How to EQ Hip Hop Vocals – The Best Settings

In pointing out the obvious difference between hip hop vocals and other genres, hip hop lines are spoken rather than sung with less attention to notes or key. This changes the approach when using EQ on hip hop vocals where body and punch are the priorities. With that in mind, let’s talk how to EQ hip hop vocals to give them power, presence, and ultimately sound like the vocals on your favorite mixes.

EQ Hip Hop Vocals

This hip hop vocal EQ cheat sheet is a slight variation on my traditional vocal EQ cheat sheet and shows the emphasis on body and presence for punch.

eq hip hop vocals

Let’s talk each move individually to better explain why we’re making them and the effect they’re having over the hip hop vocals.

High Pass at 100Hz

One move which hasn’t changed from my vocal EQ guide is the importance of high passing your hip hop vocal at or around 100Hz.

This is the bottom of the fundamental of the voice, and hip hop especially is a low end heavy genre. Typically featuring 808s alongside other sub bass, bass, and kicks (samples or otherwise), check out my low end mixing tutorial for tips on getting that low end clean, powerful, and in order.

One of the keys to keeping that low end sounding good is to create space on other tracks, and this includes the vocals.

There’s typically nothing but unmusical sound or otherwise noise below 100Hz on virtually any hip-hop vocalist, so sweep up with a high pass filter until you hear the vocal change, then back it off 10Hz.

Also note that when double tracking vocals, particularly hip hop vocals, I like to high pass the doubles a little high up to 200-300Hz to contrast with and keep the fundamental for the lead take in the center.

Boost at 200Hz

The heart of the fundamental body of the hip hop vocal exists around 200Hz-250Hz.

This will vary slightly between vocalists, but the point is this is the anchor of your vocal frequency.

Boosting 1-2dB in the 200Hz-250Hz range gives that vocal more body, thickness, and all around warmth in the fundamental which makes it feel more powerful in the context of the rest of the mix.

Dynamic Cut at 500Hz

Subtractive EQ is the best way to add clarity to your hip hop vocals. 500Hz is a boxy sounding problem area more often than not, particularly on the vocal range of a typical hip hop verse.

This is where I recommend using an EQ which allows you to seamlessly turn any EQ cut or boost into a dynamic EQ move like FabFilter’s Pro-Q 3.

Dynamic EQ simply means that the degree of the cut or boost changes depending on the volume of the frequency in that region.

500Hz isn’t a problem for the entire vocal, so rather than applying a typical EQ cut here which can sound unnatural, I like to pull out more (typically 3dB at most) from this region whenever there’s a build up. A dynamic EQ cut can do this, so refer to my overview on dynamic EQ for more information.

Boost at 800-1000Hz (With Hollow Vocal)

I get a lot of hip hop vocals submitted for mixing which sound like they’re missing something, or specifically have a hollow feeling to them.

This is the product of less than ideal microphone placement or vocal delivery in certain rooms which end up coming up weak in the 900Hz area.

You can correct a hollow vocal when the problem isn’t severe by simply boosting in that 800Hz-1000Hz region by about 1-2dB.

As I’ve mentioned in my overview on dealing with a nasally voice in the mix, a nasally voice is the product of TOO much frequency build up at 900Hz.

You can make your hip hop vocal sound nasally by boosting too much here, so keep it conservative as again this solution is only for slightly hollow vocals. If it’s too severe, there’s no substitute for retaking the vocal.

Boost at 4k-6k for Punch

I talk a lot about the importance of mix punch for keeping different instruments and tracks present in the mix.

When we talk about punch, we’re talking about the transients, or the initial sound you hear associated with a track.

In the case of the snare, we’re talking about the crack of the stick hitting the skin before the roundness and body of the tone follows. It subconsciously turns our attention to that instrument in the mix and reminds us that it’s there. You can even add audio transients to tracks which are otherwise lacking in them.

Good mixes are full of punch on a number of instruments to maintain their presence.

Hip hop as a genre especially revolves around the vocal, so when I EQ hip hop vocals, I like a boost of 1-2dB at 4k to add punch to the consonants.

This keeps that vocal up front and constantly visible in the mix.

High Shelf at 8-10k for Air

I like to bring out the top end of the vocal with a high shelf at 8-10k.

Some people refer to this as the vocal’s “air”, like hearing the breath (not to be confused with the more annoying vocal breaths).

Essentially I just like the crispness this adds to the vocal with that shelf about 1-2dB boosted on the top audible end.

Low Pass at 20k

While not a necessity by any means, if you’re going to use a low pass filter on your vocal then you’ll generally want to do it above 15k. If you want to truly be conservative in knowing it won’t affect the tone, stick to 20k.

As I’ve mentioned before, adding up the net sum of low passing every track, let alone every vocal in your set adds to the mixing headroom you’ll have to work with.

Similar to how I recommended high passing your double tracked vocals higher, I like to low pass my doubled vocals. More aggressively, in fact, as I’ll typical go as low as 6-8k on the low pass filter on my side vocals, keeping the air and crispness in the center (see my guide to panning backing vocals).

EQ Hip Hop Vocals Tips

  • Using EQ on hip hop vocals allows you to clean them up while adding body and presence to the low and high ends, respectively.
  • High pass your hip hop vocal at 100Hz (sweep up until the vocal tone changes or thins, then back off 10Hz) to clean up the vocal and create space for your low end elements.
  • Boost at 200-300Hz to add weight and body to the anchor of your vocal in that fundamental region. Like all adjustments, less is more and I recommend 1-2dB.
  • Apply a dynamic EQ cut to 500Hz to remove boxiness as it swells while keeping the vocal sounding natural without cutting more than you need.
  • Boost around 900Hz to fill out/correct a hollow vocal.
  • Boost around 4k to add transient presence to consonants.
  • Add a high shelf around 9k to add crispness to the vocal.
  • Use an optional low pass filter at 20k across all of your vocals to add headroom to the mix.
  • Be more aggressive with double tracked vocals, filtering below 250Hz and above 7k to keep the body and transients in the center of the mix and to contrast those supporting doubled tracks with the lead.

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