DISCLAIMER: DON’T COME FOR MY PICKS YOU’RE WRONG NO ONE GOT SNUBBED YOUR FAVORITE ARTIST SUCKS AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA ALSO I’M ONLY USING ARTISTS THAT ARE ON THE FAN VOTE PAGE FOR XXL SO I CAN’T THROW MOZZY ON HERE SORRY
With that out the way, let’s get into it.
The XXL Freshman List is, for whatever reason, an incredibly coveted accolade sought after by most-if-not-all up-and-comer artists in Hip-Hop. So much so that being left off of it (or “snubbed”) leads to hate against the brand from certain artists who felt they deserved it. Some artists don’t try for XXL, though. Notably, Bryson Tiller allegedly declined the guaranteed spot he was offered in 2016, but that’s not the point. The point is that this year, the pool for the 10 Freshman spots is 120-odd artists; some with millions and millions of views and some who haven’t scraped their first million yet. Everyone’s got different taste, but I feel as if I’ve come up with the absolute perfect XXL Freshman list for the 2018 year.
VIEWS ON HIS FRESHMAN PITCH: 30,000
ODDS OF ACTUALLY MAKING THE LIST: SLIM TO NONE
I’m kicking this one off with a shocker. OMB Peezy is an artist from Mobile, Alabama who hasn’t quite popped off yet. He’s got a couple big videos such as Pressure and Porch but hasn’t had his Nahmir-esque “Rubbin’ off the Paint” moment already that propels him into the mainstream hip-hop listeners’ ears. While he’s from down-south, his style manifests itself of a hybrid South-and-Bay-Area persona that comes from the time Peezy spends over in California and it makes for a genuinely unique sound that lends itself well to multiple settings; from hard trap-themed-tracks to simple street lessons. I pick Peezy here because he’s got an It Factor in my eyes. He stands out to me among a crowd of other underwhelming artists simply trying to do what he does so effortlessly. Readers who aren’t deep into discovering new artists don’t know Peezy and that’s fine: go check out Try Sumthin (w/ Yhung T.O of SOB x RBE fame) and Pressure. Also, if those don’t tickle your fancy, go listen to Porch to see why I think he has the it factor no one else has in his lane.
VIEWS ON HIS FRESHMAN PITCH: 48,000
ODDS OF ACTUALLY MAKING THE LIST: AVERAGE
Maxo is one of the best rappers out right now, bar none. I’m into his music religiously from his earlier tapes to 2018’s Punken debut but I’m not here to sit around and plug his entire body of work to you. That’s why I have Kevin and the shameless plug for my homies over at The Crate Dig because they wrote a fantastic introduction to Maxo’s body of work for newer fans. Go check that out.
Maxo’s style is best-described as Houston Trap: grimy lyrics over booming bass-y production that comes off as nothing short of second-by-second recollections of his experience in the trenches. His music’s authenticity doesn’t ever come into question or take you out of the immersion and that’s been consistent since his Quiccstrikes EP back in 2014. He deserves to be on the XXL Freshman list because as to where all of his peers simply define themselves as “different” or “versatile”, he doesn’t need to. His storytelling right now is second to none on tracks like Hit Mane or Grannies and simple initial listens will hook you on all of his appeal.
SKI MASK “THE SLUMP GOD”
VIEWS ON HIS FRESHMAN PITCH: N/A
ODDS OF MAKING THE LIST: VERY GOOD
I felt last year as if Ski should’ve made the list and was actually upset when names like Kamaiyah made it over him, but that’s okay. Ski showed after that XXL snub what he was actually capable of with the help of the underground and a rabid fanbase through way more adventurous and creative tracks like Catch Me Outside and Achoo! throughout the year. Whereas Ski was ready for it last year, he’s almost too ready for it this year. I’ve been following Ski for nearly 4 years now and to see his progression is insane; to think about the fact he’s never slowed that progression down and is constantly finding new ways to push his craft is absolutely absurd and so with that being said, I find him more than deserving of a spot on the list this year if not almost too good for the list.
