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Drum Machine Classics: 10 808 Tracks You May Not Know

The Roland TR-808 can create everything from a love song to a raging anthem. No wonder genres from industrial to rock to rap welcome the drum machine. Header Photo by fr4d

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The Roland TR-808 lives a life of dichotomy. On one hand, the instrument is a blank slate, capable of creating everything from a love song to a raging anthem. No wonder genres from industrial to rock to rap welcome the drum machine.

But on another hand, the 808 is quite specific. The drum machine emblazoned its sound in the minds of music lovers from Seattle to Sydney. The playlist below supplies evidence of this duality. It also reveals why the TR-808 remains one of the world’s most renowned pieces of equipment. Sit back and enjoy the sights and sounds of the 808from artists like Lil Wayne to RUN-DMC and Rihanna.

1. “Let the Beat Build” by Lil Wayne

Produced by Kanye West (see his own 808-masterpiece, 808s & Heartbreak), this track truly does build. It’s simple, though expansive and elegant, punctuated by the classic, repetitive 808-snare. When the song arrived, Wayne was at the height of his verbal prowess. Ah, memories.

2. “Posse on Broadway” by Sir Mix-A-Lot

Many know Mix for his perpetual hit, “Baby Got Back.” But before that curvaceous single, the Emerald City producer released this track. In it, Mix also references the 808 by name. Bump it on the way to get a fast-food burger in a limo. It’s only right.

3. “Everlasting Bass” by Rodney O & Joe Cooley 

This hit has all the markings of classic production. Synths, record scratches, bells and crash, and the 808-snare. “Everlasting Bass is as much a time machine as it is an all-time record. Put it on and blast off to a simpler (read: better) moment in history.

4. “Please Don’t Go Girl” by New Kids On The Block

As soon as this boy band love song hits, you know you’re in the presence of the majesty of the TR-808 drum machine. Reminiscent of the Jackson 5, the falsetto-laden harmonies may melt hearts, but the track endures due to the snare and claves.

5. “It’s Tricky” by RUN DMC

One thing that’s not difficult—or, tricky—is to love this song. It’s in snowboarding games, college movie soundtracks, and earned some 67-plus million YouTube views. Built on the classic symbol crash from the 808, it’s an all-time go-to to get the party going.

6. “Rock The Bells” by LL Cool J

We continue the trek through the Hall of Fame tracks, and next up is this must-hear. “Rock The Bells” represents the deepest roots of hip-hop; half of the rap songs since reference this jam. Get to know your history, young bucks!

7. “Emergency Room” by Rihanna

Before we talk about the tasteful use of the 808 on this track, let’s discuss its substance: who would cheat on Rihanna? Okay, moving on. This deep cut from 2008 RiRi uses the 808 sparingly. Still, the sound is as clear as day—bright as a smile across the room from Rihanna.

8. “Say My Name” by Destiny’s Child

In many ways, the 808 hides in plain sight during this standout ’90s track. On a hit like this, there are many layers, and the 808 is one of the keys to its success. How many times have you heard someone sing, “Say my name!” like Beyoncé and Destiny’s Child? For that, you can thank and this powerhouse trio.

9. “Lost Control” by Missy Elliot

What’s the opposite of hiding in plain sight? Whatever it is, it’s in this video. “Lost Control” is a bombastic, bubbling, big song that does its best to get in your grill. It’s what Missyone of the greatest rappers of all timeexcels at.

10. “Ultimate Satisfaction” by Ludacris

Let’s complete this list with one of the funniest emcees on the planet. Luda always looks to get a laugh through his strong verses. On “Ultimate Satisfaction,” he uses his elastic lyricism and plucky production to create another banger. The beat comes courtesy of none other than the world-famous 808.

Jake Uitti

Jake Uitti’s work has appeared in Interview Magazine, Vanity Fair, The Washington Post, American Songwriter Magazine, The Seattle Times and many other publications. The son of Ivy League professors, Jake grew up amidst tomes of French literature, but soulful meals, compelling conversation and thoughtful music are his true loves.