what are 808s

What Are 808s? Introducing the Roland TR-808 with video

Estimated reading time: 15 minutes

What are 808s? They’re not the secret ingredient in grandma’s cookie recipe, but they might as well be for music producers. In this sonic adventure, we’ll unlock the mystery of 808s and share tips on how to make your beats drop like a pro. Ready to bring the bass? Keep reading!

What are 808s?

808s are a type of bass drum sound that originated from the Roland TR-808 drum machine. This electronic instrument revolutionized popular music and became the backbone of various genres, including hip-hop and electronic dance music. Known for its powerful and punchy sound, the 808 kick drum became one of the most iconic sounds in modern music history. Initially a commercial failure, the TR drum machine gained popularity among underground producers due to its unique bass instrument capabilities. Today, 808s are widely used in electronic music production, providing low-end frequencies and adding depth to tracks. From iconic songs by artists like Afrika Bambaataa and Public Enemy to modern hits by Britney Spears and David Guetta. The idiosyncratic sounds of the TR continue to shape the landscape of music.

How to Create Great 808s in Your Music

Creating great 808s in your music requires careful technique and finding the perfect 808 sample. The key is to have a kick sound that is punchy and impactful.

  • Start by selecting an 808 sample that has a strong attack and a deep, resonant tone. Look for samples with a wide frequency range and a quick attack time.
  • To create depth and space in your track, use an 808 bass line. This will add a powerful low-end frequency to your song.
  • If you want to enhance the bass even further, consider using a subwoofer or bass module. This will allow you to really feel the bass in your music.
  • Programming the notes for the bass line is also important. Use the TR’s pitch control to find the right bass notes that complement your melody or chords.
  • To add dimension and texture to the sound, try using effects like reverb or delay. These can help make the 808s sound bigger and more atmospheric.

Remember, finding the perfect 808 sample and using the right techniques will make your music stand out with its powerful, punchy, and deep bass sounds.

StepKey Information
Find a 808 SampleSource a high-quality 808 sample.
Tune Your 808Adjust the pitch to match your track’s key.
Know Your Frequency SpectrumUnderstand the frequency range for better mixing.
EQ to the BottomUse EQ to shape the 808’s sound, boosting and cutting frequencies as needed.
Increased Attack TimeModify attack time for punchiness or softness.
Clean Up Low-MidsApply a high-pass filter to remove unnecessary low-mid frequencies.
Optimize the TimingEnsure the timing aligns well with the beat.
Overlay SamplesLayer multiple samples for added depth and texture.
808 VST PluginsConsider using 808 VST plugins for further sound control.
How to Make Great 808s

History of the Roland TR-808 Drum Machine

The Roland TR-808 drum machine is a legendary piece of equipment in the world of electronic and popular music. It originated in the 1980s and quickly became a staple in genres such as hip-hop, pop, and dance music. The TR-808 was known for its iconic sounds, particularly its powerful bass drum sound. While it initially faced commercial failure, the drum machine gained popularity among underground producers and influential musicians such as Afrika Bambaataa and Public Enemy.

The TR-808’s unique analog sounds, including its idiosyncratic bass instrument, contributed to the creation of many iconic songs. Artists across various genres, including Britney Spears and David Guetta, have used it over the years. The TR-808’s unique percussive and punchy sound, creating deep low-end frequencies, remains a timeless and influential tool in music production. Discontinued, yet its impact echoes in modern drum machines and sample packs, recreating the classic sound.

The Original Machine

The original Roland TR-808 drum machine, also known as the TR-808 Rhythm Composer, was created in the early 1980s.
Initially, designers created it as a tool for musicians to craft rhythm tracks for their songs.

This drum machine had several unique features, including programmable drum sounds and a powerful bass drum sound that produced low-end frequencies. However, it also had its limitations, such as limited memory for storing patterns and a lack of realistic acoustic drum sounds.

Despite its innovative design, the TR-808 experienced commercial failure and was discontinued after a short production run. However, its idiosyncratic sounds and punchy bass drums found a home in underground genres of music like hip-hop and electronic dance music.

Over time, the TR gained a cult following among producers and artists who recognized its unique sonic qualities. Many iconic songs featured its use, making it one of the most influential drum machines in music history. Today, it remains a staple in modern music production, contributing its iconic sounds to genres ranging from pop to electronic music.

