“The 808 kick drum makes the girlies get dumb…”
—"Posse on Broadway", Sir Mix-A-Lot
Much was written about the Roland TR-808 when the iconic drum machine turned 40 back in August of 2020. Although only 1,200 were built during it’s short two-year production run, the 808 eventually proved to be as influential to modern music as the Fender Stratocaster or the Technics SL-1200 turntable. Now, Lost Radicals is paying respect to the rhythm composer with the latest tee in our “Big Pick” series: The 808 Pick Unisex T-Shirt.
The 808 Pick T-Shirt also comes in a fitted Womens' version.
The 808 has been featured in late 80’s dance music (New Order) and recent rap (Kanye, Outkast and Drake). David Byrne relied on it to provide the minimalist beat for “Psycho Killer” in the Talking Heads concert documentary Stop Making Sense. But I still think the power of the 808 was best exemplified in the booming kick drum and crisp hi hats of old school hip hop. Songs like “Planet Rock” and “Posse on Broadway” (see above) are personal favorites that illustrate the otherworldly future/retro sounds of the 808. In the right hands, however, the sonic space between the tight percussion also complemented new wave synths and laid the foundation for slow jams by icons like Marvin Gaye and Phil Collins.
Want to try beat programming yourself? Here’s an online recreation of the TR-808 for you to play with. (Be sure to check out the tutorial at the bottom if you're new to using sequencers.)
This post is just the tip of the 808 iceberg. There are many better summaries of the iconic machine’s influence out there and a simple web search can lead any curious beat-ologist down a multi-sensory rabbit hole of YouTube demos and artist interviews. Honestly, this blog post was really just an excuse to make and share another playlist. (Reading about music can only take you so far.) The tracks below demonstrate the true scope of the 808’s impact and versatility. Take some time to celebrate the 808!