At the start of every summer for the past 11 years, XXL Magazine presents their “Freshman List”. A collection of rap up and comers who are thought to be posied to take over the game in the preceding calendar year. The list has been viewed as a stepping stone into mainstream hip hop and was largely recognized as one of the most coveted looks a young artist could get to solidify themselves as a soon to be star. The laundry list of names that have graced the cover and gone on to release platinum hits, Grammy nominated albums, and signed million dollar record deals is extensive; Kid Cudi, Wale, J.Cole, Kendrick Lamar, Wiz Khalifa, YG, Meek Mill, Future, Travis Scott, Chance The Rapper, and Lil Uzi Vert have all graced the cover of the magazine, just to name a few.
While there have undoubtedly been a surplus of stars born from XXL, there have always been a few misses here and there. Corey Gunz was on the list in 2009 after dropping “6ft 7ft” with Lil Wayne, and I don’t know if hes even breathed into a microphone since. Some guy named Fashawn made it the following year in 2010, and I Fasho have never heard of that motherfuckers music. Despite the duds, rap fans have always embraced the list, and felt that it was one of the last few print publications that meant something in the world of hip hop, but as of late that sentiment has drastically changed.
The tides began turning against XXL upon the release of the 2016 Freshman list. A cover that featured a surplus of “Lil” rappers. Although a lot of main stream media and quote un quote “old heads” spoke out against this list for its lack of lyrical artists, it was the right list for that year, and the last time XXL has gotten it right. Whether you like new age hip hop (mumble rap) or not, 2016 was the year when the Soundcloud scene exploded. Low Fi music, with a focus on heavy 808’s and energetic ad libs over lyricism and studio quality production reigned supreme, and artists like Lil Uzi exploded onto the scene with millions of streams out of nowhere. And although acts like Uzi, Yachty and Kodak Black did not have the most thought provoking lyrics, they were balanced out by the likes of Denzel Curry, G Herbo and Dave East, who brought lyricism into the new wave.
All things considered 2016 was a solid list, but because of the mainstream distaste for the “Mumble rap” scene, this was the first time people both within the industry and outside of it began speaking out against XXL in droves.
Things only got worse with the 2017 list. Once again, the cover was chock full of Soundcloud stars, which the old school heads once again hated, but going off numbers alone, several of these guys were undeniably next up. XXXTentacion, who won the fan voted 10th Spot, was a relative unknown to the mainstream music scene but had a slew of online bangers that spread like wildfire when he was incarcerated in 2016, the most iconic of which “Look At Me!” went platinum. Platinum.
While he was in fucking jail, with no label, no marketing team pushing his song, and no music videos. That is pure banana land. There were a couple other artists that XXL got right for 2017, like A Boogie, and PnB Rock, while others they were just flat out late on and probably should have put on the prior years list such as Playboi Carti and MadeinTYO. Although I think Ugly God is a hilarious, his music is just not good enough to make the list, and the rest of the winners were absolute trash picks and felt like industry plants. Kap G has never made a song worth mentioning. Kyle’s music is far too Kidz Bopy for him to ever be taken seriously in rap, and nobody, I repeat nobody knows who the fuck Kamaiyah is or cares about her music. At all. The only reason she was on the list is because she is a female, but she isn’t even the most talented female artist that popped off in 2017. Um Alex, may I have Cardi B for 400 please?
The 2017 list shed light on the fact that XXL was not so much in touch with what was actually popping online, but more concerned with appeasing labels and sponsors by placing safe, advertiser friendly artists on the list.
Come 2018, all eyes were on XXL as their reputation had already been dragged through the mud a bit. With more and more artists breaking into the industry by way of streaming platforms or online persona alone, it would only make sense for the XXL Staff to analyze streaming numbers, and the internet following of rising artists to determine who was actually next up.
