THE BEAT GOES ON
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.