We researched some of the most renowned DAWs around and determined Reason Studios to be the best DAW for hip-hop and rap.
This DAW for rap and hip-hop is the most versatile of all, featuring Reason’s master bus compressor, capture MIDI, and more, with the incredible Reason Rack plugin to boot.
Still, despite its remarkable quality, Reason Studios may not be the best choice for everyone. So, here’s an overview of the best DAW options available for hip-hop and rap musicians.
1) Reason Studios – Best Overall
Reason Studios, formerly known as “Propellerhead,” is one of the music industry’s favorite DAWs for rap. It’s chock-full of incomparable tools like Reason’s Pitch Edit and mixing desk, making it the go-to DAW for professional and hobby music producers.
You can use Reason Studios as a standalone program or add on the Rack for integration with some of the other DAWs listed here for maximum originality in every layer of your track. The company refers to the Rack as the “creative sound design playground.” With this tool, you can mix and match instruments, effects, and even other devices to make the song of your dreams.
Many musicians also consider Reason to have the best, most organized workspace and intuitive set of tools. To achieve the perfect timbre for every element in your track, the software includes a master bus compressor, detailed control over channel dynamics, and sweeper effects for your desired modulation.
- Integration with the Reason Rack plugin (there’s also a VST/AU version)
- Capture MIDI and automation
- SSL 9000k analog mixing desk
- REX loops
- Reason Rack plugin integration (compatible with many other DAWs)
- Smooth, efficient workflow
- Software supports VST (virtual studio technology, software that allows the incorporation of effects and instruments into recorded music)
- Program does not support VST when using Reason plugin
Who Should Buy
Reason Studios is a trusted DAW for professionals and hobbyists, which is why it earned the title “Best Overall.” With that said, professionals will be better able to use the software to its full potential.
2) Ableton Live – Best for Versatility
Producers regard this program as the best software for multi-track recording and MIDI (musical instrument digital interface) sequencing. One key feature that sets it apart is that it can be used for live performances and studio recording sessions.
Ableton Live is available in several variations, including Lite, Intro, Standard, and Suite. However, the Lite and Intro versions share the most similarities. With Lite, you get all the essentials, from several audio and MIDI tracks to eight audio input and output channels to a plethora of sounds, effects, and software instruments.
This is where you must be mindful of your version selection. Though the Lite version is great, it’s only best for live sessions due to the track number limitation. If you’re composing in a recording session, it’s best to upgrade to Intro, Standard, or Suite. For the purposes of this review, the Standard edition features are listed below.
- Unlimited audio and MIDI tracks, with Capture MIDI and MIDI polyphonic expression
- 256 mono audio input and output channels
- Over 1,800 sounds and 36 effects
- 6 software instruments
- Can work for live shows and recording sessions
- Incredibly powerful MIDI functionality and comping
- Efficient workflow
- Relatively expensive
Who Should Buy
Ableton Live (editions Standard and Suite) is ideal for any musician looking for an all-in-one DAW they can depend on for live shows and studio sessions.
3) Magix Music Maker – Best for Beginners
The Music Maker was developed specifically with beginning DAW users in mind. All it takes is a simple drag-and-drop to incorporate the effects and loops where you want them.
If you just want to get your feet wet before committing to a software purchase, you can download the free version and take the program for a spin.
The Plus and Premium versions boast the inclusion of the Song Maker Tool. When you open up the Music Maker interface, all you need to do is choose a genre template to set up the structure of your song.
Then, you can move on to select loops and samples from the sound pool. From there, feel free to add any instrument you want to the beat. While you work, any loop you add will automatically adjust to your song’s pitch. To give you an idea of everything this software can do, here’s an overview of the Premium edition. Read more about Magix in this review now.
- Drag-and-drop functionality
- Collection of eight virtual instruments
- Song Maker tool (includes genre-specific song templates)
- VST2/VST3 engine and 32-bit bridge
- Excellent choice for beginners
- Preset song templates for easy music production
- Several thousand sounds and loops in soundpool
- Not suitable for professional music production
Who Should Buy
This software is best suited for beginners. If you’ve never worked with a music production program before, this is a great entry-level tool.
