisticated Cissy" is not one of their more notable tracks. It's been sampled just twice in the years since Winley included it on this breakbeat compilation: once by Boogie Down Productions, and once by Heather Victoria. The track was sampled once before, on I-Roy's 1973 track "Dr. Who." If anything, the failure of this included track shows how unpredictable the task of selecting breaks can be.
The last track on Volume 2 isn't a break at all - it's a soul track by Paul Winley's wife, Ann Winley.
Though she released just three singles in her career, Ann Winley wrote tracks for Winley Records signees Harlem Underground Band and George Benson. "Watch Dog" was originally included on a two-part single featuring "Rhymin' and Rappin'," a 1979 hip hop duet from her daughters, Paulette and Tanya Winley.
Super Disco Brake's: Volume Three
Volume Three arrived in 1980, and featured two tracks from Winley-represented artists: Tanya Winley, Paul's daughter, and British funk outfit Cymande. The tracks on Volume Three have turned out 739 samples, with a solid 534 coming from Incredible Bongo Band's "Apache."
The second Cyamande track in the Super Disco Brake's series, "Bra," was included on their 1972 self-titled debut. The track has proved more popular with producers than "Dove," appearing in 27 tracks since the release of Volume Three.
One of the most recognisable breaks in early hip hop was a holdover from the infancy of the genre. In fact, Incredible Bongo Band's "Apache" was one of the three tracks used by DJ Kool Herc in the first ever 'Merry Go Round,' the name he gave to his the technique of seamlessly switching from break-to-break. It's since been sampled over 500 times - the track has most famously appeared on Sugarhill Gang's "Apache" and Grandmaster Flash's "The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel."
Nestled in the middle of Volume Three is another Winley family addition: Tanya Winley's "Vicious Rap." Both of Paul Winley's daughters - Tanya and Paulette - were emcees in the early days of recorded hip hop, and both issued singles on the Paul Winley Records label. The pair were possibly the first recorded female emcees.
"Vicious Rap" was sampled just once, by D.I.T.C.'s Diamond D on his 1992 track, "Best Kept Secrets."
Though it's errantly credited as "Hustlers Rap," the Lightnin' Rod track included on Volume Three is "Sport."
Jalal Mansur Nuriddin's 1973 record, along with the rest of The Last Poets' catalogue, was a huge influence on hip hop - Hustlers Convention has been called the first rap album. This track has been sampled on cuts by Wu-Tang Clan, Jungle Brothers, Black Moon and Beastie Boys.
Manu Dibango's "Soul Makossa," released in 1972, has been sampled over 50 times. It was sampled 4 times prior to appearing on Volume 3, most notably by KC and the Sunshine Band in 1974.
The track is most famous for its inclusion on Michael Jackson's "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'," included on 1984's Thriller. In hip hop, however, it's perhaps most recognised for its brief interpolation in Kanye West's "Lost In The World."
Another world music track, "Funky Nassau" is courtesy of The Beginning Of The End. The Bahamas-based five-piece funk outfit released just two albums - "Funky Nassau," the title track from their debut, peaked at #15 on the Billboard 100.
The influential track has been frequently sampled, appearing on tracks by Jungle Brothers and NxWorries, as well as on Stop The Violence Movement's "Self Destruction," an all star 1989 initiative aimed at curbing violence in hip hop.
The final track on Volume Three is an odd inclusion, and has never since been sampled.
Wagadugu's "Easy Dancing" is an example of the upbeat 'Highlife' genre, a Ghanan musical movement which evolved out of traditional Akan music. Unlike traditional Akan music, Highlife is played on Western instruments. The Ghanan outfit released just three doubled-sided singles between '75 and '79.
Super Disco Brake's: Volume Four
Released in 1984, Volume Four is a least prolific of the compilations. The album boasts relatively meagre 271 samples throughout, with 191 of those sourced from Cerrone's live rendition of "Rocket in the Pocket."
French outfit Martin Circus were founded as a rock group and, on releasing their 1968 debut, they were amongst the first rock musicians to use the French language. They later pivoted to disco, as can be seen on "Disco Circus."
"Disco Circus" has been sampled 36 times in the years since, though it hasn't appeared on any hits - it was first sampled on Fresh's "Dum-Dum," a 1984 house track. Fresh, real name Jesse Saunders, released the first house record earlier that year.
