Since 1979 Hip-Hop has been captivating the imaginations of audiences worldwide. Rappers were able to paint their stories over dusty drum breaks, bringing their inner-city narratives to the world.
The art of taking bits and pieces from a vinyl recording to later be restructured into a completely different groove created 'sampling', which serves as the backbone of electronic music production.
If there's one word that describes hip hop, it's ingenuity. The art form was birthed out of limitations, which produced the trailblazing genre, which continues to spread like wildfire 'til this day. No access to a recording studio early on led to working within their means to perfect their crafts.
Ever-expanding, ever-metamorphosing, hip hop continues to see new producers and artists falling in love with the art form daily.
Are you a hip-hop producer who's looking for DAWs that are better suited for your style? Or have you been recently considering diving into hip-hop music production for the first time? Don't worry we've got you covered, as today we'll be discussing the best DAW for hip hop.
Finding the best DAW for you is a matter of knowing the role you'd like to fulfill. Also, keep in mind that the DAWs on this list are compatible with most audio interfaces, so all you would need is an interface and a love for hip hop music to begin.
I'm fully aware that there may also be new readers, so as usual, let's begin with the basics.
What is a DAW?
A digital audio workstation aka DAW is music production software that allows producers and artists to record, edit and mix audio all within a single application. The ease with which one is able to take their musical ideas from start to finish is accelerated within digital audio workstations.
DAWs were game-changers for the music industry because they permitted many artists to produce music on their own time. The need for expensive equipment and studio time began to dwindle as the convenience of DAWs took over.
Now that you have a general understanding of what a DAW is, let's dive into the article. Here's the list of the best DAWs for hip hop:
1. Ableton Live
Ableton Live is an industry-leading digital audio workstation that's perfect for electronic-based music and live performances. Yes, this most definitely includes hip hop as well.
As a hip-hop music producer and heavy user of Ableton Live, I can say that it offers many creative tools and effects which make my productions shine. The user interface is smooth and clean and really enables me to simplify my workflow.
This music software provides the essential elements such as audio and midi recording as well support for virtual studio technology.
Ableton features its classic vertical 'session view' which reminds me of the wall of sound method of production. In a sense, this implies trying many different ideas without arranging them into a song at first. You have the ability to mix and match clips, loops, samples, patterns, etc. to see what works together, and then later arrange them as you see fit.
This is crucial for hip hop, which is a genre full of experimentation because it aids the process of building a vibe and getting ideas out quickly.
I would say though, that for those coming from traditional DAWs, there may be a learning curve when it comes to getting used to session view. However, once you get the hang of it, you'll see that it's fast and intuitive.
Ableton does an excellent job with their automation tools, seeing that you can automate nearly everything to give your music production beautiful variety.
The feature that really makes Ableton Live stand out is its audio warp modes. This allows you to time-stretch, bend and contort audio to create interesting results, all without suffering sound quality. Seeing that hip hop is based on using samples, opens up a world of possibilities for you to create unique sounds.
Also, I'd like to add that Live has a 'Glue Bus Compressor' that I love to use on my drums to really fatten and drive them, a hip-hop producer's dream.
The suite edition of Ableton live comes with a 70+ GB library featuring 5000 sounds, 17 software instruments, 60 audio fx, and 16 MIDI fx.
Ableton live is truly a powerhouse when it comes to electronic-based music, offering endless possibilities for music creation. Hip hop producers who are looking for an interesting way to make music will find it with Ableton.
Compatible with Mac/Windows
More info here
- Features unlimited audio and midi tracks
- Nondestructive editing
- Perfect for live performances
- Learning curve
- Suite edition can be a bit pricey
- Intro Edition - $99
- Standard Edition - $449
- Suite Edition - $749
2. FL Studio
Our next best DAW for hip hop music production is FL Studio by Image-Line. Fruity Loops has been the go-to DAW software for many hip hop producers for a while now and it doesn't show any signs of slowing down. It's been hailed as the champion of aspiring bedroom producers everywhere.
FL Studio is known for its click style step sequencer and a piano roll feature which makes midi sequencing a breeze. The 808 slides and hi-hat rolls found in today's hip hop are made easy.
FL Studio supports all virtual studio technology standards 1, 2, and 3. So you have the ability to use a wide range of third-party plugins. FL Studio also allows you to use it as a VST plugin within another host.