4) FL Studio – Best for Aspiring Professionals
FL Studio’s mixer is intuitive to use, allowing you to create complex tracks with advanced automation, sidechain control, and more. The browser and playlist offer optimal flexibility in your workflow, giving you the opportunity to place nearly any kind of data anywhere on the track and overlay them all.
Plus, FL Studio’s renowned piano roll offers easy editing and manipulation of complex scores. So, no matter how many notes you add or plugin instruments you integrate, you can count on this software to create a clean, cohesive track.
You have a vast array of instruments and sound effects to choose from when working in FL Studio. Yet, if you can’t quite find what suits your precise needs, this program is compatible with VST standards 1, 2, and 3.
- Unlimited lifetime updates
- 80+ instruments and effect plugins
- Renowned Piano Roll (feature that sends data for notes and automation to plugin instruments)
- Touchscreen compatible
- Free lifetime upgrades
- Supports all VST standards 1, 2, and 3
- Includes one of the best Piano Roll features in the industry
- UI can be slow
Who Should Buy
This program is definitely best suited for aspiring professionals. It’s a bit too involved for beginners and will subject inexperienced users to a pretty steep learning curve.
5) Steinberg Cubase – Best for MIDI Composition
Cubase’s recent updates focus heavily on automation, making it substantially easier for producers to compose their tracks to their exact specifications.
Now, there are several iterations of Cubase, so you’ll need to peruse through all the feature differences before committing to just one.
Generally, all the Cubase software options are designed to speed up your workflow. For instance, the audio warp quantization feature enables producers to simultaneously quantize several audio tracks, eliminating tedium from your creative process.
Plus, the MediaBay, audio random access (ARA) extensions and saveable workspaces will help you stay organized, so you can jump into production and edit your tracks, easy as pie. Here’s a list of example features to give you an idea of what to expect from Cubase Pro 11.
- Audio warp quantize (quantization is the process of syncing MIDI and audio notes to the tempo)
- Advanced channel strip
- Chord pads (playable with a MIDI controller)
- Mouse-free mix console (compatible with screen reader software)
- VariAudio 3
- You can exchange data between different projects
- Fast workflow
- Includes free update for ARA2 support
- It’s not compatible with earlier versions of Windows
Who Should Buy
This is a particularly suitable choice for producers who prefer to compose with MIDI and virtual instruments.
Buying Guide for Hip Hop & Rap DAWs
As you can see, several features distinguish the best DAWs for hip-hop from one another, making some better suited for your creative process than others. With that said, here are a few of the most important things to consider when purchasing a DAW for rap.
Desired Workflow and Interface
It’s been mentioned a few times thus far, but the workflow is one of the main distinguishing factors in top-tier DAWs. This is a make-or-break feature when it comes to the speed and ease with which you put together your tracks. Your DAW should offer smooth transitions to minimize the tedium of making music.
DAWs are typically compatible with three different types of plugin formats:
- Audio Units (AU)
- Real-Time Audio Suite (RTAS)
This determines what plugins you’ll be able to use with your DAW, and thus, the level of unique instrumental and sound combinations you can incorporate into your track. You’ll also want to consider whether your DAW is compatible with 32-bit or 64-bit plugins.
Your Goals for Music Production
There’s a lot to consider here. However, the most crucial factors to consider include:
- The extent of control you want to exercise over the comping and editing processes.
- Whether you will be recording in-studio only or you want to manage live tracks.
- The genres of music you’re inclined to make (for example, hip-hop and rap typically require fewer effects than EDM)
All of the DAWs discussed here represent the best software in the business, hands down. Whether you’re a beginner, hobbyist, or professional music producer in the hip-hop or rap genre, these programs will provide everything you need to create an original, memorable track.
Still, if you’re looking for an all-around go-to DAW, go for Reason Studios. It leaves lots of room to grow for beginners, but professionals will find that it covers all the bases for optimal workflow and creative freedom.
Interested in trying it out? Try out Reason’s free trial with the Reason+ edition, and see more of Music Grotto’s guides for tips on creating sensational tracks for all to enjoy.