When the Roland TR-808 drum machine first appeared on the market in 1980, it failed to generate much excitement. Intended as a tool for creating demos, it was a cheaper version of other, more realistic sounding percussion devices.
But the distinctive sounds - and price tag - of the early 808 made it an appealing tool for a new generation of musicians, and the machine soon became a must-have item for many up-and-coming producers. Its sound was a fundamental part of a whole array of new genres just starting out at the time, from hip hop to electro to techno and beyond. Its tinny beats and kick drums even scored a major R&B hit with Marvin Gaye's 1982 jam Sexual Healing.
Since then, the Roland 808 has become a revered piece of equipment for a whole generation of music producers - from Afrika Bambaataa, Run DMC and the Beastie Boys through to Duran Duran, Phil Collins, Daft Punk and Kanye West, whose 2008 album "808s & Heartbreak" was in many ways an homage to the vintage beatbox - even if the machine itself is hard to come by. (Roland stopped production of the 808 in 1984.)
Filmmaker Nelson George has crafted a visual history of the iconic drum machine, in a short film called "Hail The Beat":
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