The most popular version of FL Studio comes bundled with 89 virtual instruments and effects, a partial amount as compared to the 'All Plugins' Edition which comes with 107.
The stock sounds are OK in comparison with other DAWs that have top-notch stock sound libraries. I'd say if you're producing hip hop, it'll definitely be better to import your favorite samples. However, FL Studio does offer expansion packs from its premium partners if you'd like to keep everything within its ecosystem.
One of my favorite toys in this digital audio workstation is 'Gross Beat'. For all the hip-hop producers out there who love time manipulation of any sort, you will fall in love with it. You have the ability to chop and screw your samples, even patterns to get interesting effects and stutters.
Gross Beat volume and time presets can be linked to a keyboard, pad controller or automation source for on-the-fly changes.
Lastly, owners of FL studio can enjoy lifetime free updates. There isn't much to be said about how important this is, as you'll always stay up to date with the latest all for free.
All in all, FL Studio is an excellent DAW for hip hop because of its ease of use and midi sequencing capabilities. You're able to enjoy all effects you need to mix your tracks effectively, all within a simple and straightforward interface.
Compatible with Windows/Mac
- Lifetime free updates
- Excellent piano roll
- Easy to use
- Stock sounds are the best
- Doesn't cater to recording vocals as well as some DAWs
- Fruity Edition - $99
- Producer Edition - $199
- Signature Edition - $299
- All plugins Edition - $499
3. Bitwig Studio
The next best hip hop DAW is Bitwig Studio. This digital audio workstation allows you to streamline your creative process, quickly transforming your ideas into complete songs and compositions.
Bitwig is a fully capable DAW that offers everything to complete your tracks, featuring 130+ virtual instruments, effects, and modulators.
It features cool modular sound design environments, namely 'The Grid' a beast that powers a family of devices in Bitwig: Poly Grid, FX Grid, and Note Grid. You have the ability to build polysynths from scratch as well as the ability to patch together nearly anything to create unique sounds. Seeing that Creating audio fx also seems to be a fun process.
Trap lovers can take advantage of something Bitwig calls 'Operators' which is a cool midi editing feature that allows you to highlight notes and randomize them in a few nice ways. You're able to do cool things like add note repeats easily and utilize a chance function. This is sure to add variety to your tracks, perfect for live performances.
Bitwig Studio also features hardware integration which allows you to get the best of both worlds by letting your hardware control the software or vice versa.
Speaking of hardware, hip hop lovers of classic drum machines can make use of the bundled Drum Machine VST, making it easy to construct custom kits.
Lovers of sampling will find the "Sampler' module interesting, as it's a powerful tool for playing and manipulating audio. It comes with several playback modes (including traditional pitch-based, granular, or wavetable options), advanced looping features with crossfades, endless modulation possibilities, etc.
Also, there is the 'Amp' device which injects virtual analog grit and dirt into your sounds. There's nothing like running dusty hip hop drum breaks through amp simulators for interesting effects.
The latest version has a cool audio comping feature similar to Logic Pro. However, it has an interesting feature that allows you to convert an audio loop into a series of layered takes that you can comp for variation. For hip hop, you'd definitely be able to spice up your percussion and drum loops.
Bitwig Studio is compatible with Mac/Windows/Linux and comes in two versions , a 16-Track version, and a full version.
The full version of Bitwig allows the creation of unlimited audio, hybrid, and instrument tracks. You'll also get to enjoy 13 instruments, 44 audio fx, 24 note fx, and more.
More info on Bitwig Studio here .
- Easy automation
- The Grid Modular Sound Design
- Supports expressive MIDI
- Plugin Crash Protection
- Supports multiple midi instruments on one track
- Doesn't support video playback
- 16-Track - $99
- Full - $399
4. Cubase 12
Our next best DAW for hip hop is Steinberg Cubase, which is one of the oldest digital audio workstations in the business. It offers everything you need for professional music production. From building the beat to recording vocals to later mixing and mastering, Cubase has many advanced features that help get the job done.
The Pro version of Cubase supports virtual studio technology, with the ability to create unlimited VST tracks, as well as unlimited audio & MIDI tracks. It also comes bundled with over 3000 instrument sounds, nearly 100 audio/midi fx plugins, and 256 physical input and output channels.
With a few quick specs out of the way, we can talk about one of the coolest features in Cubase. And that is its channel strip module. Channel strips are typically known for being a slice of analog magic, and you get that within Cubase.
