DAWs have a lot in common. For a seasoned producer, the best DAW for Hip Hop is the one they started with. That’s true to an extent. Though some DAWs are just tuned to the needs of hip hop producers, either intentionally or otherwise. They make life easier.
As ever, PC and macOS users have slightly diverging paths to choose from. Additionally, different user interfaces appeal to different people, and the same goes for workflows. For many, FL Studio 20 is the go-to DAW for hip hop, and others love Bitwig 3 because it is touch-friendly.
The “best Hip Hop DAW’ is much of the same. It is any digital audio workstation that works with you, not against you. In some ways, it becomes a life partner or blends seamlessly into your rig. Once it falls in place, you may find it easier to record, compose, mix, and master.
Of course, that is presuming you have done the legwork to understand how to work with effects, recording equipment, sample libraries, and digital effects. In this post, I put forth my eight favorite DAWs to consider for producing hip hop music.
What is the Best DAW for Hip Hop Music Production
FL Studio 20 Producer’s Edition is the best hip hop DAW. It’s affordable, accessible, and fully supports the needs of electronic music production. Plus, there is a large (and friendly) user community and a vast array of online learning resources. Featuring an excellent step sequencer and native synths, it’s very easy to create hip hop beats with it.
That said, Abelton may edge out FL if you intend to use the DAW for live performance. For Mac users, Logic Pro X still rules the roost for its stellar all-around capabilities to compose, record, arrange, and mix/master. If you are a PC user tempted by the DAW and willing to shift to a Mac machine, you wouldn’t be the first one.
1. FL Studio 20 Producer Edition (PC)
Image-Line’s FL Studio, despite its humble origins, has become one of the giants in the DAW realm. It remains a favorite for any Electronic genre, hip hop and rap included. Its popularity is fuelled by the intuitive user interface, expansive plug-in suite, and competitive pricing.
As a DAW for hip hop, FL studio facilitates professional tracks regardless of your skill level or budget. There are multiple packages, starting from a limited-feature free trial to an “All Plugins Bundle” to suit your pocket. That makes it equally relevant for pros and beginners.
You may feel a little disoriented if you are an experienced producer transitioning from another DAW. Other DAWs tend to work across a single timeline, while the FL 20 workspace is a blend of independent sections for mixing and arrangements.
For new users, the learning curve is not steep when compared to other full-featured DAWs. However, as is always the case, you have to put in the legwork to dig deep into the advanced elements of FL Studio. Committing to the DAW should be easy because the free upgrade policy ensures that you only pay once and all future upgrades are free.
We have a full article which explains how to figure out which version of FL Studio is best for you: FL Studio Versions – Which One Should You Get? Let’s Find Out
Reasons to buy:
- Full-featured DAW with pro-grade plugins
- Flexible and intuitive workflow
- Competitive pricing and free upgrades
- Excellent step sequencer and native synths
- Best Overall DAW for Hip Hop
The FL 20 Producer Edition – my pick for the best DAW for Hip Hop – is supported by FL’s fantastic piano roll, step sequencer, and pro-grade synths that are second to none. The fresh look of the FL 20 update combined with the ease-of-use for arrangement makes it one of the best investments for a workstation if the loop and clip workflow is your jam.
2. Logic Pro X (MAC)
PC users can skip this one, and macOS enthusiasts can embrace it as the only “logical” choice. Log Pro X is a one-and-done solution to turn your Mac into a music studio. The DAW has a wide variety of native effects, plugins, and sound samples. It also features a fantastic collection of modern and vintage virtual instruments to create music.
Logic Pro’s prevalence among hip hop producers is estimable. It’s no secret that stalwarts like Pharrell Williams, Kendrick Lamar, and other hip hop/EDM giants use this DAW. The workstation is famed for its ease of use, sound library, and ‘hot zones’ to edit samples.
For beginners, Logic Pro X is easy to learn, relatively inexpensive, and there is no shortage of tricks and tutorials. Professionals may enjoy Logic Remote, which allows users to add Apple products to mix and match features and use multi-touch gestures.
Logic Pro is exclusive to mac and 64-bit processing and can cost anything between $200 to $900 based on the version you choose. There is an uptick in the price and upgrades aren’t free, but if you invest in the DAW, it gives you no reason to stray.
