Sometimes technologies only become impactful after they become obsolete. And that is what the TR-808 rhythm composer machine represents – an old technology that has more impact today than ever.
You may now know this instrument, simply referred to as the 808, but I bet you have heard about it, especially through the hip-hop world.
Value for Money
- Sound features not like real percussion
- Highly adaptable
- Roland’s TR-808 is best described as the “classic of classics.”
- Limited in sound capabilities
Those who understand the percussion of Marvin Gaye’s hit “Sexual Healing” of 1982 understand what I am talking about. Listen to those bursts on kick and snare drums. Consider how they flow within the robotic tics and claps than mingle flawlessly.
That is how one can use the product to create a bridge from one exciting moment to another. It is a magical operation that no one can explain as seen in “Sexual Healing.”
“Sexual Desire” was released more than 40 years ago to become one of the most popular hits globally.
However, the 808 went out of production less than a year after the song flooded the global airwaves. But its impact created a perfect world for building more of such machines.
Soon, its successors took over the mantle to revolutionize the music industry.
How the 808 Revolutionized Music?
Hip and pop music fans should understand more about the 808 than anyone else. This iconic 808 was created in 1980 by Ikutaro Kakehashi.
Since its creation, a lot has happened on the market. And even though it was discontinued 36 months later, the machine’s popularity had already covered a vast ground.
It delivers incredible bassoon power, which makes every artist want it.
Finding the perfect low-frequency has never been easy. But the 808 will blow your speakers if they are not strong enough. That should be your goal anyway if you are looking for the real banger.
History of the 808
Kakehashi died recently at the age of 87 years, but he left behind a legacy that carries his name, and he continues to live through it.
It is incredible how he started by repairing broken watches at age 16 and later graduated with a degree in 1960.
His name became known in 1960 when he started the Roland Foundation, where he created the synthesizer and drum machines. It was during this period that the TR-808 was built.
As one of the earliest programmable machines in the industry, the 808 has completely changed the industry. It is the force behind a new sound of popular music.
How it changed the industry
The 808 came with sound features that were not like real percussion. And that is what made it different. Some people thought of it as more of a toy that makes noise than a serious musical instrument.
But the sounds carried a more ‘futuristic’ interpretation of normal sound tones in hip-hop and other genres. They included bass drums, snare, and cymbals, among many others.
However, it was the powerful bass drum output that brought the machine to light.
The machine failed commercially after its first launch in 1980. This is because many did not take it with the seriousness it has now.
At the time, electronic music was not yet a thing. Most drummers could not even try using such machines because they did not offer realistic sounding.
The Linn LM-1 was 808’s main rival. It had crispier sound tunes and was more successful in sales.
Nevertheless, Roland built the 808 to attract a particular group of producers. It was more affordable, at $1200 compared to the $5000 of the LM-1.
Also, the machine featured a more straightforward interface and carried 16 analog sound options onboard. Later, it became one of the most popular drum machines in hit records than any other product.
You can hear it in popular hits like Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” and “Talking Heads” by Psycho Killers.
The machines generally created a revolution in the formation of all areas of music. But it was the hip-hop world that received more attention than all.
Subgenres like Miami bass, acid house, and Detroit techno also changed due to the machines – all thanks to the 808.
Before its production, producers had a very difficult work creating original music. They would dig for samples and then loop them in different ways to create original patterns. This was not an easy task.
Hence, the arrival of the 808 and eventually other drum machines was a huge relief. Samples and live drummers are no longer necessary.
The 808 carried a ‘robotic’ and ‘toy-like’ sound that producers tweaked their own patterns from. As such, it was easy for anyone to produce music.
In other words, the 808 and other similar products gave rise to a new era of “bedroom producers.” People like Rick Rubin and Pete Rock started making music from a different place without requiring a large studio.
The first real appearance of the 808 was with the Afrika Bambaataa in 1982. He used it in his record “Planet Rock,” and it soon became a huge hit.
Breaking the walls
Before the 808 came to life, every genre stood alone. It required special drummers and instruments to create specific music.
But the machine changed all that by breaking down the walls between genres. Close to four decades down the line, hip-hop still depends on it.
A wide range of copycat kits has come up sharing the mimic of its original sounds. Sharp hi-hat, snare, and cowbell sounds can be heard similar to what the instrument carried.