VIEWS ON HIS FRESHMAN PITCH: 204,000
ODDS OF MAKING THE LIST: ALMOST POSITIVE HE’LL BE ON IT
If you haven’t listened to Tee Grizzley, go listen to his debut album My Moment and pre-order his new album Activated after you enjoy My Moment.
If you have listened to Tee Grizzley, join me in boycotting the Super Bowl until he gets to do a 45 minute orchestral suite of First Day Out in the Halftime Show featuring a LeBron James Dunk Exhibition and a Meek Mill Dirtbike show. Thank you for your time.
VIEWS ON HIS FRESHMAN PITCH: N/A
ODDS OF MAKING THE LIST: SUREFIRE PICK (WITH A CATCH)
The big question on everyone’s mind this year concerning the Freshman List is if XXL will pick Trippie Redd or 6ix9ine to be on the cover/list because in the past, they’ve shown themselves to be less than fond of each other despite a couple great tracks between them and them both using their platforms to elevate each other early on in their careers. In my perfect universe, they go with both 6ix9ine and Trippie and instead of making them do a cypher where they’re mixed in with their competition, they put them in their own separate cypher where they can trade disses on a huge platform and garner tons of views for XXL. However, as formulaic as XXL has been with the list for the past few years, I don’t think they’ll even consider something as dope as that. Instead, we’ll get one of the two artists snubbed, a bunch of subtle bars about it for a year, a couple interviews and then it’ll all blow over.
With that being said, Trippie Redd is more than deserving of a spot. He’s carved out a lane in the genre right now with his dreary vocals and auto-tune abuse, his easy-to-remember hook game and his playful style that relates with anyone who wants to have a good time. While he’s not spitting crazy punchlines or doing anything groundbreaking, he’s doing what everyone else is doing just a little bit better in my opinion.
VIEWS ON HIS FRESHMAN PITCH: 569,000
ODDS OF MAKING THE LIST THIS YEAR: SUREFIRE PICK
YoungBoy is going places regardless of if you want him to or not. The Nola native has done everything in his power to prove his spot in the game is deserved and has dropped quality track after quality track in preparation for his upcoming Until Death Call My Name album. In fact, if you’re unfamiliar with Youngboy, here’s a great metric to show you how good he is.
On April 5th, 2018 A$AP Rocky dropped a music video for his single A$AP Forever featuring Moby. That video is at an astonishing 12 and a half million views. This is, of course in preparation for his upcoming T E S T I N G junior album and has a ton of hype behind it. Between media appearances, late night talk shows and a compelling album rollout, this song has a ton of promotion.
On April 2nd, 2018 NBA Youngboy dropped a music video for a single called Diamond Teeth Samurai. That video matched Rocky briefly at the 5m mark, and then lurched ahead because now, it’s only 800k off of 20,000,000. Youngboy is red hot right now. No one knew he’d even be dropping this track (nor the 2 others he dropped the night prior and after) and it’s doing phenomenal. It also helps that the song is incredibly good and it’s easy to just listen to over and over and over. Between his Juvenile-type style in the beginning and the Weezy “Block is Hot” hook interpolation, this song is VERY NOLA.
Youngboy’s last album, AI Youngboy was great. There’s a handful of songs that are absolute classics in his discography, and then the rest are all unskippable easy-listening that any hip-hop fan can attach to. The reasoning? These songs all sound genuine. There’s never a mincing of words or a stretch to what happened in his recollections and you can tell that just by how he spits it. That’s why he deserves this spot.
