Roland TR-808: Box that created new world

If you ever made a single track or listen to video about music video, you have heard term ‘808 drums’. But what is it?...

If you ever made a single track or listen to video about music video, you have heard term ‘808 drums’. But what is it? Rap, trap, hip-hop and dozen of other genres should be grateful to Roland TR-80, drum machine that changed music. 

Story begins

Roland TR-808 was made by Japanese engineer Ikutaro Kakehashi in 1980. Drum machine combined profound bass, unique drum sequence which situated in whole new sound. Just what your house party needs.

Kakehashi was born in Osaka in the year of 1930 (!). Young Ikutaro was always into engineering and repairing things, mostly watches. He graduated as electrical engineer, worked for Hitachi and Ace Electronic. Later he started his own business, founding Roland Corporation. Why Roland? Cause Kakehashi decided that it sounds perfectly and fit international purposes. And he was right.

Ikutaro Kakehashi’s hands at Rockwalk, Hollywood

Roland was chosen to be famous for its sound devices like synthesizers and drum machines. TR-808 wasn’t the first programmable drum machine to be made, but it changed point of view. Instead of realistic snares, kicks and bass drums it spreaded something new, futuristic and neon, just what 80’s deserved. Also it has incredibly powerful bass line. New king was born.


First public impression was blank, not to say least. DJ’s and MC’s looked at 808 as a kid’s toy with strange sounds from Transformers. Next step was a cut in prices (1983), a sucker punch to the main rival of TR-808, Linn LM-1. Cheaper drum machine with avant-garde sound paved it’s way to the underground music industry and quickly became a number one.

808 futuristic beats traveled from one hit to another: “Planet Rock” by Afrika Bambaataa, “Sexual Healing” by Marvin Gaye, Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody”. TR-808 combined all the necessary minimum to produce basis of techno music or hip-hop beat. It naturally gave birth to the wave of “bedroom producers”. who made their hits in … bedroom (or basement) without complicated and expensive equipment. No more desperate searching for loops and samples – they are already here.

Still alive

One huge thing that speaks for itself: after 40 years TR-800 is still in use. If you have headphones and iPod, than you have heard 808 drums or iconic cowbell. Beastie Boys, Outcast, Fatboy Slim, Lil Wayne, Britney Spears, David Guetta, Madonna, Rihanna and Kanye West – list never ends. Kanye even dedicated album to TR-808, using it in every song of 808s & Heartbreak. Kanye don’t dedicate his music to unimportant stuff.

808 was more like handy stuff for beatmakers. It was a voice (if you can say so about drum machine) of a whole genre. After 80’s it moved from NY, cradle of hip-hop and conquered music industry. Southern hip-hop with millions of 808’s handclaps, breakbeat, pop and finally trap – short list of TR-808 “kids”. 808 bass drum was a key element of trap music. Do we really need to say, what is a trap for modern day music industry?

Roland TR-808 still affects hip-hop industry through such prominent beatmakers as Metro Boomin and Sonny Digital, who makes like 90% of hit hip-hop beats. So, 808’s mission goes on. 

Taking step away from TR-808 musical features: it changed mind of generations of artists. Mixing of genres, standalone production, performing for huge audience: all of this became possible and wide-spread thanks to Roland TR-808.

Ikutaro Kakehashi passed away on the 1st of April in 2017. Could he predicted popularity of his drum machine? Guess, not. But he revolutionized industry.

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