Earlier this month, Ikutaro Kakehashi, the founder of Roland Corporation passed away. While his passing has been unfortunate, we’ll be taking a look at the products that Kakehashi helped create and shape the way we create music today.
Born in Japan, Kakehashi spent his earlier life-fighting tuberculosis and spare time fixing electronics around the hospital while he was confined to for treatment. After making his recovery, he shortly thereafter opened his own electronic shop and founded the first incarnation of his future electronic businesses, Ace Electrical Industries (AEI). AEI became the creative outlet to test and build his later innovative products that featured his contributions such as the theremin/Moog inspired products, Technics SX601 (organ), Wurlitzer Sideman (Using tape loops, this self-contained device allowed users to play 12 predetermined drum patterns at varying tempos, electronically generated drum sounds without the use of a present drummer). But what would come next, would be a game-changer for the music industry.
By 1972, Kakehashi cut ties from his previous company AEI, and launched what we know today as Roland to regain control over his company and creative control over development. While he couldn’t compete with mega music manufacturers like Yamaha and Kawai, he turned his primary focus to an overlooked area which was “Rhythm Machines”. Releasing notable products such as the TR-77, TR-55, and TR-33, it was the Roland TR-808 became a groundbreaking and later influential product in music history. Freed from preset patterns, and with much more control over the contour and shape of the drum sounds themselves, it placed the focus or responsibility of all drum rhythms on the musician.
Influence On Popular Music
Since it’s release in 1980, the TR-808 has gone on to have a profound influence across all genres of music. From Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” to Afrika Bambaataa “Planet Rock”, the 808 machine weaved it influential power through the generations, opening new creative possibilities and helped create the sub-genres with the use of this drum machine in hip-hop we know and love.
Early Def Jam
During the early days of Def Jam, Rick Rubin, who was the co-founder and head producer of the label, incorporated the TR-808 sounds heavily; as early as T La Rock single “It’s Yours” by using an 808 in his NYU dorm room. According to The New Yorker, Rubin “tweaked the bass-drum setting to widen the tone and stretch the decay, creating a new reference point for 808 users ever since”. After co-founding Def Jam, Rubin produced a string of albums by the Beastie Boys, Run-D.M.C., and LL Cool J, frequently using elements of the 808.
Miami Bass + Bounce Music
The use of the TR-808 also stretched into Southern hip hop in the creation of the subgenres, Miami Bass and Bounce Music. The percussive sounds alongside the decayed bass provided by the 808 helped create the party-like environment in its respective areas in New Orleans and Miami. These sounds that were cultivated by producers such as New Orlean’s Mannie Fresh, Beats By The Pound, and Miami’s Mr. Mixx (speaks on the 808 with Red Bull Academy) and Amos Larkins, subsequently helped in the rise of the sub-genres biggest acts such as 2 Live Crew, Master P, and Lil Wayne.
Perhaps the biggest influence the 808 had on the hip hop musical sound is today’s popularity of trap music. Trap music, which takes its own origins from the sonics of Bounce and Miami music, grew steadily in the late 1990s into the 2000s. Trap uses heavily from the 808 sounds such as the basses, drum sounds (kicks, snares) in a more gritty, aggressive tone that provide the backdrop for primarily street artists; popularized initially by producers such as Shawty Redd, DJ Toomp, Zaytoven and Lil Jon in the early 2000s. Today, the current crop of mainstay producers such as Metro Boomin, Southside/Lex Luger (808 Mafia, hence the name) and many others have taken the trap sound to global popularity; subsequently influencing the creation of new subgenres such as EDM Trap.
Check our in depth article on the influence of 808 Mafia here.