Roland Synthesizer

Afrika Bambaataa and Public Enemy

Afrika Bambaataa and Public Enemy played a significant role in popularizing and incorporating the use of 808s in music production. Their influential songs, particularly Afrika Bambaataa’s “Planet Rock,” showcased the unique sounds of the TR drum machine.

“Planet Rock” revolutionized electronic music by harnessing the power of the TRs’ bass and percussive sound. The track’s signature 808-driven beats and catchy melodies became a staple in hip hop and other genres.

Afrika Bambaataa’s fearless exploration of new sounds and rhythms with the TRs inspired a generation of producers and artists. Public Enemy, known for their politically charged lyrics, also embraced the 808s’ punchy bass and iconic sounds in their music, further propelling the instrument’s popularity.

Their innovative use of 808s extended beyond the realm of hip-hop, influencing diverse genres such as pop and electronic music. Artists like Britney Spears and David Guetta incorporated the distinctive 808 sound into their chart-topping hits, cementing its lasting impact on modern music production.

In conclusion, Afrika Bambaataa and Public Enemy’s groundbreaking use of TRs in their songs, especially “Planet Rock,” propelled the instrument’s popularity and influenced the development of various genres, making it an iconic and essential element in modern music production.

Underground Producers

Underground producers like Egyptian Lover and Juan Atkins played a pivotal role in popularizing the Roland TR-808 drum machine. After being captivated by hit songs like “Planet Rock,” they were among the first to obtain the TR-808.

These underground producers used the TR-808 to showcase its unique capabilities and pushed the boundaries of music production. Egyptian Lover, known for his electro and hip-hop tracks, utilized the TRs powerful bass drum sound and idiosyncratic sounds to create his own signature sound.

Similarly, Juan Atkins, a key figure in the development of techno music, incorporated the TR-808’s iconic sounds and punchy bass into his tracks, which helped define the genre. Their innovative use of the TR-808 inspired a new wave of underground artists and shaped the future of electronic music.

Through their experimentation and skillful manipulation of the TR-808’s drum samples and sounds, these underground producers paved the way for its widespread popularity and enduring influence on modern music production. The Roland TR-808 became the go-to drum machine for many genres, solidifying its iconic status in the music industry.

Impact on Modern Music

The Roland TR-808 drum machine has had a significant impact on modern music. Its influence can be seen in popular songs across various genres, from hip-hop to pop. The 808’s unique sounds and capabilities have shaped the sound of modern music production.

Initially a commercial flop, the TR-808 rose to become a pivotal invention in popular music during the early 1980s. Afrika Bambaataa, Public Enemy, and Rick Rubin acknowledged the TR’s potential, integrating it into their hit records.

The 808’s deep, powerful bass drum sound and punchy snare have become iconic in the music industry. Its ability to produce idiosyncratic sounds set it apart from other drum machines of its time.

Today, the influence of the TR-808 can be heard in countless hit records. Artists like Britney Spears and David Guetta have used the 808 to create chart-topping pop songs. Its impact on electronic music, hip-hop, and various other genres is undeniable.

The popularity of the TR drum machine has also given rise to the use of 808 samples in music software and sample packs. These samples allow musicians and producers to incorporate the iconic sound of the 808 into their own tracks, further perpetuating its influence in modern music.

Characteristics of the TR-808 Drum Machine

The Roland TR-808 drum machine is known for its unique characteristics that make it stand out in the world of music production. With its distinctive sound and versatile features, the 808 has left an indelible mark on popular music.

One of the defining features of the TR-808 is its deep and powerful bass drum sound. The “808 kick,” an iconic bass drum, is synonymous with genres like hip-hop and electronic music.

In addition to its bass drum, the TR also offers a punchy snare sound that is instantly recognizable. Its snappy attack and distinct tone have made it a staple in countless hit records.

The TR-808’s ability to produce idiosyncratic sounds is another key characteristic that sets it apart from other drum machines. From its unique cowbell to its synthesized handclap, the 808 offers a wide range of percussive sound possibilities.

Furthermore, this drum machine is known for its analog sounds, which contribute to its distinctive and classic sound. Unlike modern drum machines that focus on digital samples, the TR relies on analog circuitry to produce its iconic sounds.

