10 essential 808 tracks in honor of 808 Day (August 8)
Today, August 8, marks 808 Day, a beloved unofficial holiday of bloggers, beat freaks, and drum machine enthusiasts. The “808” of course refers to Roland’s TR-808 Rhythm Composer, the legendary piece of hardware first introduced by the Japanese manufacturer back in 1980. Arguably the most groundbreaking drum machine in history, the 808 has been a critical element in the formation of countless genres and sub-genres over the years.
The most famous product of the TR-808 is of course its iconic kick drum: the colossal low-end monster renowned for its powerful, yet clean sub-bass. To only acknowledge the kick, however, would be to discredit the beauty of the rest of the kit, from its snappy claps and snares to its notorious rim shots and hi-hats.
In commemoration of this legendary piece of gear, we’ve selected 10 essential tracks that embody the perennial appeal of Roland’s classic drum machine. Our picks span the gamut from classic compositions that first put the 808 on the map, to more recent examples that demonstrate its unrelenting modern appeal.
1. Marvin Gaye – Sexual Healing (1981)
While struggling with a deep depression in the winter of 1981, Marvin Gaye created a sonic self prescription that became a certified platinum hit. “Sexual Healing” features the TR-808’s iconic hand clap, snare, and high hat samples layered atop a fat kick—all hand programmed by the man himself.
2. Cybotron – Clear (1983)
Pioneering electronic group Cybotron, comprised of Juan Atkins and Richard Davis, released their groundbreaking 808 tune “Clear” in 1983. The tune would go on to be sampled by everyone from Missy Elliot to Poison Clan, and remains one of most referenced examples of the 808 in electronic music.
3. Eazy-E – Boys in the Hood (1988)
N.W.A blazed the trail for West Coast rap, with the group’s first compilation album, ’N.W.A and the Posse’, hosting the essential 808 track, “Boyz-n-the-Hood.” On this Eazy-E single, which was written by Ice Cube and produced by Dr. Dre and DJ Yella, the signature intro of midi synths segues into an arrangement of reverbs and snares, giving the classic rap track a defined 80s composition that has managed to stay timeless for almost 30 years.
4. Plastikman – Spastik (1993)
Richie Hawtin’s seminal techno slammer “Spastik” from his Plastikman project is easily one of the most iconic usages of the TR-808 in electronic music. The stubbornly minimal composition, centered around a raucous snare drum pattern, never fails to incite hysteria on the dancefloor.
5. Kanye West – Love Lockdown (2008)
On his seminal hip hop opus 808s and Heartbreak, Kanye West drew inspiration from synth legends like Phil Collins and Gary Numan to create a gut wrenching, minimalist masterpiece. West created tension in the LP with tracks like “Love Lockdown,” which pits the organic warmth of tribal drums against the TR-808’s mechanic kick and West’s own coldly Autotune-d croon.
6. TNGHT – Acrylics (2013)
After Hudson Mohawke (real name Ross Birchard) released his 2009 debut album ‘Butter’ and a string of solo productions, he teamed up with Lunice to form the supergroup TNGHT. At the time, their eponymous 2012 EP ignited a ferocious spark in the burgeoning trap sub-genre of electronic music, one that they have tried to disassociate themselves from (Rolling Stone interview). Nearly a year after its issue, TNGHT shared “Acrylics,” comprised of a theatrical lullaby intro that plunges into a colossal cacophony of glitchy synths and thumping 808s. Their work attracted attention from Kanye West, with the duo co-producing “Blood on the Leaves” off ‘Yeezus,’ and Mohawke serving as one of the rapper’s principal producers.
7. Rustie – Slasher (2013)
Scottish producer Rustie pioneered a new division of electronic music, powered by bass with an 8-bit twist, as heard on his debut album ‘Glass Swords.’ The 2013 double single release of “Triadzz/ Slasherr” commemorated his venture of harder drops, magnificently marked by the latter’s booming drum claps and breakdown of tropical-inspired synths. “Slasherr” serves as an apex for Rustie’s productions, which drift between collaborations with rapper Danny Brown and original work for his subsequent albums, ‘Green Language’ and ‘EVENIFUDONTBELIEVE.’
8. Gesaffelstein – Hellifornia (2013)
Gesaffelstein’s ominous compositions are generally typified by haunting melodies, harrowing bass stabs, and forceful, calculated rhythms. However, the French techno savant has also proven his masterful ability to integrate 808s into his music on a number of occasions. Perhaps most notably, Gesaffelstein showed this skill in “Hellifornia,” an acerbic trap-inspired track that served as one of Aleph’s most beloved cuts.
9. RL Grime – Scylla (2014)
Henry Steinway’s RL Grime project stands at the pinnacle of thoughtfully composed trap because of his brand of formidable minimalism. While Steinway has purveyed an impressive array of venue rumbling hits, perhaps his most breathtaking contribution is “Scylla,” a standout track from his 2014 debut album, Void.
10. Afrika Bambaataa & The Soulsonic Force – Planet Rock (Boys Noize Remix) (2016)
Lastly, we have Boys Noize’s remix of Afrika Bambaataa & The Soulsonic Force’s classic track “Planet Rock” from 1982. This one is doubly special as it’s a modern 2016 reinterpretation of one the most legendary 808 tracks of all-time, fusing the best of the past and present in one nostalgic remix.