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Meet the unassuming drum machine that changed music forever

In a set from 2013, a masked Kanye West appears onstage and stands before a veiled podium. With a slow, theatrical tug, he pulls away the veil to reveal an AKAI Music Production Center, or MPC — a small, unassuming drum machine barely bigger than an Etch-a-Sketch. He presses a single button, triggering the lone opening piano note to “Runaway.” Several years later, a diligent ear could listen to Frank Ocean’s Blonde and hear his producer, Om’Mas Keith, tapping out a beat on the same electric drum machine.

Skilled as these two are on their MPCs, this device isn’t a Keith or Kanye house specialty; it’s been at the heart of some of the most seminal musical works since its introduction by AKAI in 1988 and is still widely used today. It created a generation of hybrid producer-musicians, like West, J Dilla — whose MPC is in the Smithsonian — and Dr. Dre, who kept several in his studio at all times.

The MPC appeared everywhere. Outkast’s Big Boi engineered many of the group’s iconic beats on the MPC. Mark Ronson is so attached to his MPC that it got a custom paint job, and many of Kanye West’s most famous songs, and much of his breakout album College Dropout, have sprung from the MPC.

So how did this small, portable electric box, which looks more like a Super Nintendo than a musical instrument, became the tool of the trade for pop, hip-hop, and electronic musicians and producers? By condensing all elements of studio production into a desktop instrument that was more playable, more intuitive, and unlike anything ever put before the musical world.

The MPC made music production intuitive in a way it had never been before

In the late 1980s, producers and

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