At first, it seemed like that’s what they were doing, even bringing back the user voted 10th spot…but then everything went to complete and utter shit. The winner of the tenth spot was apparently Lil Skies, a melodic high energy crooner from Pennsylvania who is emerging as one of the brightest stars of the new generation. His shows have the “rockstar vibe”. He’s light-skinned, has face tattoos and girls cry tears of joy when they see him. He was a guarantee for the list.
XXL seemed to think so too, but they made the mistake of choosing him for the list themselves, with the plan of deceiving their fans into believing they voted Skies in, and then decided to tell Skies he got the fan vote….before the fan vote was even over! Idiots!
Rich The Kid was then offered Skies spot, and even flew out for the photoshoot, untul he was told by XXL that he was the replacement for Lil Skies. Idiots again! Rich obviously gave them a big fuck you and backed out of the cover, as he wasn’t one to be a replacement (if we’re being honest he’s too big for the list now anyways)
There were definitely several sure fire locks that XXL got right on th list, with Lil Pump and Smokepurpp being absolute no brainers in my opinion. Both artists emerged from obscurity through the radioactive soundcloud swamp that is South Florida and exploded onto the scene, and both just recently signed multi million dollar record deals with their respective labels. I almost thought Pump would have turned it down, seeing that he is one of the biggest names in hip hop right now, and undoubtedly the biggest in the 13-18 age group. Whether you like it or not he sells records and sells out shows. I like the addition of YBN Nahmir, who like Pump, is under the age of 19 and is already raking in millions of views and dollars with viral hits like “Rubbin Off The Paint” and “Bounce Out With That’ each garnering 119 million and 89 million views on YouTube respectively.
Canton, Ohio born Trippie Redd puts another check in the W column for XXL, as his unique sound and aesthetic has allowed him to rise meteorically in the last year. He had an apparent feature on Drake’s “Gods Plan” that reportedly removed, but his joint effort with XXXTentacion “Fuck Love” was a platinum smash. Ski Mask The Slump God was a snub from last year, and while he had a great 2017 and deserved the spot, it was a showcase of the magazine trying to make up for past mistakes. BlocBoy JB was another viral sensation with his “Shoot” dance blowing up after Drake hopped on his “Look Alive”, but without the 6 God co sign he leaves much to be desired as an artist.
Although I think they both are dope as fuck and stand out as a lyrical stallworths in a group of either more melodic, or hype contemporaries, I just don’t see JID and Wifisfuneral as legitimate XXL Freshman, they’ve both signed major label deals (JID with J.Cole’s Dreamville imprint, and Wifi with the Alamo Records division of Interscope) and although they have bubbling online footprints, they have been around too long and haven’t reached the level of stardom of their contemparies on the list, or that of obvious snub Tekashi 6ix9ine
HOW DO YOU SNUB KING TEKASHI??
I get that he is controversial and his antics and juvenile criminal history is suspect… but this is Hip Hop. It’s not about who is the most brand friendly. It’s about who’s the hardest, and who puts out the biggest and best records. If you’re looking for hard hitting trap bangers, Tekashi is unbeatable. His numbers speak for themselves, and no matter how hyper aggressive and violent his lyrics may be, his tracks crank.
Lastly, Steflon Don is a bad pick. Much like Kamaiyah, I have never heard of this chick, I literally just listened to her music as I wrote this today. Her music is by no means trash, and it actually does crazy numbers (I assume a large part of her fanbase is international as shes from the UK), but a lot of it sounds like label curated radio music. Which makes sense, she sounds and kind of looks like a thicker Rihanna with a little more hood flare. However with huge features on tracks like Future, French Montana and Latin Icon J Balvin already, it’s clear a lot of her buzz is far from organic. LA bad bitch Rico Nasty wouldv’e been a way better, more true to the core “Freshman”
This is the first year that XXL’s list isn’t trending on twitter the day it’s dropped, and pretty much every major artist, tastemaker and personality has spoken out on it or called it trash. With the Freshman list being really the only thing that keeps the magazine relevant, it’ll be tough to see if they can bounce back from this.