Reasons to buy:
- Clean GUI and fast workflow
- LiveLoops2 and Sampler plug-in
- Best all-rounder DAW for macOS
- Excellent value for money
All in all, Logic Pro X is a comprehensive DAW that can be a one-stop shop to dive deep into recording, mixing, and hip hop music production. It is an all-rounder – one that can partner with hip hop artists from ideation to post-production.
3. Abelton Live
As a hip-hop DAW, Ableton provides excellent features to create and perform tracks. It is unarguably the most popular, if not top of the class, DAW for performance. This Berlin-based DAW has been around since the 90s. It has evolved into a substantial collection of instruments, effects, and sound libraries.
If performance is on your agenda – now or in the future – Ableton offers one of the best sequencers for the hip hop arena. It’s compatible with most controllers and has several resources due to a large and active community of Abelton users. It also features fantastic analog-inspired effects like Glue Compressor and native synths like Operator and Wavetable.
The learning curve is perhaps the most beginner-friendly (or right up there with GarageBand). The workflow is fluid, and the interface is straightforward. You can get the hang of Abelton within days, although it may take long before you can turn it into a tricked-out mainframe.
Reasons to Buy:
- Streamlined and fast workflow
- Relatively flat learning curve
- Resampling is fun and easy
- High-quality effects and built-in synths
- Top DAW for Performance
Those tangled in the FL vs. Abelton dilemma may benefit from answering a simple question – do you prefer the standard timeline of Abelton or the loop/clip format of FL? Exploring each for a few days can help hip hop producers find the perfect workflow for their temperament. I would pick FL Studio over Abelton because it is more feature-packed. YMMV.
4. Bitwig Studio
Bitwig is fledgling among DAWs with a meager five years of its existence. It has evolved with tremendous fervor to create its own identity rather than lock horns with industry giants. It’s often seen as an alternative to Abelton, but since the 3rd edition onwards, it has matured into a full-featured DAW rather than a complimentary tool.
Bigwig is a blessing for seamless integration of software and hardware, especially eurorack integration. The DAW rests on the laurels of the modular grid environment intended as audio effect processors. They feature over 150 modules that can be configured by the user, making Bitwig 3 a “grid” apart from the competition.
Of the many stellar features in Bitwig, the phase distortion synth, randomizers, and loop collections are fantastic. The DAW has more modulators and is much cleaner than Abelton. It’s an inspiring digital workstation for the creatively inclined hip hop artist or music producer.
Bitwig 3 was good enough, and the recent launch of Bitwig Studio 4 and new Operations mode (read: audio comping) has all the hallmarks of a killer update. Overall, Bitwig has a beefy sampler, flexible modulation systems, and an exhaustive list of hip hop-friendly features.
Reasons to buy:
- Modular Grids and Instrument Design
- Touchscreen compatible
- Multiple MIDI instruments supported on 1 track
- Unique and top-notch sound packs
As a whole, Bitwig Studio 3 offers a modular user interface with interesting sounds and the ability to design your instruments. The learning curve is minuscule, posing no threat to beginners or hobbyists. And, from what I hear, there are many desirable tweaks in the pipeline, geared to keep the DAW at the cutting edge of electronic and hip hop music production.
5. PropellerHead Reason Suite 11
Reason 11 is yet another fully-featured DAW with high-quality virtual instruments and effects to produce hip hop. The main draw of Reason is its stability and CPU-efficiency. It is available as the Standard Edition and Reason Suite 11 that includes a ton of extras.
Reason’s unique workflow differentiates it from the competition. The sequencer is reminiscent of a tape machine, the patch system is laid out like analog studio gear, and the mixer/rack is a snapshot of history. For the post-analog generation, this could be a hit-or-miss feature.
For others, this translates to an optimized and instinctual workflow, one that is an education in the movement of analog audio signals while making digital music. The effects, samples, instruments, and utilities are fantastic even in the Standard Edition.
Reason 11 is good for beginners if you aren’t bothered by the user interface. The bundled virtual instruments are versatile and powerful. But there is a nerdy element that underpins the tools you need as a hip hop producer or professional engineer.
