Ikutaro Kakehashi, the founder of Roland Corporation, died on April 1st at the age of 87. Roland has produced a huge range of electronic musical instruments and effects since its founding in 1972, and Kakehashi developed MIDI, the Musical Instrument Digital Interface that sits at the heart of electronic instrument communication. But no product or invention by Kakehashi and Roland has had more impact on popular music than the TR-808 drum machine.
Manufactured for three years beginning in 1980, the 808 has been used by innumerable artists for nearly 40 years, and it’s said that the 808 is to hip hop what the Fender Stratocaster is to rock and roll. The 808 was built just before sampling became widespread and produced 16 synthesized approximations to sounds from a bass drum to a handclap.
The first hit record to use the 808 appears to have been Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” from 1982. Listen to the opening bars and you’ll immediately recognize the iconic sounds.
Soul Sonic Force’s “Planet Rock”, also from 1982, is credited with cementing the 808 into hip hop’s early vocabulary.
Whitney Houston used the 808 to set the beat for her 1987 hit “I Wanna Dance With Somebody”.
In 2008, Kanye West built his fourth studio album around the sounds of the 808, and even named the album “808’s and Heartbreaks”. The drum loop in “Say You Will” is all 808.
If you want to get the full scoop on this history of this important piece of technology, here is the trailer to “808” the movie!
At the 59th Grammy Awards, airing tomorrow night, the Best New Artist category is quite diverse. There are two new country singers, Maren Morris and Kelsea Ballerini, a DJ duo, The Chainsmokers, who had a hit called “#SELFIE” that has almost a half-billion YouTube views (don’t add one, I warn you), and two hot hip-hop artists, Chance the Rapper and Anderson .Paak.
While he might be a long shot for the Grammy, .Paak’s music is in the hip hop vein I really like. Thanks for the introduction to him, Ben! His arrangements use real instruments, which may owe to .Paak being a very fine drummer himself, melodic vocals, a solid foundation of R&B, and Southern Cali jazz fusion mixed in.
.Paak performed “Am I Wrong” live on French TV about a year ago, and closed the song with an apropos David Bowie tribute.
It didn’t take American TV too long to catch up to the French. Steven Colbert hosted Anderson’s first American TV performance in March of last year.
.Paak produced a video for “Come Down” from his recent album “Malibu” using friends and family from Oxnard, California. And, yes, he apparently honed his drumming skills backing a gospel choir as a kid.
If you want to hear a bit more from .Paak, how many hip hop artists can pull off an NPR Tiny Desk Concert. Forward about 3-1/2 minutes into the set to hear “Heart Don’t Stand a Chance”.
Hip hop artist and actor Yasiin Bey, whom most of us know by his long-time stage name Mos Def, announced last year that he was retiring from music and the screen at age 43. For his final concerts he chose a three-night run this past New Year’s weekend at Washington D.C.’s Kennedy Center. He promises to stay in the arts, and I hope someday he’ll head back to the recording studio.
His entertainment career began as a child actor, with small TV parts, and he’s since appeared in dozens of movies and TV shows. He was nominated for an Emmy and a Golden Globe for his starring role in the HBO movie “Something the Lord Made”, based on the life of Vivien Thomas.
His music career took off with the release of “Mos Def and Talib Kwali Are Black Star” in 1998. Bey’s brand of hip hop was often on the musical side of the genre’s spectrum, and his lyrics were socially conscious and most often playable in polite company. Though not the most famous song from “Black Star”, “K.O.S. (Determination)” is my personal favorite.
A year later he released his major solo debut “Black on Both Sides”. A personal favorite on this album is “Umi says”, any my taste has been validated on this one. President Barack Obama included it on his 2015 summer playlist.
Of course Bey collaborated with many of his hip hop contemporaries, but his global reach may have been broader than many. Here is a nice track from the 2009 album “Soundtrack 2” by Japan’s DJ Deckstream.
Not only is Seattle home to the 2014 Super Bowl champion Seahawks, but it’s also home to one of the most prolific music scenes in the U.S. The list of Seattle musicians spans many genres and many eras, and an interesting music / Super Bowl connection is that the owner of the Seahawks, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, also financed Seattle’s EMP Museum originally known as Experience Music Project.
Bing Crosby was born in Tacoma, Washington in 1923, and Quincy Jones moved to Seattle as a young boy in the 1940s. But perhaps Seattle is most identified with Jimi Hendrix. Here is a mash-up video of Jimi’s best charting single, his cover of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower”.
Hendrix is a tough act to follow, but Seattle also gave birth to Grunge, and Kurt Cobain of Nirvana was born not far away in Aberdeen, Washington. Nirvana was chosen for the 2014 class of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility, and this is the song that began an era.
A Seattle oddity of the 1990’s was The Presidents of the United States of America. Their biggest hit was “Peaches”, but it’s hard to beat “Lump” for a great hook. After watching the original, check out Weird Al’s “Gump”.
A current Seattle favorite, and feature of an earlier blog post, is blue-eyed soul singer Allen Stone, but at the recent Grammy Awards a big winner was rapper Macklemore. Pardon the language in this video, but nearly a half-billion people have viewed the unpretentious sense of humor of this new phenom.
Since his first single was released in March 1977, Elvis Costello has remained a prolific artist ranging all over the musical spectrum. His new album “Wise Up Ghost” is due out in mid-September, and it’s a collaboration with hip hop legends The Roots. The collaboration was conceived when Costello performed on the Jimmy Fallon late-night TV show, where The Roots gig as the house band.
The first track from the new album, “Walk Us Uptown”, will certainly whet your appetite to hear the full release. Costello’s sinister vocals coupled with Questlove’s drums and jazzy Roots bass lines are an intoxicating mix.
The title of Costello’s first album “My Aim Is True” was drawn from the 5th track “Alison”. While “Alison” was not a hit single at the time, it’s become a favorite in Elvis’ catalog. Give a listen and then listen to “Less Than Zero”, his first hit from that same album.
And finally, Questlove published a memoir in June 2013 titled “Mo’ Meta Blues”. Here’s a link to the New York Times review The Big Man Under the Afro, and His Music.