The channel strip modules are integrated into every channel and when summed into its MixConsole, you're sure to get the sound of an analog mixing console. Maybe it can add a bit of warmth to those hip-hop synths and drums.
There are loads of high-quality third-party channel strip emulators out there, but with this digital audio workstation, it comes standard.
Cubase also has a host of cool virtual instruments to aid your hip-hop creations such as a drum machine named 'Groove Agent'.
Groove Agent features a huge library of samples, grooves, and patterns, as well as a full virtual mixer and FX suite for even more creative options.
There's also the Halion Sonic SE 3 virtual instrument which is a powerful sampler mixed with a synthesizer. It would be interesting to see how far you could push the creative envelope when coming up with new hip-hop sounds.
Its VariAudio engine gives you great audio pitch control, similar to Logic's Flex pitch or Melodyne.
This digital audio recording software has a cool set of advanced tools for editing audio. The Audiowarp feature allows you to get timing tight with the use of warp markers, without compromising sound quality. It almost reminds me of Ableton, however, the only difference is the ability to warp an entire group.
Seeing that hip hop is built around a solid groove, this would serve as an excellent tool for your hip hop music productions, especially when you want to need to keep the groove tight.
In addition to this, there's the automatic audio alignment function which allows you to automatically match the timing of audio that you want to playback simultaneously. This is perfect for synchronized recordings.
Cubase is top-notch when it comes to sound editing and MIDI editing, outshining many other DAWs when it comes to its editing capabilities.
It features something called retrospective midi recording which allows you to capture any MIDI notes that you play in stop mode or during playback and turn them into a MIDI part after the fact.
I'd like to add though, that Cubase may have a bit of a learning curve when used for the first time. It's not as beginner-friendly as others but once you get the hang of it and develop your workflow, there are more than enough tools for music production.
Once you've written and produced your track, Cubase proves to be great music software for giving it that finished polish.
Compatible with Mac/Windows
More info here
- Excellent DAW for mixing/mastering
- Groove Agent Drum Module
- AudioWarping functions
- Supports Audio Random Access (ARA)
- Audio Alignment Tool
- Learning curve
- The Pro version is a bit pricey
- Cubase Elements - $99
- Cubase Artist - $329
- Cubase Pro - $579.99
5. Reason Studios Reason 12
The next pick for hip hop music DAW is Reason by Reason Studios (formerly Propellerhead). Reason is notable for its analog-style, single-window interface filled with racks, patch bays, and more. The interface is very organized, within a scrolling vertical flow.
It's something about the analog feel of working with different modules that really fuels the creative process, especially when working on hip hop. I feel like I get the chance to compose new music with golden-age tools.
It features a host of onboard effects, virtual instruments, and samples that can be tweaked until your heart is content. You have the ability to connect virtually every device, giving you an ultimate personalized rack.
Traditionally offered as just a standalone DAW within its own right, there's now the Reason rack plugin which enables you to bring the sound of reason to any other DAW that supports VSTs.
This is huge because now I can make use of Reason's powerful samplers and drum machines such as Dr. OctoRex, the NN-XT, the NN-19, the Kong Drum Designer, and more. These are amazing for hip hop as they give a ton of variety when approaching new records, and the fact that I can now use them in other pieces of DAW software is priceless.
The reason rack plugin also allows you to stay up to date with fresh downloadable expansion packs and add-ons.
It's also cool to see that some major third-party software companies have custom racks built entirely for the Reason platform. They maintain a true to style classic look to them, enabling you to patch other instruments and effects to them, the same as any stock instrument.
An effect module worth noting is the 'Scream 4' Sound destruction unit. Sometimes hip hop can need to sound sonically "dirty", and this is where Scream 4 comes in. It enables you to drive an ample amount of distortion to anything you see fit, for moderate crushing or adding a bit of analog warmth and body to your sounds.
Take control of channel dynamics with the master bus compressor that now comes available as a rack device, giving you that sonic glue that your productions may be lacking. There are also its legacy processing effects, the MClass compressor, equalizer, and stereo imager.
The sound library is one of the best in the business, with many high-quality samples/patches to choose from. There are some really good stock synths and drum loops to make use of.
Reason now also features support for VSTs. Seeing that this wasn't always the case, this is huge for Reason users.
The only downside to Reason would be getting used to the patch bay workflow for those coming from more straightforward DAWs.
