Some terms may catch you off guard if you are a newbie in the music world. Especially when the mere numbers – 808 represent the term. But with a little bit of research, you may figure out that 808 stands for a booming bass drum sound, a frequent ingredient of modern hip-hop music. But where did it come from, and what’s the difference between bass and 808? Stick with me, and you will get answers to your questions.
Where did 808 come from?
My previous article explored the Roland TR-808 drum machine, which revolutionized music. At that time, drum machines had already hit the market but were mainly used to accompany an instruments due to the lack of ability to program their rhythms. However, the legendary Roland TR-808 drum machine allowed users to program percussion tracks and edit parameters, such as decay and tuning. Hence, artists got more control over their sound and could tweak it to their liking.
So, the 808 came from the Roland TR-808 drum machine, which saw the world in the early 1980s. Many musicians considered it robotic and toy-like at first. However, that’s exactly what made the machine and 808 sound so popular, especially with hip-hop and electronic producers.
What is 808?
808 is a type of electronic percussion sample. The beauty of the original 808 comes from a punchy low-end interpretation of common sounds. 808s have a static noise as a foundation, so they have a fast, pointy attack and a short decay.
However, the modern 808s have seen great changes. There are thousands of 808 recreations that have been the result of compression, distortion, or transient manipulation. You can find classic or modified 808 kicks in bass VST plugins, which are widely available nowadays.
Let me run ahead of myself and introduce the songs produced with 808s. You’ve probably heard I Wanna Dance with Somebody by Whitney Houston, Sexual Healing by Marvin Gaye, Jam On It by Newcleus, and more.
How is 808 different from bass?
The first dissimilarity between 808 and bass lies in the sound’s origin. While we can refer to every 808 kick with open decay as the bass instrument, we can’t say the same about bass. For example, a cello or tuba can hardly be called 808 instruments. It’s just hilarious thinking that you can extract 808 sounds from these instruments. So, you can get 808s from special plugins or bass synthesizers used along with a kick drum, while bass can refer to nearly any instrument producing low-end frequencies (double bass, bass guitar, cello, and more).
Second, 808 is a complex and specific sound made of bass and kick. They can be used together simultaneously or succeed each other. For instance, you may trace the bass after a kick hits the drum. This peculiarity has become so prominent that 808 was used interchangeably to refer to any bass and kick drum working together, even without any relation to the original TR-808 instrument.
Third, 808 is a term mainly inherent to hip-hop, rap, and pop production. You are less likely to encounter it when talking about bass in jazz, rock, metal, or other genres.
Finally, the bass is a broad term describing low-end and sub-bass frequencies. For example, when you hear people want more bass in the track, you either intensify the actual bass instrument on your synthesizer or turn up low-end frequencies. That doesn’t work for 808, which is a peculiar sound combining bass and kick. As a matter of fact, you can adjust the bass frequencies of your 808s to make them sound better. Or add some effects like saturation or distortion for a more fuller sound.