Don’t dismiss Reason if you are salty from a previous bad experience with Reason (older versions). The new version have lots of features that give you access to synths and sound generators that are hard to find elsewhere. This video makes solid case for considering Suite 11 as a go-to DAW for hip hop –
Reasons to buy:
- Full-featured DAW
- Unique workflow and SSL-style mixer
- Compatible with Mac and PC
- Professional-grade effects and utilities
- Affordable pricing for an entry-level version
If you love the look of analog equipment, then you are in luck with Propellerhead’s Reason. Reason comes loaded with great collaboration tools and is a great DAW for hip hop producers. In the right hands, it can become a powerful tool for creativity and musical expression.
6. PreSonus Studio One 5
Launched in 2020, the latest update brings us to PreSonus Studio One 5, a Digital Audio Workstation that’s a tour de force for hip hop production. In a decade of its existence, it has matured with constant updates that stem from the developer’s insights and user requests.
As of now, the DAW is available in two versions – a scaled-down Arist Version and a full-featured Professional version. The latter is my recommendation for professionals because it has Notion protocol and a substantially larger pool of plugins and audio loops/samples.
The audio engine is primed for recording, the Chord Track and Pattern Mode help compose, and the scenes/settings are great to reference different mix options. Besides conventional uses, the newly added Show Page makes it apt for live performances as well.
The learning curve is middle-of-the-road – a little steeper than Abelton but not as demanding as Pro Tools or Reason. The user community may not be as broad as FL or Logic X. But tips, tricks, and tutorials are easily available online for continuous learning.
Reasons to buy:
- Full-featured DAW for PC and Mac
- Smooth but complex workflow
- Show Page for live performance
- Notion-based Score Editor
- Best multi-purpose DAW and plugin suite
PreSonus Studio One 5 can square up to any other when it comes to laying down beats and recording audio. The user interface is clean/modern, the workflow is smooth, and the features are innovative. Plus, it offers collaborative and networking tools befitting this era of “the new normal.”
7. Steinberg Cubase Artist 11
Steinberg Cubase(11) is a do-it-all DAW with all the requisite features for professional-grade audio production, mixing, and mastering. The top-notch performance of the DAW is backed up by the fact that it is used in movie studios and by Grammy-winning artists and sound engineers.
Cubase is available in 5 versions with the rudimentary Cubase LE 11 to ultimate Cubase Pro 11. For hip hop producers, Cubase Artist or Pro would be the way to go. I recommended Cubase Pro as it is packed with pro-grade effects, mastering tools, and built-in instruments.
You will get access to 2500+ sounds, 60 to 79 audio effects, and a host of songwriting features such as Time Warp, Chord Pads, Note Expression, and Chord Assistant. Plus, Cubase’s native synth and 80 effects are top-of-the-line.
There is a steep learning curve. Be prepared to invest some time to figure out the interface and advanced features. Basic functions and controls are convenient and easy to navigate. Sadly, Steinberg stills uses the dongle system to authenticate their products, should that be a deal-breaker for you. Other than that, Cubase gives you little to fault.
Reasons to buy:
- Featured-packed DAW for studios and artists
- Industry-standard for composing and MIDI sequencing
- Great for mixing and mastering tracks
- Easy migration across platforms (PC/MAC)
- Best DAW for Arranging hip hop tracks
Other than a precipitous learning curve, Cubase hits a home run with features, effects, and utilities. It’s the top choice for live recording, film scoring, and music composition – around the world. It a one-stop solution for your needs, and you can try the 30-day trial before you commit.
How to Choose the Best Hip Hop DAW?
All the DAWs in my list are a fantastic proposition for hip hop. In a broad context, you would want a hip hop DAW that has all-around functionality and excels at the tasks you perform the most. Mac users may find the decision easy to make.
They could be famed for smooth workflows, live performances, electronic music production, recording instruments/vocals, and mixing/mastering. Most of them do a stellar job at all these tasks, but certain DAWs have an edge in certain aspects over the competitors.
I’ve found that answering the following questions (on paper) makes it easy to narrow down the right choice:
- What operating system do you use – PC or MAC?
- What are your music production needs – Composing, recording, mixing, mastering?
- What user interface and workflow suits your temperament?
- What is your budget – factor one-time cost, add-ons, and future upgrades?
As I said earlier, a DAW is your musical muse – a composition consort if you may. Breaking up with one and switching to another DAW may be an unpleasant experience. That makes it important to be decisive and certain before you commit to a music production software. Hopefully, this round-up will usher to the best hip hop DAW that works for you.