This was the first rap song to sell over 500,000 copies, earning a certified Gold record. The album was also the first rap record released on a major label. Kurtis signed with Mercury Records early in 1980.
Kurtis told Songfacts: "The concept was created as a tribute to all the breakers in and around the South Bronx and Harlem back in the early days of hip-hop. I wanted to do a tribute song with many breaks so that the breakers could get down and do their thing. When we danced during the breaks of a song, that was our time to go off - to do our best moves."
Many rap songs in this early age relied on samples, but this one is all original, created with live instruments.
Kurtis took the idea for this song to his producers, J.B. Moore and Robert Ford. J.B. came up with the concept of other implied meanings for "breaks," like brakes on a bus or a car, good breaks or bad breaks in life. Says Kurtis: "He referred back to this old song, a philosophy song, I think it came out in 1920 or something, where a guy was talking, saying - 'Oh, your girlfriend left you, and you lost your job and your car got towed away, well don't worry, tomorrow the sun will shine and everything will be alright' - good breaks and bad breaks can happen in life, but don't worry because there's always another tomorrow. We wanted to repeat that concept and have the many meanings within one song. We put it together and had the greatest musicians play - John Tropea on guitar, Jimmy Bralower on drums, Larry Smith, who went on to produce Run-D.M.C. and Whoodini played the bass, Denzil Miller on keyboard."
This ran 7:43 and was released as a 12-inch single, which was the same size as a record but contained just one song on each side, allowing for much longer songs than a typical 45 RPM single would hold. It became the second certified Gold 12-inch in all of music. The first was Donna Summer and Barbra Streisand's "No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)
," which came out in 1979.
Kurtis: "There was no real marketing for the song, no plan. We just wanted to make a kick-ass record and that's exactly what we did. The clubs ate it up. You couldn't find a club in America during the summer of 1980 that would not play this song around 12, 1 o'clock in the morning."
The short-lived European group Los Umbrellos recorded a Flamenco version of this song called "Flamenco Funk" in 1997. Los Umbrellos had a minor hit that year with "No Tengo Dinero
Tom "T-Bone" Wolk played bass on this track, which got the attention of Hall and Oates, who enlisted him to join their backup band. Wolk played on many of the duo's hits as well as songs by Billy Joel, Robert Palmer and Elvis Costello before his death from a heart attack in 2010 at age 58.
Kurtis performed this song on Soul Train, whose host and creator Don Cornelius told the rapper after the performance, "It doesn't make sense to old guys like me... I don't understand why they love it so much."
Cornelius, who was typically far more ingratiating to his guests, was expressing how many in his generation felt about the emergence of hip-hop. Kurtis was gracious about it, but disappointed by Cornelius' reaction. The Soul Train host kept with the times, however, and had many more rappers on the show as the trend shifted in that direction. By adapting the show to the musical landscape, Cornelius kept Soul Train on the air for 35 years.