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What Are 808 Beats? From Underground Grooves to Mainstream Melodies

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Ever tapped your feet to a hip-hop beat or found yourself nodding along to electronic dance music? Chances are, you’ve felt the pulse of an 808 beat. These deep, resonant sounds that seem to hit you right in the chest aren’t just any beats; they’re the heartbeats entire music genres. In this post, we’ll dive into what 808 beats are, explore their rich history, and discover how they continue to shape music today. So, let’s kick off this musical journey with a bit of history!

History of the 808 Drum Machine

The Birth of the Roland TR-808

Introduced by the Roland Corporation in 1980, the TR-808 Rhythm Composer was not an immediate hit. Initially considered a failure due to its unrealistic drum sounds, it eventually won over artists with its unique character. The affordability and the distinctive booming bass sound won it a place in the studios of pioneering musicians.

1980Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer introduced
1980sInitial dismissal; later embraced by musicians
2020sLegacy continues through modern drum machines

The Impact of the TR-808 on Music Production

The unique sound of the 808 drum machine quickly became a staple in the emerging genres of hip-hop and dance music during the early ’80s. Its ability to produce a deep bass drop with just a single beat made it revolutionary. This distinct sound became synonymous with the new wave of “beat-heavy” music.

The Anatomy of an 808 Beat

The Kick Drum

The kick drum is the heart of the 808 beat, famous for its deep, booming sound. This isn’t just any bass; it’s a sound that can be felt physically, as it vibrates through speakers and bodies alike.

The Snare Drum

A crisp, stark snare typically accompanies the 808 kick. It helps in cutting through the mix, providing a sharp contrast to the kick drum’s low end.

Hi-Hats and Cymbals

These are the high-end frequencies of the 808 beats that add brightness and life to the rhythm. Their rapid, rhythmic ticking or shimmering sustains help guide the groove and pace of the track.

Percussion Elements

Varied percussions like claves, cowbells, and maracas layer atop to add complexity and texture, rounding out the sonic profile of the 808 beat.

Kick DrumDeep, booming bass; the heartbeat of the beat
Snare DrumCrisp, sharp hit; provides contrast to the kick
Hi-Hats/CymbalsBright, rhythmic patterns; add energy to the rhythm
PercussionVaried accents (claves, cowbells); enrich texture
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Evolution of 808 Beats in Different Music Genres

Hip-Hop and Electronic Dance Music

808s carved a significant place in hip-hop, providing a steady backdrop for rapping, and in EDM, where they pump up the intensity and excitement on dance floors.

Pop Music and Other Genres

From Whitney Houston to Phil Collins, the 808 sound penetrated pop music and other genres, reinforcing its versatility and appeal across different auditory tastes.

Hip-HopBecame rhythmic backbone; essential for rap and beat-heavy production
Electronic DanceProvided intensity and excitement on dance floors; integral to EDM’s pulse
PopCrossed over into mainstream; added depth and punch to pop melodies
ExperimentalExplored unconventional uses; contributed to sonic experimentation and innovation

Techniques for Creating 808 Beats

Programming the Drum Machine

Creating an 808 beat starts with programming the drum machine. Simple patterns can result in profound effects, especially when they sync perfectly with the melody.

Adding Effects and Processing

Reverb, distortion, compression—it’s about enhancing the natural sound of the 808 beats or twisting them into something new and exciting.

Layering and Mixing Techniques

Fine-tuning the balance between the 808 elements and the rest of the track’s components ensures that the beat fits seamlessly, enhancing the overall texture without overpowering.

Programming Drum MachineCreating beat patterns using the TR-808 or digital equivalents
Adding EffectsApplying reverb, distortion, or compression to enhance sound
Layering and MixingBalancing elements within the beat for cohesion and depth
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Notable Tracks and Artists Utilizing 808 Beats

Afrika Bambaataa’s “Planet Rock”

This track is a textbook example of how 808s can drive a whole new genre of music—electro.

Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody”

Who would have thought? Yes, the 808 lends its punch even in this pop classic.

Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power”

The power of 808s is front and center in this influential anthem, exemplifying how they can be both foundation and statement.

Contemporary Artists and Hit Songs

Turn on the radio today, and you’ll hear the legacy of the 808 from artists like Kanye West to Cardi B.

Afrika Bambaataa“Planet Rock”
Whitney Houston“I Wanna Dance with Somebody”
Public Enemy“Fight the Power”
Kanye WestVarious hits across his discography
Cardi BVarious hits across her discography

The Continued Influence and Legacy of the 808 Drum Machine

Modern Drum Machines and Emulations

Today, the 808 sound is replicated and extended by modern drum machines and software, making it accessible to everyone from bedroom producers to top-charting artists.

The 808’s Impact on Music Production and Sonic Identity

The booming bass and distinctive snap of the 808 drums continue to influence music, defining genres and evoking moods from the gritty to the euphoric.

The Future of 808 Beats and Music Production Techniques

As technology evolves, so too will the techniques that shape 808 beats, promising exciting developments and new possibilities in music.

Modern Drum Machines and SoftwareReplicating and extending 808 sound, making it accessible to producers of all levels
Impact on Music ProductionShaping sonic identity and defining genres, from hip-hop to pop, and evoking diverse emotional moods
Future ProspectsPromising ongoing innovation and creativity as technology evolves, opening new possibilities


From a piece of equipment initially deemed a failure to becoming a cornerstone of modern music production, the journey of the 808 drum machine is as inspiring as it is influential. Whether you’re an aspiring producer or a music aficionado, the dynamic world of 808 beats offers a rich tapestry of sounds to explore.

Embrace the beat, explore its possibilities, and maybe even craft your own 808 masterpiece.


What is an 808 beat?

An 808 beat refers to rhythms primarily composed using the Roland TR-808 drum machine, known for its deep bass and singular sounds.

Why do 808 beats sound distinct?

The combination of artificially elongated bass sounds and sharp snare hits makes 808 beats uniquely resonant and powerful.

Can anyone create music with an 808?

Yes, with modern emulations of the 808 available, anyone interested can start crafting beats using various music software tools.

Are 808 beats used in music other than hip-hop?

Absolutely! From pop to electronic music, the 808 finds its place across diverse musical landscapes, enhancing the sonic experience.

Where can I learn to make 808 beats?

There are numerous online tutorials and courses dedicated to learning music production that covers 808 programming extensively. YouTube is a great place to start!