THE BEAT GOES ON

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HOW THE ROLAND TR-808 BE­CAME THE WORLD’S GREAT­EST DRUM­MER

IT MAY BE THE WORLD’S GREAT­EST DRUM­MER. When the now leg­endary TR-808 Rhythm Com­poser was in­tro­duced in 1980 by Ja­panese elec­tron­ics com­pany Roland, it was promptly deemed in­fe­rior to com­pet­ing drum ma­chines, which sounded less ro­botic and more real. Roland sold only 12,000 units, halt­ing pro­duc­tion of the 808 in 1983. Many ended up in pawn shops and Sal­va­tion Armys, but not for long. The ground­break­ing beat­box soon found fa­vor among dar­ing mu­si­cians from the Bronx to Tokyo, and its un­mis­tak­able ar­ti­fi­cial­ity be­came ubiq­ui­tous across hip-hop, pop, house, and techno, inspiring ev­ery­thing from band names (808 State) to al­bum ti­tles (Kanye West’s 808s and Heart­breaks). Now a new doc­u­men­tary, 808: The Movie, salutes the le­gacy of this land­mark ma­chine. Here are just some of the songs shaped by its inim­itable sound. —Rob Tan­nen­baum

A NEW DOC­U­MEN­TARY DE­TAILS HOW THE ROLAND TR-808’ S SIG­NA­TURE ROBO-THUMP IS STILL KEEP­ING TIME.

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