An early summer tradition unlike any other, the XXL Freshman List never fails to stir the pot and give the good people of Twitter something to talk about. Overshadowed a bit this year by the particularly toxic political climate, Kanye’s 5-week GOOD Music stranglehold on the release calendar and the World Cup, the still provides an interesting glimpse into what XXL thinks people like. We will debate the merits of that glimpse in just a moment.
Before we go THERE, I want to devote my first and last ever paragraph to Rich the Kid. For those who are unfamiliar with the story, XXL EIC Vanessa Statten went on the Breakfast Club at the end of the week to talk about some of the decisions made behind the scenes regarding artist selection. According to her (so take this with a grain of salt), Rich the Kid’s stipulations for inclusion on the list included him sitting on a throne surrounded by the rest of the freshman as well as a spot for labelmate Jay Critch. The Jay Critch thing makes sense; good promotion for one of Rich’s friends as well as excellent exposure for one of his label’s artists. You could even make a tentative case for Critch’s inclusion on merit alone (though next year might be a more realistic timeframe for his inclusion). But the throne thing is laughable. We’re talking about Rich the Kid, a green-haired pipsqueak who got punked by the equally diminutive Lil Uzi Vert. Musically, he’s been in the game way too long to be a “freshman” and only has two certified hits to his name, one of which was dominated by Kendrick Lamar. I previously had no reason to dislike Mr. the Kid, but this is such a dickhead move. He tried to make a power play and was appropriately told to fuck off because he’s not valuable enough to include on the list. Next!
As for those who made the list, it’s mostly SoundCloud “stars.” The second wave of South Florida rappers are represented, but it seems like XXL is 6-12 months behind everyone else. Yes, the FL guys are huge, but none of names on the list (from Florida) were unfamiliar this time last year. The group is also a little smaller than in years past. As I did last year, I’ll improvise little categories as I go along and shoehorn the freshman into said categories. As always, these are my opinions, so don’t get too tight.
DESERVED THE SPOT
Lil Pump- He didn’t need to be on this list to boost his fame, but he is. And he deserves to be because, in 2018, Lil Pump is a star. He’s got the hits, numbers, followers, etc. I’m not going to say much else because you all know who he is, but putting him on the list is a no-brainer.
Ski Mask the Slump God- I really like Ski. His oddball approach to music–both lyrically and in his beat selection–is fun to listen to, and I’m glad he got the nod after X snagged the 10th spot last year. Book of Eli wasn’t outstanding, but Ski’s best work is scattered across the last three years and isn’t confined to any one project. As with Pump, I don’t think Ski really needed this list to make a name for himself, but it’s a nice accolade for a deserving recipient. Here’s to hoping the Timbaland collabs weren’t just a tease.
Blocboy JB- Memphis stand up! Two big hits, a couple big features, the OVO cosign and a whole city on smash. Blocboy smartly struck while the iron was hot and dropped Simi, and I thought it was a surprisingly good listen. The replay value is there because, despite merely serviceable mic skills, Blocboy’s energy and trademark drawl keep the entertainment high. If he takes all he’s learned in his first six months of stardom, goes into the studio and puts in big hours on his next project, I think he could have another couple big hits. People were quick to write him off as another artist bought, used and thrown away by Drake, but JB showed some fight. He deserves to be here.
DON’T LOVE IT, DON’T HATE IT
Smokepurpp- He’s the closest of the bunch to the top category, but he can’t quite compensate for his lack of mic skills like Pump can. That said, he’s got the hits to be here and I enjoy a bunch of tracks from Deadstar. The Murda project was mid, but Smokepurpp is starting to find his niche with these booming, minimalist beats and stupid but catchy rapping. “Audi” is a good blueprint for him going forward, and I think that’s the sound that will propel him further into spotlight. As the title states, I don’t love this pick, but I’m fine with it.
Trippie Redd- Lol. He’s annoying, his voice is annoying, but he continues to hit the emo rap sweet spot from time to time. I hate how much I enjoy “Love Scars,” and “Dark Knight Dummo” still slaps. I don’t particularly care for any of his projects to this point, but I’m most interested in what his next drop sounds like. He could keep it in line with his earlier work, or he could go more in the direction of Travis Scott. This is another pick that makes sense despite my misgivings, but I am genuinely interested in how his career develops.
