I watched a documentary that covered this - don't recall which one. At the time of release, it was Roland's best stab ant making drum sounds from analog oscillators, filters and noise. When better technology came out, the TR-808 could be had for dirt cheap. That's when a lot of the hip hop artists and electronic music folks picked them up.
unprocessed 808 sounds are in my ear kind of lame.... after all these years.
i have to admit that the 808 was my favourite drummachine for many many years and i recorded like 400+ records with it but now i got a bit tired of it.
and when it comes to 808 sounds somehow i started to prefer to sound when itz a bit eq d and compressed and then sampled into a mpc60 or mpc3000. yes. itz not that easy to change the sound in the mpc but the old mpcs add a nice flavor to the 808.