The Man Who Built The 808

A kick drum? A tambourine? Foot stomps and spoons? One very tired Razeem? It’s impossible to imagine what hip-hop, house, and techno might have used for a rhythmic foundation block if not for the 808 beat.

That’s why the impact that inventor Ikutaro Kakehashi had on the last four decades of music is incalculable. The news of the Osaka-born engineer and Roland founder’s death on April 1 at the age of 87 has prompted a deluge of grateful tributes from just about every music maker who benefited from his innovations, most prominently with Roland’s most iconic drum machine, the TR-808. One of the earliest programmable models, its sound was initially criticized as too synthetic when it was introduced in 1980. But with its tight snare and booming bass, Kakehashi’s contraption proved to be more adaptable than anyone could’ve dreamed.

Since the fine 2015 documentary 808 tells you everything you could want to know on the subject (and way more), we’d prefer to let the music do the talking with a set that includes many of the most famous uses of the 808 (and its successor the TR-909) by early adopters like Arthur Baker as well as such present-day devotees as Kanye West, who transformed the beat into the sonic epitome of emotional desolation on 808s And Heartbreak. Roland developer Tommy Snyder said it best in his farewell: “He was a super funny, wonderful and gifted human being, and his contributions to the musical instrument world and music touched millions of people worldwide.” To which we can only add: let the rhythm hit ‘em forever more.