One of the most revolutionary contributions to modern music since the electric guitar is the Roland TR-808.
First introduced to the market in early 1980, the Roland TR-808 began a new style of music around its revolutionary drum machine. Despite its notorious reputation for not sounding very much like a real drum kit, it set a new standard for music beats that would influence everything Including New Wave, Industrial, House & Hip-Hop genres. Introduced by the Roland Corporation in early 1980, it was originally manufactured for use as a tool for studio musicians to create demos. Like earlier Roland drum machines, it does not sound very much like a real drum kit. Indeed, because the TR-808 came out a few months after the Linn LM-1 (the first drum machine to use digital samples), professionals generally considered its sound inferior to sampling drum machines; a 1982 Keyboard Magazine review of the Linn Drum indirectly referred to the TR-808 as sounding like marching anteaters. However, the TR-808 cost US$1,000 upon its release, which was considerably more affordable than the US$5,000 LM-1. Despite these cut-downs, the “808” became the staple sound for the emerging New York hip-hop culture and allowed for further development of house music, which has taken over the club music scene worldwide.
The Roland TR-808’s footprint has been synonymous with great urban music since its inception, with artists such as Blaque paying homage to it in ‘808’s chorus: ‘ ‘Cause I’ll be goin’ boom like an 808.’. The TR-808 was discontinued, in the mid 80’s but its sound again became popular, mostly due to its kick drum sound, which could produce very deep sub-bass. By the end of the 1980s, the TR-808 was popular within the most popular electronic music and hip-hop genres. Across the board, the Roland TR-808’s footprint has been synonymous with great urban music, with artists such as Blaque paying homage to it in ‘808’s chorus: ‘ ‘Cause I’ll be goin’ boom like an 808.’ Kanye West’s Recent album “808s and Heartbreak” is another clear example of the machines posthumous relevance. As with many analogue electronic musical instruments, a great deal of effort has lately been put into sampling the sounds of the TR-808 for use in modern devices; however, due to the nature of analog circuitry, the result is often considered unsatisfactory and can sound unduly static and digital artifacts. Demand for the real 808 sound is so great that street prices for a used TR-808 have stayed close to what the cost of a new TR-808 was upon its initial release in 1980 when adjusted for inflation.
Other famous users include Marvin Gaye, Thomas Dolby, The Beastie Boys, Orbital, The SOS Band, Download, Run DMC, Aphex Twin, LL Cool J, 808 State, BT, Bomb The Bass, Janet Jackson, The Prodigy, Faithless, Skinny Puppy, Bushflange, Jimi Tenor, A Guy Called Gerald, , Dr. Dre, Jimmy Edgar, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Freddy Fresh, Richie Hawtin, Jean Michel Jarre, Cocteau Twins, Luke Vibert, LL Cool J, Ice Cube and Puff Daddy.
“The Roland TR-808 has been instrumental in Slang Music Group’s music making process since 1983.” –Vince Lawrence