The Roland TR-808 is one of the most innovative machines in the past century of music. Only on sale from 1980 to 1983, this short span of time saw the 808 gain major influence in techno and essentially birth the early hip-hop movement, from the raw sounds of Detroit to Afrika Bambaataa‘s classic “Planet Rock.” As the sound emerged from the underground, the drum machine garnered mainstream attention with it’s use in Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” in 1982, while becoming a mainstay for hip-hop acts like Public Enemy and Run DMC. As pop music in the 80’s drifted towards a more electronic sound, the 808 was eventually adopted by everyone from Whitney Houston to Phil Collins.
Though the machine fell out of the mainstream in the 1990’s due to a lack of availability, an overuse of the sound, and east coast hip-hop’s shift to more soulful, jazzy beats, it stayed strong in US and European rave scenes while America’s burgeoning southern trap scene began to flourish and the end of the millennium. The early 2000’s saw the likes of Gucci Mane, T.I., and Young Jeezy (and their producers) utilizing the TR-808 to form rap music’s now ubiquitous trap genre.
Kanye West modernized the use of the drum machine in the 21st century on his seminal 808s and Heartbreaks, though samples of the 808 are nearly everywhere, and have been for quite some time. Eventually artists like Flosstradamus, Baauer, TNGHT, and Diplo began using the signature percussion of trap music, and a new sub-genre emerged, adding diversity to EDM’s popular dubstep/big room/progressive house dynamics. Suffice it to say the 808 has made a considerable impact on contemporary music production, so, on 8/08, join us in celebrating the Roland TR-808 Drum Machine with our 808 playlist below.