Overall, the TR-808 drum machine has become an influential instrument in modern music production. Its powerful bass drum, punchy snare, idiosyncratic sounds, and analog character have made it a favorite among producers and musicians across various genres.

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Kick Drum and Bass Drums

In the world of music production, kick drums and bass drums are often terms used interchangeably. However, when it comes to 808s, the term “808” primarily refers to the bass drum.

Its powerful and hard-hitting sound has made the 808 bass drum renowned. When played, it can shake club walls and reverberate through your body like thunderous heartbeats. It’s no wonder that this 808 bass drum has become a staple in the realm of electronic and hip-hop music.

Unlike traditional kick drums that focus on a punchy attack and mid-range frequencies, the 808 bass drum is all about the low-end frequencies. It delivers a deep and resonating boom that one can feel as much as hear.

To sum it up, when you hear the term “808,” think of the iconic bass drum that hits harder and deeper than any other drum sound. It’s the driving force behind countless club bangers and chart-topping hits. Next time on the dance floor, notice the booming bass; it’s the 808 bass drum showcasing its power.

Frequency Range and Attack Time

In creating great 808s, the relationship between frequency range and attack time is crucial. Frequency range defines the 808 bass drum’s low-end boom, and attack time dictates the timing of the kick drum’s punch.

Increasing the attack time on the sub sample of the TR delays the peak level, allowing the punch of the kick drum to be heard first. This helps in achieving a clear and defined sound, with the gradual build-up of sub-bass frequencies following suit.

Using a crisp kick drum with a short release time alongside the TR sub-bass is important to avoid any collision of frequencies. The kick drum’s sharp attack enhances the impact of the 808 and ensures that each element can be heard distinctly.

By increasing the attack time on the 808, you can create a distinguishable sound that sets it apart from other low-end instruments. This adds depth and character to your music, making the 808 stand out in the mix.

In conclusion, understanding the relationship between frequency range and attack time is key to creating powerful and impactful TRs in your music. By manipulating these factors, you can craft distinct and memorable bass drum sounds that resonate with your listeners.

Programmable Features & Sounds

The Roland TR-808 Drum Machine is known for its programmable features and unique sounds. Users can record sounds, mix them with presets, and have full control over their music production with the drum machine.

With its wide range of sounds, the TR allows users to create everything from deep and powerful bass drums to snappy snares and crisp hi-hats. Each sound is programmable, allowing for customization and experimentation.

Recording your own sounds is a simple process, with the ability to input and manipulate them using the drum machine’s interface. This opens up endless possibilities for creating original and distinctive tracks.

In addition to the programmable features, the TR-808 also comes with a variety of preset sounds. These presets serve as a great starting point for users looking to quickly add a professional touch to their compositions.

The drum machine enables users to create simple beats or complex rhythms with its range of programmable sequences and patterns. The TR offers flexible music production, allowing sequences as short as 10 steps or as long as over a thousand.

Overall, the programmable features and sounds of the Roland TR-808 Drum Machine make it a powerful tool for creating unique and innovative music. Whether you’re a beginner or a professional producer, the TR is sure to inspire and elevate your compositions.

One of the most recognizable sounds in popular music is the deep and powerful bass of the 808 drum machine. Originally released in 1980, the Roland TR-808 revolutionized music production and has become an iconic instrument in various genres. From hip-hop to pop, electronic music to dance, the TR has left an indelible mark on popular culture.

Driving Bass Lines:

The 808’s bass drum, with its distinct low-end frequencies and punchy sound, has become a staple in modern music. It creates the foundation of many tracks, providing a powerful and hypnotic groove that resonates with listeners. From trap to EDM, the 808’s bass lines have become synonymous with a genre’s identity.

Production tip: When handling 808 samples, a pivotal aspect of mastering the art of mixing 808 bass involves guaranteeing clarity and impact in its pitch. Would you like to know more about it? Then read the guide on how to mix 808 basses.

Catchy Melodies:

Beyond the bass, users can melodically use various sounds offered by the 808. Its ability to create unique and idiosyncratic sounds, such as hi-hats and snare-like claps, adds a percussive and musical dimension to compositions. Artists like Britney Spears and David Guetta have incorporated 808 melodies into their hits, giving them a classic and instantly recognizable sound.

