What Is an 808 Drum? And Why Is It Still Relevant in Today's Music?

Current producer mixing audio tracks.

As a songwriter or producer, you likely have some familiarity with the infamous 808 drum sound. And this is probably the case whether you’ve incorporated it into your music production or not. But for a product from the early 1980s, it’s managed to continue to capture listeners’ ears.  

But what makes the 808 drum sound so enigmatic? And is it still relevant in today’s music? 

What Is an 808 Kick Drum? 

The original machine is called the Roland TR-808 drum machine. However, its wide acceptance and implementation made it commonly known as the “808.”  

It’s common that when people refer to the 808 drum sound, they’re specifically referring to the kick drum. And this is for good reason. The 808 kick drum became a hallmark of the 80s because of the ability to tune it neatly into a track.  

Simply put, the 808 drum offered not only a realistic drum sound from an electronic machine. It offered flexibility and control like no musician had worked with previously. This technology was an eye opener and introduced a new tool into studios everywhere.  

Initially, the 808 drum was designed for rhythm sections. But it didn’t take long for musicians and producers alike to recognize its spectrum of offerings. From booming bass to quick hitting snares, the 808 did not maintain its place in the rhythm section for very long.  

On the contrary, it quickly took center stage. 

New Sounds 

It was common for the pioneers of hip-hop to sample previously recorded tracks. This was a style and technique unto itself, but the 808 opened new possibilities. The technology enabled musicians to tinker with analog synthesis, which allowed them to create new drums sounds and beats.  

Moreso, they could use the 808 to imitate bass lines or other electronic sounds. Suddenly, all types of music had new tricks to play with. But the 808 drum beats have had a most notable impact on hip-hop, electronic music, and dance numbers.  

But the fact of the matter is, the 808 drum sounds made it so musicians and producers could develop new genres entirely. Music genres were able to evolve in directions that might not have been options prior to his new gear.  

From the Talking Heads “Psycho Killer” to Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing,” the 808 drum sound was not for hip-hop alone. Producers were excited to tap into its capabilities. And that’s just as true today as it was when the machine took the stage. 

Affordability and Control 

When the 808 drum hit the shelves, it offered a range of options, and at an affordable price. This was attractive to underground producers especially, who were able to do a lot with a little. They could also experiment in ways like never before. And this type of experimentation with bare-bones equipment is what keeps it popular to this day. 

An 808 drum has become a versatile tool that producers utilize on a regular basis. Even if it’s not a planned addition to the recording process at hand, it’s in the room. It’s a tool that has withstood not only the test of time, but the test of popularity. Genres and musical styles frequently evolve and change, but the 808 drum has been through it all.  

From layering sound to creating basslines to tinkering effects, the 808 drum machine is a touchstone of musical production. And as a producer or songwriter, you should have one in your corner. Or at least take advantage of the beats it can produce. 

The Beat Goes On 

At Matadorr Sound, we provide collections and suites with those 808 beats you’re clamoring for.  

For over 15 years, we’ve been a premier producer in the music industry. Our digital products are meticulously crafted with vintage and digital synthesis and live instrumentation. So, if you’re looking for 808 beats, you’ve found them.  

Check out our collections. 

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Man producing electronic drum beats on laptop with beat pad.
Man producing electronic drum beats on laptop with beat pad.

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