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The 808 – Origins & Use in Music Production Today

If you’ve listened to music created in the past 40 years, you’ve probably listened to the 808 drum machine, fondly known as just the “808.” Let’s discuss the history of the 808 drum machine and how it changed music forever.

A person using Soundtrap's 808 with glide instrument.

Published May 3, 2023

If you’ve ever listened to any popular music created in the past 40 years, you’ve probably listened to the 808 drum machine, fondly known as just the “808.” The distinct sound of the 808 drum machine has become a staple in hip-hop, drill, and EDM music, but has migrated to most genres over the past few years. 

Although some people refer to any song with deep sub-bass as an 808 track, the term is actually a reference to the Roland TR-808 drum machine, created by Ikutaro Kakehashi and first marketed by Roland in 1980.

Today, the 808 drum- and bass sound is one of the most sought-after sounds in beat productions and is commonly heard in modern hip-hop music, like Trap, Drill, and Emo Rap.

An Introduction to the Revolutionary 808 Drum Machine

The 808 is a revolutionary drum machine that was introduced in the early 1980s. Often referred to as the “808", many music makers consider it one of the most influential instruments in music production to date. 

The original 808 drum machine was more affordable than other digital samplers and instruments at the time, especially through the used market, and it had the ability to generate new drum sounds. This was revolutionary for emerging hip-hop producers who prior to the 808 had to sample pre-recorded records in order to create beats. 

Although the 808 was designed as a drum machine specifically for rhythm sections, musicians quickly discovered its versatility as they experimented with its deep, booming bass drum and snappy snare. 

Using analog synthesis to create sound, the instrument could manipulate sound waves into bass lines and other electronic notes. Today, the 808 is a mainstay in hip-hop, electronic, and dance music.

Music Producers Created Classic Hits with the 808 Drum Machine

When the 808 first rose to popularity in the early 1980s, musicians weren't interested in the drum machine because it was viewed as a toy instead of a real instrument. As far as cultural trends went, electronic music wasn't in style. This was the era of disco and soul in the U.S. where live instrumental productions were still ‌the norm.

However, the 808 quickly developed a following among underground producers because it was inexpensive, easy to use, and came with 16 analog sounds. In just a few years, the 808 was used on more popular songs than any other drum machine in existence, including the following: 

But the 808 drum machine allowed people to do more than create hit songs — they were able to create new genres of music. Following the popularization of the 808 drum machine, Hip-hop entered its next stage of evolution, while subgenres like Acid House, Detroit Techno, and Miami Bass began to emerge.

Soundtrap has a digital variant of the 808 drum machine that allows gliding bass.

How the 808 Revolutionized Hip-Hop

It's been over 40 years since the 808 drum machine launched, and hip-hop innovators continue to find new, exciting ways to incorporate these sounds into their work. In fact, innumerable 808 sample packs on the internet resemble its original snare, high-hat, and cowbell. Soundtrap, for one, has numerous loop packs inspired by the 808 sounds.

As one of the most influential drum machines in existence, some of the most prolific hip-hop artists have used the 808 drum machine to supercharge their music and create the classic songs we know and love. Hip-hop pioneers such as the Beastie Boys, NWA, Public Enemy, and many more created some of hip-hop's most memorable songs with the 808.

In 2008, Kanye West created an entire album inspired by the 808 drum machine called 808s & Heartbreak, which featured the hit single "Love Lockdown." This album sparked a resurgence of 808 beats and today, the 808 drum machine has become a defining sound of hip-hop. 

Most record-breaking hip-hop producers today continue to leverage the power of the 808, and it seems that this transformative tool will continue to be in use in pop music for years to come.

All About the "Bass with Glide" Phenomenon

Given the undeniable popularity of the 808 drum machine, you've probably heard the deep 808 bass sounds in modern drill, trap, and hip-hop. These recognizable sounds come from using the 808 bass, and gliding between the notes, also known as the 808 slides or 808 bass glissando.

The 808 Glide has become more popular than ever, especially in the world of hip-hop. If you're ready to add a sense of movement and dark energy to your tracks, try experimenting with Soundtrap’s 808 with Glide instrument and create your own sound! This digital variation of the original 808 builds excitement and anticipation to make beats sound harder and more enticing.

How Producers Use the 808 in Music Today

Today, the booming 808 bass sound is inescapable. Top music producers use the 808 drums and bass to create chart-topping hits with these techniques:

  • Creating a distinctive bassline. You'll instantly recommend the 808 basses for its deep, sub-bass, located on the very low end of the frequency spectrum. Music producers often use the 808 bass sound to create dynamic trap, drill, and hip-hop music, but the 808 drum machine can add flair to any genre.

  • Layering with other sounds. If you want to create a more complex sound, you can always layer the 808 with different instruments and sounds to give your tracks depth and diversity.

  • Using effects creatively. Music producers of all genres use the 808 bass sounds in combination with effects such as reverb, delay, and compression for greater dimension. For instance, they might use a long reverb to create a sense of space around the 808 or use hard compression to make the sound more explosive. 

  • Experimenting with rhythms and patterns. The 808 is a versatile instrument that can create various rhythms and patterns. Music producers often experiment with different rhythms and patterns to create unique, catchy beats that stand out from the crowd.

There’s no shortage of ways to experiment with the 808. But just like any instrument, it takes time to master a new sound and incorporate it into your music. Luckily, the 808 with Glide instrument in Soundtrap uses a simple layout, easy settings, and tons of presets available to shorten the learning curve.

Experiment with 808 Bass Sounds with Soundtrap

Soundtrap is the ultimate audio production platform for music makers and storytellers to create and edit audio recordings. You can fully express your artistic self through our industry-leading digital audio workstation (DAW). 

With Soundtrap, music makers can collaborate with advanced cloud technology anytime or place. Our platform has a robust resource portal and tutorials so you can get started immediately. We also have thousands of pre-made loops, instruments, sounds, and other features for a smooth process from start to finish.

Get started with Soundtrap today!