Stefflon Don- This seems like a bit of a reach into the pop realm by XXL. I’ll be the first to admit I’m not super familiar with her work, but what I’ve heard it seems like she’s a versatile rapper/singer with an ear for the radio. I’m glad XXL finally put some international flavor on the list, and it’s always good to see the female MCs represented on the cover. This is an example of how, despite what people say, the list still matters. I had no reason to seek out her music before the list came out, but now I’m going to spend some more time with her discog. Regardless, getting noticed and picked up by XXL means you’re doing something right, so a tip of the cap to Steff.
J.I.D- XXL’s selection for token pseudo-conscious rapper for this year’s list leaves something to be desired for me. Since they pretty much skipped out on this type of rapper last year, it’s not surprising J.I.D made the list. That said, I didn’t like The Never Story and thought it was raved about way too much for a pretty boring listen. I thought his beat selection suffered from being too safe because J.I.D has bars and a weird, nasally voice that could be interesting over some more complex, layered production. He’s got the resources (read: Dreamville) to take advantage of his tools, but I think he’s on the list maybe a year too early. A good project this year could completely flip my opinion of him, but for now I’m underwhelmed by this pick.
YBN Nahmir- I like “Rubbin Off The Paint.” But the kid is 17, has two projects on SoundCloud that have under 3K favorites and simply hasn’t done enough to be on this list. I suspect the real debut album is currently in the works, but this seems like XXL pandering to the youth and falling victim to the hype. This is a weak pick, but YBN does have a smash hit and a couple other charting songs to his name. The spot is not entirely undeserved, but I’d want a larger sample size before making the selection. He’s in a similar spot as J.I.D, but with a lower ceiling.
Wifisfuneral- Sigh. Given the drama with Rich the Kid and Lil Skies, it wouldn’t surprise me if the rest of the Floridians banded together to get Wifi on the list because there is no way in hell he got here on his own. To be clear, I’m not totally out on Wifi; the Joe Budden song was hilarious and brought the bars, and Black Heart Revenge was a decent enough project. But considering all the other artists who didn’t make the list, Wifi has done nothing to elevate himself above the crowd. He has no signature hit, no signature project and a whiny, sadboy aesthetic that he could be biting from anyone. Still, I think Wifi could flip the script and surprise everyone with the bars he brought on the Joe Budden track. And at least he’s not…
Lil Skies- Fucking hell. To clear up some confusion, this fool accepted his 10th spot nomination (i.e. he won the fan vote) before refusing to show up to the photoshoot. For those reason, his name and picture did not appear on the cover. The funny part is he came in and filmed a pitch video, which seems like more work than sitting for a photoshoot. Maybe he realized he’d need to do a freestyle and a cypher and backed out knowing he can’t rap. He sounds like Wifi on steroids (read: more Xanax) but without the whiff of potential. When the “emo rap” wave blows over, Skies’ career is over. He has nothing to offer except half-baked, low energy, autotuned drivel over boring beats. And yet he’s made more money doing that than I’ll ever see in my life. Oh well.
As I did last year, I’ll offer up some replacements for the two spots I disagree with as well as the one vacated by Skies. I tried to think of guys/gals who would take the spot rather than just turn it down, so all the artists listed did pitch videos for the 2018 cover. First up…
Maxo Kream- The Houstonian has been in the game for a minute and dropped his debut album Punken at the start of 2018. His hits are moderately popular, but I think his rapping, persona and ear for menacing beats are more than enough to propel him to stardom. The XXL nom would have gone a long way towards that end, but I think he needs a breakthrough hit. If he secures one in the next year, there’s a spot for him next year if he wants it.
IDK- We’ve covered IDK more than anyone else on here (not that anyone’s reading), and I’d point you to those blogs if you’re wondering why I think he deserves a spot. As for why he didn’t make it, he doesn’t have the crossover hits yet. That said, he toured with Denzel Curry and Ferg, so the mainstream sort of knows who he is. I think a strong feature on a hit followed by one of his own would go a long way towards securing him the nomination.
Chynna- I love Chynna’s music; she has that Philly swag and knows she can out-rap many of her male contemporaries. Ninety was a solid project, but I think her bid this year was torpedoed by a relatively quiet June 2017-June 2018. Still, it’s hard not to listen to “MadeInChynna” and not think she belongs in the spotlight if not on this list. Just like IDK, I think she needs a strong feature followed by a hit of her own or a standout album to make the next list.
Others- Rico Nasty (Editor’s Note: “Bitch I’m Nasty” has been on repeat all weekend), NBA Youngboy, Gunna, Lil Baby, Key Glock, Tee Grizzley, G Perico, Uno the Activist
And that’s all. Here’s to hoping the future won’t prove me entirely wrong.