Beat Breakdown: “Planet Rock” 

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In each Beat Breakdown, we dissect the beat of an iconic 808-driven song. Explore the beat online with Splice’s Beatmaker or download a project file with the MIDI drum pattern to play with it in your DAW.

Despite the 808’s indisputable fame today, the drum machine failed commercially upon its release in 1980. There were other drum machines on the market that sampled acoustic drum kits, and the 808’s analog sound was perceived as cheap and synthetic by comparison.

Afrika Bambaataa’s “Planet Rock” was a pivotal track that helped reshape the public’s perception of the 808 from ‘fake” to ‘futuristic.’ Bambaataa combined the 808 with other electronic elements ranging from synth leads to vocoding to create a sound that was distinctly, deliberately cutting-edge for its time.

Soon after the track begins, the 808 kicks in with an unapologetic breakbeat. The groove keeps the snare tied to beats two and four, while letting the kick and hi-hat accentuate the shifting sections of the track to avoid repetitiveness. The drum machine gets the spotlight midway through the song, when Bambaataa brings the 808’s distinctive cowbell to the forefront during a four-bar break. The drum machine gets a final moment to shine in the outro, where it’s featured as the sole instrument of the section.

“Planet Rock” was a watershed track responsible for bringing the 808’s futuristic sound to dancefloors, influencing music in genres ranging from hip hop to disco, and catalyzing the rise of subgenres like Miami Bass and Detroit Techno.


Written by
Harrison Shimazu

Harrison Shimazu is a video game and film composer passionate about communicating narrative through music and sound design.

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