Experimental Productions:

Underground producers and avant-garde musicians stretch the 808’s limits, using its features and analog sounds to craft unconventional tracks. With the ability to manipulate its parameters, the 808 becomes a sonic playground for those seeking to push boundaries and explore new sonic territories.

In conclusion, the 808’s influence on popular music cannot be overstated. Its iconic sounds, from the thunderous bass to the snappy hi-hats, have shaped countless genres and propelled countless hits. From a commercial flop to a symbol of innovation, the Roland TR-808 ranks among the most influential drum machines ever.

Genres of Music With 808s

Genres of Music With 808s:

Hip-hop music:

Hip-hop music owes a great deal of its sound and success to the Roland drum machine. The deep bass lines and punchy kicks of the 808 have become synonymous with the genre, providing the foundation for many iconic hip-hop tracks.

Trap music:

808s are an essential element in trap music, known for its heavy bass and hard-hitting beats. The combination of the 808’s low-end frequencies and unique sounds has helped shape the distinct and powerful sound of this genre.

Pop music:

Even in the world of mainstream pop music, the influence of the Roland drum machine is undeniable. Artists like Britney Spears and David Guetta have incorporated its catchy melodies and classic sounds into their hits, giving them a contemporary edge.

Electronic music:

The 808 has played a significant role in the evolution of electronic music. Producers have used its idiosyncratic sounds and programmable features to create innovative and experimental tracks that push the boundaries of the genre.

Dance music:

In the realm of dance music, the TR’s driving bass lines and powerful kick drums are essential for creating pulsating rhythms that move crowds on the dance floor. Its iconic and influential sound can be heard in countless dance tracks.

The 808 drum machine has left an indelible mark on various genres, making it one of the most influential instruments in modern music. Its impact can be heard across hip-hop, trap, pop, electronic, and dance music, shaping the soundscape of popular culture.


In conclusion, the Roland TR-808 drum machine stands as a legendary icon that has left an indelible mark on the landscape of modern music. From its humble beginnings as a commercial underdog in the early 1980s to its status as a revolutionary force in the realms of hip-hop, electronic, and popular music, the Roland drum machine has shaped the sonic identity of numerous genres.

The journey of the TR-808 is not merely a story of technological innovation but a testament to the resilience of creativity. Its distinctive bass drum, synonymous with the term “808,” has become a driving force behind countless chart-topping hits, its influence permeating genres as diverse as hip-hop, trap, pop, electronic, and dance music.

The visionary experimentation of underground producers, the groundbreaking beats of Afrika Bambaataa and Public Enemy, and the enduring popularity across decades underscore the TR-808’s lasting impact. Its programmable features, unique sounds, and unmistakable character continue to inspire musicians and producers, shaping the ever-evolving landscape of music production.

As we reflect on the history, characteristics, and diverse applications of the TR-808, it becomes clear that its journey goes beyond a mere drum machine – it is a cultural phenomenon that has woven itself into the fabric of modern music. The legacy of the drum machine lives on not just in the beats of classic tracks but in the ongoing creativity of artists who, armed with its iconic sounds, continue to push the boundaries of musical expression.

In essence, the Roland TR-808 is more than a piece of musical equipment; it is a symbol of innovation, creativity, and the transformative power of sound. Its impact will resonate through the beats of future generations, ensuring that the legend of the drum machine remains a vital chapter in the ongoing story of music evolution.


What is 808 in music?

In music, “808” refers to the Roland TR-808 drum machine, famous for its booming bass drum sound, pivotal in various genres.

Is 808 a kick or bass?

The 808 is both a kick and a bass; it’s the drum machine’s signature kick drum sound, which produces powerful sub-bass frequencies.

Why are beats called 808?

Beats are called “808” because of the Roland TR-808 drum machine, where the iconic drum sounds originated.

What is an 808 in rap?

In rap, the 808 represents the distinctive bass and kick drum sound from the Roland TR-808, widely used for its impact and resonance.

Are 808s still used?

Yes, 808s are still extensively used in contemporary music production, from hip-hop to electronic and beyond, thanks to their timeless and influential sound.