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In Honor Of 8/8/08…. Let’s Discuss The 808

I initially figured I’d dedicate this whole post to classic 808-inspired tracks, but then I decided against that, mainly because I feel like we’ve probably all heard enough Roland TR 808 music over the past few years to last us a lifetime.

What are your thoughts on the 808?

Me, I have mixed feelings on it.

On one hand, I feel like the sound is often misused, substituted into tracks for producer’s laziness or lack of ability to craft an adequate bass line. I call it “newbie producer syndrome.” You can always tell if a guy is a new producer by the way the 808s are used. If it’s like some simple ass minimalist pattern with long 808s and a cheesy melody (hmm, Soulja Boy?), it’s generally not because the producer wanted to do that, it’s just that they can’t really do much else, and hey what could be better than some deep bass drum knocking in your ear for four minutes straight. At least it’s something to rap on.

But then on the other hand, there are people who use the 808 as an instrument unto itself, playing with the way the sound is incorporated into a track (think Carl Mo’s production on Big Boi’s “The Way You Move”), sometimes using it as the track’s key melodic element. And that’s real cool.

You’ve also got other ways an 808 can be used…. you can truncate the sound and layer it under another kick drum to give it some “pop” in the mid and lower frequencies. You can also play the long 808 underneath your bass line, depending on what type of bass sound you’re using (I think it works better with more “real” sounding basses).

Then there’s the other sounds- the clap (which is pretty much the standard in popular music today), the snare, the hihats, cowbell, etc. All these sounds have taken on lives of their own, incorporated in different capacities and used in a lot of different ways.

Maybe it’s just me, but when I was coming up in the late 90s and early part of this millennium, it was sort of frowned upon to be using any of the 808 sounds. Even the 808 kick, to be used in any way other than layered beneath another kick, it was corny. Even in the really commercial rap music, I feel like the 808 was used sparingly, maybe a sound here or there. That was an era built on having the dopest drum sounds. Think about the countless debates you’ve probably had over the years about producers and who had the illest drums.

How can you have that debate now? You probably can’t.

I feel like the standardization of the 808 as the de facto drum sound in urban music has put the emphasis more on how talented you are as a musician. The drums don’t matter anymore, now it’s all about the melody and how musical your track is.

What do you think, has the 808 been an overall benefit to hip-hop production, or at this point would you be happy to see it fall out of style?

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