"Rocket in the Pocket" is another dance tune, this time from French disco composer Cerrone.
It seems most likely that the version included on Volume Four was taken from a 1979 live LP. That version has been sampled over 190 times, first appearing on the Cold Crush Brothers' "1981 / Other MC's," a battle recorded in Harlem. It's since appeared in cuts by LL Cool J, Beastie Boys, Deltron 3030, MC Lyte and JJ Fad.
The second appearance of Creative Source comes as a cover of Bill Withers' 1972 hit "Who Is He (And What Is He To You?)." Unlike "Corazon," included on Volume One, "Who Is He (And What Is He To You?)" has been sampled a handful of times.
The track was first sampled in 1975, when the bassline appeared on "Kiss Me Neck," a reggae track. It hasn't been sampled since its appearance on LL Cool J's 1997 track, "Phenomenon."
As Captain Sky, Daryl Cameron released four albums and a few loose singles. The eccentric funk singer was active for a little more than a decade.
"Super Sporm" is taken from his 1979 debut, The Adventures of Captain Sky, which debuted outlandish costumed stylings in the vein of George Clinton. "Super Sporm" has been sampled in tracks by Wu-Tang Clan, BDP, Afrika Bambaataa, Public Enemy and 2Pac.
The next track on the compilation is The Blackbyrds' "Unfinished Business." The Blackbyrds were a funk-jazz group founded by students of Donald Byrd. They released seven albums before their disbanding in '81, and released a new album upon reuniting in 2012.
WhoSampled lists just a single sample: C.I.N.'s "Drinkin' and Drivin'," a 1995 release by the short-lived Bay Area hip hop group.
The 8th Day's debut single, "She's Not Just Another Woman," was their highest-charting hit. The track was written by legendary songwriting team Holland-Dozier-Holland, though they released it under a pseudonym.
Super Disco Brake's: Volume Five
Though it contains more samples than its predecessor, Volume Five is still amongst the least successful instalments of the series. The eight tracks on Volume Five have turned out 342 samples, with James Brown's "Get on the Good Foot" providing 213 alone.
Brown's catalogue forms the backbone of hip hop breaks, with many of his tracks appearing on hundreds of songs. It first appeared on "No Me Dejan Salir," a new wave track by Argentinian legend Charly García.
The second appearance by the Incredible Bongo Band is their lesser-known "Bongo Rock." It's understandable that it's more obscure - few songs are as famous in hip hop as "Apache."
Parliament's "Give Up The Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker)" is one of their most enduring P-Funk jams. The group, one-half of George Clinton's famous Parliament-Funkadelic collective, were an important force in the evolution of funk music throughout the '70s and '80s.
The Politicians' "Free You Mind," a 1972 soul track, has been sampled just 12 times. The Politicians, the in-house band for Hot Wax Records, released just one record: The Politicians Featuring McKinley Jackson. Coincidentally, McKinley Jackson was a onetime member of Parliament.
Another track that has since garnered absolute no samples is Ray Charles' "America The Beautiful."
One of his most enduring tracks, Charles performed his cover of the 1893 poem at both the World Series and the Super Bowl. It was originally included on Charles' 1972 LP, A Message From The People, and featured composition from then-young producer Quincy Jones.
Another James Brown track, though this by way of the Brown-produced Maceo and the Macks cut, "Parrty." Maceo and the Macks were a mid-'70s project fronted by saxophonist Maceo Parker. Both Maceo and Macks member Fred Wesley were a part of both Brown's band throughout the '60s and Parliament-Funkadelic throughout the '70s.
Grover Washington, Jr.'s "Masterpiece" was originally included on his third album, 1973's two-part LP, Soul Box. The 13-minute track was a unique cover of the track of the same name by The Temptations, released earlier the same year. It was written by Motown legend Norman Whitfield.
The first sample of the track after its inclusion on Volume Five came on MC Hammer's 1991 song, "Brothers Hang On."
A Belgian latin funk outfit, The Chakachas were a prolific and occasionally popular outfit. Though the group found some success, "Jungle Fever" proved to be their one-hit wonder. The track, which peaked at #8 on the Billboard 100, went Gold the year after release.