If that isn't enough to stop you, you'll find that Reason can really push your music production ideas in ways you would've never imagined. It's a world-class digital audio workstation that can hang with the best of them
Compatible with Windows/Mac
More info on Reason here
- A creative way to make music captures an analog feel
- Reason Rack Plugin VST
- Scream 4 Distortion
- Patch bay style connecting might be a challenge for some
- Learning curve
- Reason+ Monthly Subscription - $19.99
- Reason 12 Full Version - $499
6. Magix Samplitude Music Studio
Next up on our best digital audio workstations for hip hop is Samplitude Music Studio by Magix. It's the stepped-down version of Samplitude Pro X6. Samplitude Music Studio is unique in that audio clips can be processed separately. Each clip can be assigned its own plugins, EQ, and pitch/time settings, which reduces the number of tracks.
It seems to offer an entry-level approach, allowing you to dive right in and begin creating. For hip hop producers looking for
It also supports multi-track recording, allowing you to record up to 16 mono or 8 stereo tracks at the same time. Simultaneous recording obviously proves to be vital when recording things such as a band.
Samplitude comes with around 32 virtual instruments, unlimited sounds & loops, and a cool preset search function within the plug-in browser.
There's also something called 'Tiny Percussion Instruments' which are mini percussive VSTs that allow you to tweak the timbre and add fx to them as well. There seems to be a drum machine module, as well as a 'Pop Drums' module, perfect for booming trap beats.
While Samplitude Music Studio is a fully functioning DAW, I would say that it doesn't feel as extensive as the other DAWs on this list. Seeing that it's the more limited version than its big brothers, you really get just enough to get started.
More info here
- Assign plugins, EQ and pitch/time settings to individual audio clips
- Entry Level
- Not as extensive as other DAWs
- Free Trial
7. Logic Pro X
Our final DAW for hip hop is Logic Pro X by Apple. Logic is very powerful DAW software that has everything for your music production needs, from the support of third-party virtual instruments to even surround sound editing.
The user interface is extremely clean and intuitive, perfect for pros and beginners alike. However, don't be fooled by how simple it is to use, as Logic has many bells and whistles under the hood.
The latest version of Logic has a step sequencer editor inspired by classic drum machines and synthesizers which allows you to quickly build drum beats. You can even use it to automate plugins. Any tool which makes building drum patterns easier is a must for hip-hop production, as it's based on solid drums.
In addition to this, there's the live loop feature which is perfect for spontaneous composition. In a sense, this allows you to add loops, samples, or live recordings into a grid of cells and then mix/match to find combinations that work for you. Seeing that hip hop is fast-paced, you'd be able to capture ideas quickly to keep your workflow smooth.
Aside from a professional set of mixing/editing tools, this digital audio workstation has a really cool 'Drummer' feature which acts as your own personal session drummer. Once you load it up, you're able to switch between a variety of genres and styles to complement your track. The drummer stays in sync with your tempo, and you even have the ability to make the drummer follow along with any element in your track. Producers of hip hop who don't have immediate access to a drummer but looking to add some live drums to their beats will find this feature pretty interesting.
Logic comes bundled with over 70 GB of content, featuring everything from hip hop loops to cinematic and/or world instrument patches. There are also ever-expanding sound packs from Logic itself or curated producer packs.
The host of onboard amps, pedals, and other audio/midi fx are top-notch, leaving you with many options to shape your sounds.
The biggest flaw in Logic Pro is the fact that it's for Apple users only. So Windows users are a bit out of luck here.
Nevertheless, Logic Pro is a household name that rivals the best digital audio workstations, with good reason.
More info here
- Simple, user-friendly interface
- Powerful mixing tools
- Large factory library
- Apple Only
- Free Trial
When selecting a digital audio workstation for hip hop, remember to find one that allows you to get your ideas out quickly, especially when it comes to drums, as they're usually the backbone of hip hop productions. Also, it would help to define the role you'd like to play in hip hop, as some DAWs are better suited for certain elements than others. For example, maybe you want to produce trap music, so the piano roll and step sequencer of FL Studio might be better for you than say Reason. Or maybe you want to just mix hip hop music, so the mixing engines of Cubase or Logic might better serve you.
Whatever the case is, knowing which aspect of hip hop you'd like to cover will help you out big time when finding an audio workstation. Remember, hip hop is based on innovation and experimentation, so I'd say just grab a DAW and begin experimenting without thinking too hard. Until next time, stay creative!