Eight of the best plug-ins for trap and hip-hop
Here are some of the best plugins for trap and hip-hop music, featuring our friends at Plugin Boutique and more.
Your track can feature the best rapper in the world, but if the instrumental doesn’t sound slick, then the song won’t be reaching its full potential. You need to use the vast array of tools at your disposal effectively. They’re made to inspire and aide the creative process for hip-hop and trap producers, so don’t sleep on them.
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Sampling is a core component of most hip-hop and trap instrumentals. That’s why it’s important to check the options out there, such The Prince – made in collaboration with Drake collaborator Frank Dukes – that can make producers flip samples in new ways, providing handy presets that speed up the process. It’s not just about sampling, however, as there are helpful effects plug-ins, sample auditioning tools and versatile virtual instruments that have been either approved or created by legends in the game.
Below, we’ve compiled eight of the best plug-ins that are proven to work well for hip-hop and trap instrumentals or vocals.
Best plug-ins for trap and hip-hop at a glance:
- Wavetracing SP950
- AudioThing Hats
- UJAM Groovemate One
- Cradle The Prince by Frank Dukes
- Slate Digital Murda Melodies
- XLN Audio – XO
- Soundtoys Little Alterboy
- Xfer Serum
Wavetracing’s SP950 is an ideal plug-in for fans of the classic E-mu SP-1200 sampler, which was used by hip-hop legends to create some of the most iconic instrumentals in the genre. It’s essentially a digital version of the hardware sampler’s filter, so it’s fairly limited but is full of old-school sampler charm.
The SP950is a plug-in that can be drop into each of its user’s tracks with classic emulations of basic effects such as an Akai S950 filter emulation and a combined RPM/detune slider. Yes, software can take music-makers beyond their limits, but “limitations make music production more fun”, according to Cookin Soul in our December 2021 cover interview.
AudioThing’s Hats is an instrument plug-in that does one thing very well – and that thing is… hi-hats.
This plug-in lets you select a sample to pitch, tweak and filter, and gives you control over Noise type, level and stereo width to start crafting your perfect hi-hats or percussion. Next, there are two envelopes – long and short – and an LFO to get a bit of variation into the sound.
The four effect modules you get in Hats – that’s Ring Mod, Bit Crusher, Filter and Reverb – each offer two parameters to change the sound, and can be re-ordered as you see fit. Hats lets you get started easily with plenty of presets, and soon becomes an indispensable high-end tool for getting a track moving.
UJAM Groovemate One
UJAM Instruments, co-owned by Pharell Williams and Hans Zimmer, has recently gifted us one of its many helpful instruments for beatmaking – Groovemate One. This tool lets users create and perfect their own percussion sequences using the included sound library or drag in the painstakingly accurate MIDI patterns to tracks. These presets are rich and real, providing accurate nuances in the velocity, and so on.
If a hip-hop or trap producer is looking to add an intimate real-life edge, the clean-sounding percussive elements on offer in Groovemate One will add something extra, whether that’s through real hand claps, hats, shakers or snares. Alongside the sounds, it has a range of features, including advanced quantizing and fancy swing options.
Cradle & Frank Dukes The Prince
The Prince is a plug-in made in collaboration between beatmaking and sampling legend Frank Dukes and new virtual instrument developer Cradle. It consists of 130 samples from vintage synths in Frank Dukes’ collection and its 250 presets are reflective of many of the sounds we’ve heard from the artist’s work with the likes of James Blake, Frank Ocean, Kanye and Drake.
A unique feature of The Prince is its ability to let users blend two of the library’s samples using a Blend crossfader, and filter. You can also adjust samples’ speed, glide, pitch, distortion, chorus, delay, reverb, velocity and pan.
If you want to create something interesting and inspiring on the fly, the samples and presets collected and created by Frank Dukes will set you off nicely.
In our review of The Prince, we said: “It has a character and texture much aided by the quality interface and effects that stirs and stimulates creativity – which is after all what a musical instrument should do.”
Slate Digital Murda Melodies
Grammy award-winning and multi-platinum producer Murda Beatz has worked with Migos, Travis Scott and Drake. Now, he’s put all his favourite effects he’d use while mixing melodies into one effects plug-in in collaboration with Slate Digital.
The pitch shifter is a key feature of the Murda Melodies, alongside its high pass and low pass filters, pitch jitter function, a wide modulating ensemble, present and detailed clarity, a rhythmic delay, a reverse effect, wobble effect, warmth distortion, an “ice-y reverb”, and a spread knob which makes the sound wider. Murda Beatz has also included a range of effects presets.
XLN Audio – XO
XLN Audio’s XO plug-in uses clever technology to take sampling and auditioning samples to the next level. If you are a hip-hop or trap producer that likes to sample their drums and has a vast array of sounds, you’re going to get some good use out of this advanced tool.
Firstly, flicking through your drum samples doesn’t have to be such a bore anymore thanks to XLN Audio’s audition technology, which throws your samples into a scatter diagram, showing your kicks in red on one side, then your hi-hats in blue on the other side, and everything colour coded in between. Not only can you quickly try out your samples all in one place, if you find, say, a weighty kick drum that fits your track, but XO will also identify sounds that are similar to that and point them out.
Soundtoys Little Alterboy
Soundtoys’ Little Alterboy is a popular vocal-bender plug-in that sets itself up well for contorting trap vocals. Think about the likes of Gucci Mane – these artists pitch down vocals and fill space using delay. Using the Little Alterboy, you can do the same and sound like a trap artist in no time.
The plug-in includes a formant-shifter, pitch-shifter, quantize and delay. Users can layer these modulated vocals to create characterful, rich and surreal vocals. A good tip when using Soundtoys Little Alterboy is to have around three vocals stacked on top of one another, with one pitched down. Especially if you have overly autotuned vocals, playing with the pitch gives off an instantly ‘trap’ feel.
Xfer’s Serum plug-in is a virtual synthesizer with a wavetable and high quality sound, able to create distinct synth stabs or brooding basslines that fit right in on a modern trap track. It’s fair to point out, however, that Serum is highly versatile and can perform in almost any genre. The fact it’s pretty cheap, too, makes the Xfer Serum a go-to plug-in instrument to have in your DAW.
Its simple dashboard lets users build a desired sound using the plug-in’s 10 effects, including reverb, flanger, filter and a compressor. The workflow is the main USP here though – users can see their wave and see how it’s modulated in real-time. If you’re a visual producer, Serum’s wavetable feature lets you visualise the sound and its effects, even allowing you to go “deep” into the wave and import, morph and manipulate fine details of the wave.
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