Super Disco Brake's: Volume Six
The sixth and final instalment of Winley's original SDB series was released in 1984. The tracks within have provided 414 samples, the bulk of which are - unsurprisingly - taken from James Brown's "Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine," which has been sampled 187 times.
Barrabás - a Spanish latin rock outfit named for the biblical convict freed instead of Jesus by Pontius Pilate - released 12 albums over their three-decade career. "Woman" was included on Wild Safari, their 1971 debut.
The track has been sampled just four times, and has never appeared on a hip hop track. It was most notably featured on a 1989 remix of Dusty Springfield's "In Private."
Another Brown song, another staple of hip hop culture. Brown's 1970 single "Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine" was first sampled by Lorel and Harty on their 1981 disco mega-mix, "The Amazing Adventures Of Jungle Jenny (Long Version)."
Eddie Kendricks' "Girl You Need a Change of Mind," though largely unsuccessful as a single, has been described as one of the first disco records. Kendricks, a founding member of The Temptations, included the track on his second solo LP.
It was first sampled in 1984, the same year this compilation was released, on Chuck Chillout's "Hip Hop On Wax - Volume 1." The song was later sampled on tracks by Pete Rock & CL Smooth, Diamond D and Poor Righteous Teachers.
Curtis Mayfield's "Superfly" is legendary in its own right - it's the title track to a soundtrack that famously outgrossed its accompanying film. The album, a harsh indictment of drug dealing, remains classics of '70s soul.
"Cuttin' It Up" was an album track by mildly successful R&B group L.T.D.. Their name stood for Love, Togetherness and Devotion. "Cuttin' It Up" was released in '81, two years after Winley released Volume One of his unlicensed breaks series.
Jimmy 'Bo' Horne's 1979 disco single "Spank," though it never placed on the Billboard 100, found some success on the R&B charts. Horne retired from music in the mid-'90s, moving full time into the event management company he founded in 1976.
Like Eddie Kendricks' earlier track, The Jimmy Castor Bunch's "It's Just Begun" is an early disco tune. Their other much-sampled track, "Troglodyte (Cave Man)," appeared on the same LP.
The popular 1972 cut has appeared in more than 130 tracks, including joints by Pharrell, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Eric B. & Rakim, Jamiroquai, Jungle Brothers, Ultramagnetic MCs and The 45 King.
A famous novelty track, Rufus Thomas' "Do The Funky Chicken" became the artist's calling card. Alongside "Walking The Dog," another of his novelty records, it remains his most memorable cut.
The series has since been recognised as the first ever breakbeat compilation, issued just six years after the practice was introduced by DJ Kool Herc in that legendary Sedgwick Avenue rec room. Though it's a significant accolade, little attention has been paid to Winley and his groundbreaking contributions to hip hop culture.
His relationship with hip hop soon soured: whilst Winley Records was the first to release any material by Universal Zulu Nation founder Afrika Bambaataa, their relationship with the legendary DJ deteriorated throughout the '70s. The label soon closed under the weight of copyright infringement lawsuits, and Winley's involvement in hip hop came to an end. The closure of Winley Records cut short the careers of Paulette and Tanya, and two pioneering female emcees became largely-unheralded yet significant figures in hip hop.
Winley's collection of breakbeat records are more than just the popularity of the beats within - they're historical artefacts of an important era in hip hop. Super Disco Brake's charts hip hop's transition from live performances to accessible vinyl, bridging the sonic sensibilities of pure hip hop with the potential offered by studio recording. It was a staple of the past and present that impacted the future, allowing popular breaks to be more easily disseminated amongst the flourishing grassroots scene. This idea would be expanded on by the Ultimate Breaks and Beats series, a legally licensed collection of 25 breakbeat LPs released between '86 and '91. Regrettably, this essential collection would overshadow Winley's earlier work.
As for the man himself, there's little to be gleamed: though his age is unknown, it stands to reason that Winley would have been born sometime in the late '20s or early '30s. Whether or not he's alive also seems a mystery, his chronology all but ending after the disillusion of Winley Records. Perhaps the best online resource comes in the form of an interesting 1998 interview with Winley, unearthed earlier this year by Red Bull Music. It's the story of a cult figure instrumental in the foundation of hip hop as we know it, and is worth a read for any fans of the genre.