Simply put, these are sought-after sound choices in all genres of music through electronic instruments. But producers have claimed the copycats are nowhere near the real sounds.
In the end, the 808 found use with iconic stands like Run-DMC, Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, and many others. At a certain point, Kanye West dedicated a whole album to the 808 sounds by using it in every song.
In “Love Lockdown,” West uses the 808 sound at the beginning, which is like a heartbeat. This is where things get more interesting just to explain how important the instrument was.
The hip-hop collaboration between Afrika Bambaataa and Soul Sonic Force called “Planet Rock” is another perfect example.
Hip-hop, as a culture, took the 808 very seriously for its drum sounds. It was then not only a tool for producers but everything that defined the genre’s sound.
Many top performers have used the instrument in their work, creating a whole world of new songs. Trying it for the first time can feel a bit overwhelming though.
Outside the hip-hop world, the 808 legacies have found roots in many other genres, especially pop. From early works like “Clear” by Cybotron to the latest entries like “Gosh” by Jammie XX, the 808 has elevated the pop music industry.
Present-day EDM has also found an excellent use for drum machines. Artists like Diplo and David Guetta have found its elements useful in singles and collaborations.
The 808 was highly adaptable, which made it easy to break the walls between genres. Some of the collaborations between the biggest names in different spaces were made possible by the machine.
Its features were like that of an open-sourced sound. Hence, different artists used it to build each other through showcased collaborations.
For instance, Lil Jon and Usher worked on “Yeah” together, bringing out a unique collaboration with an R n B singer, bringing Usher into the light again.
Artists were forced to think differently, thanks to the legendary Roland TR-808. They did not focus on the beat construction anymore but on the flows and melodies.
Even today, the 808 continues to be a crucial aspect of different genres. Its legacy has kept evolving by that day, making it even more useful than ever.
Roland’s TR-808 drum machine documentary
If you don’t believe in the TR-808 drum machine’s power, you should consider the full-length documentary called 808 dedicated to tracking its importance.
Roland created this documentary to mark the drum machine’s 40 years of existence. It is clearly a huge opportunity for the company to showcase its role in the music industry.
Roland seeks to explain why the drum machines are still a major player in the world of music. Its distinctive drum and cymbal tunes have been used on more hit songs than you would imagine. They have created a significant change for genres like rap, hip-hop, and techno.
Groups like 808 State even based their names on it, just to show how important that machine is.
It is certainly not the only electronic instrument to leave a footprint in the music world, but it might be the only one many musicians know.
No one can resist the cheeky congas, the corroded chime of the cowbell, the parched and cruel snare, and the hard bloom of air on the bass drum. The 808 is a real deal for any genre.
More about the 808
How much is a Roland TR 808 rhythm machine?
At its launch, the Roland 808 retailed at $1, 195 which is equal to $3,708 today. It was the most affordable machine at the moment compared to its competitor, the Linn LM-1.
Why is the 808 so popular?
The 808 was not the only drum machine at the time of its release. There was already the Linn-1, which used real electronic sounds.
But the Roland 808 soon took over the industry with its deep bass drum and amazing sounds. At first, many users saw it as a toy due to the unrealistic sounds it produced.
However, it was a cheaper alternative to the Linn-1, allowing more people to produce music effortlessly.
Also, the product became a major force behind pop. The machine revolutionized the music industry, breaking barriers between genres.
It became so important that even some acts adopted its name.
What is an 808 kick?
Simply put, the “808 kick” is the bass sound produced by Roland’s TR-808 drum machine. Today, it is more than just that.
The term is used in reference to any kick built with a fast frequency swipe. So, you can call any kick with this frequency an 808.
The drum machine 808 is more than just a simple machine. There are many products of this kind that have been produced, but none has remained as relevant as the 808.
Even today, it continues to impact modern music, despite its analog features and sounds. Recently, Roland released a documentary in its honor.
TR-808 Roland drum machine sample pack
Roland’s TR-808 is best described as the “classic of classics.” It is one of the most popular machines ever built, used across genres for many years.
The 808 sample pack comes with:
• 26 bass drums
• 26 snare drums
• 3 varying hi-hats
• 5 open hi-hats
• A wide range of cymbals and percussions
It is a full package of everything a good drum machine can do. And the 808 is without a doubt one drum machine you will love.