22 Nov

My Love of the TR-808


My twenty-four blades glistenin’, and my 808 kickin’ T.I. – Top Back

You do not have to read many of posts at Deep-Sea News or Science of the South to realize my love of hip-hop and rap.  Especially Southern hip-hop and rap.  If you haven’t already do check out Ben Westhoff’s book Dirty South.  A key to the southern sound is the TR-808.  Introduced in the 80’s the 808 was the first programmable drum machine.   The machine’s cheapness, $1195, and ease of use lead to its popularity.  As I begin to research Southern music, a common theme is the emphasis on sound produced by inexpensive or homemade instruments.  It seems this theme continues to Dirty South.  

TR-808_Groot1You know the sound of the TR-808.  It’s featured in more hit songs than any other drum machine.  It was literally the sound of the 80’s.   All those synthed beats in Afrika Bambaataa and the Soul Sonic Force’s Planet Rock are courtesy of the 808.


Many sounds of the 808 are just so iconic.   The deep bass, kick drum.  The tinny handclaps.  The ticky snare.  The tishy high hat.  That spacey cowbell.   The video below nicely highlights all of the 16 programmable sounds.  

One of my all-time favorite Southern hip-hop songs highlighting that deep 808 bass and addictive high hat is Outkast’s The Way You Move.

Speakerbox vibrate the tank, make it sound like aluminum cans in the back
But I know y’all wanted that 808 can you feel that B-A-S-S, bass

From Memphis, the Three 6 Mafia’s Stay Fly also greatly reflects the fast temp of the 808. So does their Poppin’ my Collar

The more recent trap hit, Higher Ground, by TNGHT also shows the TR-808 continues.

There is so many more like Shawty Lo’s Atlanta,GA, but I’ll stop.  In the next few weeks, I’ll be delving into the science inside of the TR-808.  How exactly are is that deep lingering base produced?  In the meantime, let’s celebrate Southern music and the 808. Below is a collaborative playlist on Spotify. Add your favorite songs to that list or in the comments below.

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