5 Plugins Every Hip-Hop Producer Needs in Their Arsenal

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Hip-hop is a genre that has evolved alongside music technology. Early hip-hop DJ’s turned the turntables into instruments capable of keeping a party going with just a drum loop. As DJ’s transitioned into production they embraced non-traditional methods of creating music such as using drum machines and samplers.

Although the first recorded hip-hop song, “Rapper’s Delight” features as a live band, the group musicians in the studio were used to basically recreate or interpolate another song (“Good Times” by Chic). As rap transitioned from the streets to the studio it was important to keep the sound that made the music such an infectious part of the New York party scene in the late ’70s.

As technology continued to evolve throughout the 1990s and early 2000s producers transitioned from drum machines and samplers to keyboard workstations and eventually to creating music entirely on computers. Music production software known as Digital Audio Workstations hit the scene and expanded to wide range consumer use by the mid 2000s.

As music production software continued to evolve and computers became more powerful, audio “plug-ins” were created to give musicians the studio tools they needed from audio effects to software instruments. Whereas early hip-hop music gained its sonic color from the machines that were utilized in production, modern production software has a wide range of audio tools, such as these plugins, that allow users to create and combine sounds in new and unique ways.

While there are tons of options to choose from here are five essential plugins for hip-hop music production. 

1. Knock $99.00

KNOCK Plugin | PLUGINS THAT KNOCK

Knock is a plugin created by platinum music producer Decap who is best known for creating the very popular “Drums That Knock” sample pack series. This plugin has a simple set of five parameters (Punch, Saturation, Clip, Air, and Sub) that help shape your drum sound and make them stand out in your mixes. The signature “knock” sound is especially designed with hip-hop production in mind.

Throwing Knock on your drum bus will give your drum tracks extra sonic weight and enhance your overall production quality. I personally love to add Knock to my drums after I’ve finished making a beat. I typically use the plugin as a drum bus but there are a few presets tailored to enhancing individual drum sounds such as snares, kicks, and 808s.    

+ Read more on Flypaper: “Our 10 Favorite Free Plugins for Logic Pro.”

2. RC-20 Retro Color $100.00

XLN Audio RC-20 Retro Color review | MusicRadar

RC-20 Retro Color is a multi-effects processor that emulates vintage analog recording equipment. Throughout the course of hip-hop’s history, recording technology has improved and thus the sound of hip-hop records has become cleaner and more refined. However many producers love the sound of older recordings and look for ways to add more life to their digital productions.

RC-20’s effect modules allow you to control parameters such as noise, saturation, bit crusher, wobble, reverb, and volume drop. Use each effect individually or combine them all to create unique textures. RC-20 has instrument specific presets as well as vinyl, sampler, and cassette effects. If you want to make your tracks stand out and give them a bit more vibe, RC-20 is a great plugin to have in your arsenal.

3. Ominsphere 2.8 $499.00

Spectrasonics - Omnisphere 2.8 - Overview

Ominsphere 2.8 has become the industry standard VST for hip-hop production. This powerful software synth comes with 14,000 sounds to choose from and 58 built-in FX units. It works as a stand alone VST but can also be controlled by a wide variety of hardware synths which is a unique feature not found in many other VSTs.

Sound selection is a huge part of what makes producers standout and Ominsphere offers some of the best software sounds on the market.

Art of Hip-Hop

4. Auto-Tune Artist $349.00

Real Time Pitch Correction | Auto-Tune Artist | Antares Tech

If you work with vocalist or record your own vocals then you may find yourself needing to use pitch correction software at some point. There are many amazing plugins that offer pitch correction. However, Auto-Tune has become synonymous with the modern sound of hip-hop vocals. Popularized by artists such as T-Pain, Lil Wayne, and Kanye West, Auto-Tune took over in the late 2000’s and became the sound of a generation.

Although the software is designed for subtle pitch correction, hip-hop vocalists have utilized the software’s capability to pitch correct in real time and in the process created new possibilities for non-traditional vocalists. Auto-Tune allows you to set pitch correction to a wide variety of scales and keys which in turn enables the software to turn rough melodies into gold.

+ Read more on Flypaper: “5 Small Plugin Companies You Should Try This Year.”

5. Effect Rack $299.00

Effect Rack - Soundtoys

Effect Rack by Soundtoys is a powerful multi effects processor that combines many of Sountoys unique plugins into one bundle. Soundtoys makes very unique and high-quality effect plugins such as Crystalizer, Decapitor, EchoBoy, Phase Mistress, FilterFreak, and Radiator. Each of these effects by themselves is immensely powerful but with Effect Rack you can combine these stand alone effects into a multi effects bus.

There are presets for drums, vocals, guitars, and a wide range of effects categories such as filters, delays, modulation, and spaces. If you want to add unique textures to your sounds, Effect Rack is a one stop shop for a wide range of sonic possibilities.

Honorable Mentions:

While the five plugins above will definitely take your productions to the next level, there are tons of amazing plugins on the market it’s hard to narrow this list down to just five! So below are some other amazing ones that I believe all hip-hop producers should consider when looking to enhance your beats. 

Mixing & Mastering

FX/Sound Processing

VSTs

Good luck experimenting and expanding your sonic horizons!

Ready for even more?

Check out Soundfly’s variety of courses on songwriting, mixing, beat making, recording, composing, and more, led by artists like KimbraCom TruiseJlinKiefer, The Pocket Queen, and RJD2: From Samples to Songs.

Advanced Synths and Patch Design for Producers

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