The internet is home to a lot of questionably legal breakbeat collections like Drumaddikt and Cyberworm’s Sample Blog. “Cold Sweat” by James Brown is always included in these collections. It’s beloved equally by hip-hop and drum n bass producers. The break is at 4:30.
There’s probably a whole generation of producers who have sliced and diced this beat without having heard the actual song. I’m sure the same is true of “The Funky Drummer” and “Apache.” Beyond the break, “Cold Sweat” is a remarkable piece of music, way out ahead of its time. On James Brown’s album of the same name, it’s sitting alongside jazz standards like “Nature Boy” and some boilerplate blues and R&B. Compared to those more traditional songs, “Cold Sweat” sounds like it belongs in another era entirely. It has a radically simple two-chord structure and an African-influenced intricacy to its rhythmic groove, and it still sounds pretty fresh more than thirty years later.
“Cold Sweat” was written by the Famous Flames’ bandleader Pee Wee Ellis, seeded by a bassline James Brown came up with vocally. Ellis says he got his horn line from “So What” by Miles Davis, which has been the basis for many other tunes as well. Hear a mashup of “Cold Sweat” with “So What” and other related tunes.
As befits a song based on a musical quotation, “Cold Sweat” has been sampled widely. Here’s a sample map; click to see it bigger.
“Welcome To The Terrordome” is an unusually dense web of samples, even by Public Enemy standards. It includes several other James Brown samples, including “Give It Up Or Turnit A-Loose,” “Get Up, Get into It, Get Involved” and “Soul Power.” And “Welcome To The Terrordome” has itself been sampled and quoted many times, by KRS-One, Non Phixion and Ice Cube, among others.
“Cold Sweat” is so influential that Mongo Santamaria’s cover version spawned a hot breakbeat of its own. It’s at 2:21.
RJD2, composer of the Mad Men theme song, uses Mongo Santamaria’s beat in “The Chicken-Bone Circuit.”
Ultramagnetic MCs love “Cold Sweat” almost as much as Public Enemy. They use the James Brown version on “Kool Keith Housing Things.”
And they use the Mongo Santamaria version in “Feelin’ It.”
Finally, I myself use the Cold Sweat break in the first track from my forthcoming Delia Derbyshire remix project.
Here’s how to program the Cold Sweat break on a drum machine. Give the drummer some!