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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  • http://TheReal808-D-Nice Justice4all

    say the TR-808 is coming, bright and early in the morning
    I say the TR-808 is coming, but you see that is daily living

    I-I’m D-Nice the 808 it’s no mistake
    Now this is not the time but the music that I make
    And wait, I’m telling you, why don’t you just listen
    Just because I come from the Bronx I’m not dissing or wishing
    Cause the beat sounds groovy
    I drink Ammoretta on the rocks cause it cools me off
    And usually when I am speaking
    I usually wear a cap and gown when I’m teaching
    Or reaching out, huh, to touch someone
    I’m rocking on the microphone just to have fun
    So run (Bo bo bo!) cause I’m number one
    And if you want to battle me then pull out a gun
    Don’t forget the ammo-nition and listen
    Don’t ever bite a lyric cause then you’re pissing me off
    And with the style that I’m bringing
    The girls love it, and of course, girls I’m swinging
    And seeing (Bo bo bo!) I left the girls’ hearts broken
    Now I’m back to tell you all I’m not joking
    And I’m hoping you see that I’m the main topic
    You put me in the wildest crowd and I’m a rock it

  • Simple like ABC, 123

    “You can always tell if a guy is a new producer by the way the 808s are used.”


    “You can always tell if a guy is a “WACK” producer by the way the 808s are used.”

    Soulja Boy = Wack
    DJ Paul & Juice J = Classic 808!!!

  • Reemycks!

    kudos on this piece. as a nigga with “808″ tatted on his arm, I had to mention Mantronik,Rick Rubin,The Bomb Squad, Bambaatta and Arthur Baker. Without them niggas we wouldnt even be using 808 sounds. Hell, with out Mantronik the South wouldnt even be making beats the way they make them as far as triplets and bass drops with note variation.All praise the TR 808!

  • Jerod

    Yeah, I love the 808.

  • Bang

    If its the main part of a track I get tired of it. Too much of it.

    Its like Impeach the President Loop or a Brown Loop from the 80s. its gets old. so do GIANT BOOM KICKS that are hollow. Getting played out

  • florida_evans

    As a former SP 1200 owner(sniff),I will always have love for that low end kick.It’s like putting a scotch bonnet in a big pot of rice and peas,just enough to give it some kick,then take it out-flavor with some heat.I love my analogies….

  • Dub Sac

    I’m not really a fan of the 808 sound. It seems dated, so unless you’re going for a retro sounds, it comes across as cheap and cheesy (in my opinion.)

    I’ve always preferred breaks and sampled drums. There is a richer texture to live drums, and sampling captures this, whereas synth drums tend to sound lifeless because you don’t get the harmonics and resonance that add so much depth.

    I don’t go for rap music based heavily in synthesizers in general. Which is why I have a hard time getting into southern rap, regardless of how talented an MC is. The production value doesn’t really impress me. I feel like sampling opens up such a wide range of sonic possibilities, which creates more dynamic music.

    Did I go too far off topic?

  • AlSween

    hip hop in the 80s used it heavily before south beats. the tr-808 was prominent. but yea those who just can only remember back no longer than 2 years will just grab chopped 808s and do the same drum pattern. i don’t think it’s overused. but i feel that there are a lot of people in the profession of music who have no musical training. and people can be self taught but too many people are saying that they are musicians or producers without knowing how to stay in a key.

  • TheCo!!inB

    I see you Sween….
    I wish some kind of emphasis could be placed back on drums. Popular music is subject to trends and I get that shit but do you know how hard it is to find a live (sampled but live) snare in music today. I live for kicks, snares, hats….all that shit and it’s frustrating to make a beat for someone and you get the “Put that 808 on that shawty…….*deep sigh*……Ay, put some snaps on dat shit too cuz”…..the 808 for the most, has just become a necessary evil in production and because the shit feels good boomin out of subs in clubs it won’t be going anywhere anytime soon……..also it has been proven that an 808 at 33ghz will get a woman wet, keep that in mind when makin beats for the bitches.

  • oskamadison

    808′s will never die. All that needs to happen is these OG producers schooling these young bucks on how it should be done. There’s nothing better than a whip with a good, clear system with the boom coming out of it. Of course, over the years the level of musicality in hip-hop has evolved to where the 808 isn’t always needed but sometimes you gotta have those throwback joints with some hard ass drums and a good 808. A good example would be Ghostface’s “Be Easy”. The crazy thing about that joint is Pete Rock, who’s never been known to fuck with 808′s like that, came with some good minimalist, banging shit with that knock to it. Long live the 808!!!

  • jonjon23

    Nothing better than rollin’ with the boys in a clean whip with the highs and midrange contrasting that deep, low, rumbling sound coming from the trunk. Like LL said “It’s the gangsta boogie’ the earthquake sound’ pump it up and play it so they hear it all around. It’s just like that loud ass rude electric guitar used to be for white boys—only more powerful.

  • a.lo

    two words
    cool kids


    NIGGA WITH THE BEST EVER 808s has gotta be
    Shawty Redd and DJ Toomp. They bass is actually being used as part of a melody. Shawty Redd killed it every time on Jeezy first and second album….NOt to mention Snoops sexual sedution.