For many people, it’s a lot easier and faster to record, edit, and mix tracks with the use of a MIDI keyboard. These keyboards let you add rhythmic or melodic lines and incorporate effects with the push of a single button, and can be just as invaluable for the producer in the recording studio as they are for DJs and other live performers.
If you’re in the market for a MIDI keyboard controller that’s well-suited specifically to hip-hop production, check out the four options on this list. They’re, in our humble opinion, the 5 best keyboards for hip hop production on the market.
Yamaha MOXF8 Music Production Workstation
This is the latest iteration of Yamaha’s MOTIF line of keyboards, leaders in keyboard performance for both performance and production. It uses MOTIF XF technology to bring you a massive sample library and Virtual Circuitry Modeling for the effects, making them sound more like analog EQ or compression effect boxes.
It also features a built-in sequencer with both real-time and step recording and an expansive interface for DAW or VST control. The included software package means you can use it to mix right out of the box, but it also has full USB and MIDI interfacing and is compatible with a host of other products.
It is also the only keyboard on this list that gives you a full 88-key keyboard. It uses weighted keys to give playing it the same feel as playing an acoustic piano but with 16 sound categories that can be easily split or layered—not always a primary concern for producers, but a great feature if you want this to be the main keyboard in your studio.
M-Audio Oxygen 49 MKIV
When the Oxygen series of keyboard controllers was released it was the first item of its kind—a MIDI controller that was portable and highly functional. M-Audio continues to be an industry leader, as exemplified by their Oxygen 49, which gives you more control and a better integration of software and hardware that makes it equally viable in the recording studio as it is on the DJ stage.
It has out-of-the-box integration with a variety of digital audio workstations, including Pro Tools, Logic, and Cubase, with automatic mapping of key parameters that let you start tweaking your tracks right away. You can also customize the mapping to work with any plugin or virtual instrument.
The 49 keys are velocity-sensitive, and it also comes with 8 velocity-sensitive pads that you can use to finger-drum rhythms or trigger samples. There are also 9 assignable faders and 8 assignable knobs. This combination of controls makes mixing tracks quick and easy, letting you focus your energy on the music. This should be on anyone’s list of the best keyboard for hip hop production.
Korg microKorg 37-Key Analog Modeling Synthesizer
Korg is a well-known name in the synthesizer world, and while they have several models of MIDI controller that would work well for hip hop production, their microKorg Modeling Synthesizer is the cream of the crop. It uses the same dual-oscillator synthesis engine they use in their MS2000, giving you 71 different waveforms including traditional offerings like pulse and sine along with more unique options like cross wave or Vox wave.
It also gives you a sizable collection of sounds and instrument emulations and four filter modes (see full specs), along with 128 rewritable programs. To top things off, it includes a microphone and 8-band vocoder with tons of features and effects, along with 2 audio inputs for processing other instruments.
Taken all together, these features make this Korg keyboard a powerful tool for the hip hop producer, and well worth the investment if you want to be able to carry the full functionality of a studio to live performances.
The Alesis V59 is a powerful little machine offering intuitive MIDI controls and 49 velocity-sensitive keys that can be used to give you the full melodic range thanks to the octave up and down buttons. There are also 4 assignable knobs for controlling plug-ins or virtual instruments, as well as 8 velocity-sensitive pads for drumming and sampling.
Unlike most MIDI controllers at this price-point, it also gives you two pitch modulation wheels. It plugs into any computer with a USB connection and integrates with most music software straight out of the box, though it also comes with Ableton Live Lite 9, a dynamic program that lets you record, remix, or edit on the fly, perfect for the hip hop producer.
The other bundled software, Xpandl2, is a virtual instrument program, offering you a huge range of sounds to play with. While it’s not quite as compact as some of the other keyboards on this list, it’s still very transportable and has a relatively small footprint in a studio context. It’s among the best keyboards for hip hop production period.
Akai Professional LPK25
The LPK25 MIDI controller is designed with live performers in mind, from the ease and speed of the controls to the compact size of the unit. At just 13” across and less than a pound in weight, it’s easy to transport to a gig or the studio—just throw it in your backpack and go.
In terms of its interaction with the software on your computer, the LPK25 is basically a scaled-down version of the Akai MPK, giving you the same plug-and-play functionality with both Mac and PC operating systems. It comes with its own editor but also plays nice with every major notation and music production software on the market. Along with 25 velocity-sensitive keyboard keys, it also gives you an arpeggiator, sustain controls, tap tempo controls, and an octave up and down toggle, in a layout that’s easy both to learn and to use.
If you want to remember specific settings for future use, the LPK25 offers 4 programmable memory banks, as well. At right around $60, it’s not only a versatile and portable option for hip-hop producers, it’s also an incredible value, giving you the same functionality as models costing twice the price.
Choosing a Keyboard
The first question you need to ask yourself when you’re deciding on a MIDI keyboard is where you plan to use it. If you’re a producer it’s likely you’ll be primarily using it in the studio, but if you want to be able to also use it in live performances, consider the size and portability of the keyboard you buy. A smaller model like the Akai will still give you as many controls as most people will need but in a package that’s easy to take from place to place.
Beyond this, consider how much you like having a tactile interaction with the music as you produce it. The full keyboard of the Yamaha MOXF8 (see full specs) gives you the feel of playing on a piano, especially helpful if you want to create your own samples. A full keyboard comes at a price, but it also gives you a lot of space to work with different voices, octaves, and effects—well worth the money if you’re a professional producer.
A controller with velocity-sensitive keypads is likely to be very helpful to producers who like to add their own rhythmic accents to tracks as they mix them. Faders and sliders are also helpful for distorting pitch, adjusting speed, or seamlessly integrating samples into the mix.
Each of the models on the list above gives you a different combination of controls, one of which is bound to give you the mixing capabilities you’re looking for. In other words, depending on how you use it, each could qualify as the best keyboard for hip hop production. Good luck!