LOU THE HUMAN
VIEWS ON HIS FRESHMAN PITCH: 71,000
LIKES/DISLIKES ON HIS FRESHMAN PITCH: 1,800/1,500
ODDS OF MAKING THE LIST THIS YEAR: 0.01%
Lou the Human is like if Mac Miller’s Delusional Thomas alter ego decided to find help for his issues, stop using such melancholy production but still want to keep a semblance of what made him marketable in the first place. I don’t expect anyone reading this to know who Lou the Human is: he’s relatively unknown, doesn’t have any huge songs (in fact, his most viewed YouTube Video is only 134k views as of right now) and doesn’t have any mainstream appeal. With that being said, he’s in a really similar spot to Denzel Curry prior to his 2016 list appearance. He’s supremely talented in production/selection and in his technical skill, his topic matter is refreshing (albeit the fact it borderlines on shock rap sometimes) and he’s generally a treat to listen to. I suggest you go try the Humaniac album out if you haven’t been up on Lou yet just in case he blows up soon, because I feel like he’s going to, and I feel like he deserves the sleeper pick spot on the XXL list that others have gotten.
VIEWS ON HIS FRESHMAN PITCH: 531,000
ODDS OF MAKING THE LIST THIS YEAR: NEAR 100%
Dex, similar to Ski Mask, deserved this prior. Dex, similar to Ski Mask, has done a couple things since his snub that make him even more deserving and so Dex, similar to Ski Mask, gets a spot on my perfect XXL 2018 Freshman List. Dex released his debut Dexter Meets Dexter album a little over a week ago and I was extremely impressed with it, personally. From the opening synth-heavy DMD, to the punk-inspired PROVE IT to shit like TAKE HER that made a Wiz Khalifa feature tolerable. With that being said, Dex also had those singles to go with the album such as PICK IT UP (with A$AP Rocky) where he arguably beat Rocky at his own game and JAPAN where his infectious positivity coupled with his signature subtle aggression made the track a lowkey hit. Dex has been a name in the scene for a while now and it’s criminal he never got his spot here but if he keeps moving at the rate and trajectory he’s on now, he won’t need that spot.
VIEWS ON HER FRESHMAN PITCH: N/A
ODDS OF MAKING THE LIST THIS YEAR: NOT GREAT, BUT NOT BAD
Starrah wrote Rihanna’s Needed Me, Camila Cabello’s Havana and Drake’s Fake Love. She’s more than fucking deserving. While she doesn’t really have her own solo bodies of work, what she’s done for other artists is almost second to none in the industry right now and even on her own/on features, she doesn’t suffer. She had a great feature on G-Eazy’s Order More a while back that put me on and since, I haven’t been disappointed. She’s a definite sleeper pick, but one that I can appreciate wholeheartedly. If you need any evidence that she belongs on this list, just go ahead and google “Starrah Writing Credits” and then enjoy having a ton of songs ruined for you because now you know they were all written by someone: namely Starrah.
VIEWS ON HIS FRESHMAN PITCH: 15,000
ODDS OF MAKING THE LIST THIS YEAR: SLIM TO NONE
Not to be confused with Kendrick Lamar Duckworth. The relation between the pair starts and ends in the fact they’re both from the West Coast. Duckwrth is an artist with few projects to his name, but a great sound. He released I’M UUGLY in 2016, then AN XTRA UUGLY MIXTAPE in 2017 so I’m optimistic about a big album this year that really shows people what he’s made of. He’s got a super easygoing style that lets you enjoy the bars and the sound individually without having to focus too hard and I think that’s something no one on this list can offer right now. Aside the fact he’s got 15,000 freshman views and his Wikipedia page is visible from top-to-bottom on a flip phone, he deserves it because he’s carving out his own lane. I suggest you listen to LOWRIDR by him off of I’M UUGLY if you want a good sampler for what he’s up to and why he’s going to blow eventually.
(MY) PERFECT CYPHER OPPORTUNITIES
Every year, there’s 3 cyphers composed of some of the artists in the list in separate groups. Sometimes, they have gross misjudgments of what artists fit together (see: Desiigner, Lil Dicky & Anderson .Paak) and sometimes, they hit the nail on the head with who should be where (see: Troy Ave, Jon Connor & Jarren Benton). With this year’s (perfect) crop, I figure I’ll make the 3 best cyphers possible.
CYPHER 1: FAMOUS DEX, TRIPPIE REDD and SKI MASK “THE SLUMP GOD”
Kick this one off easily. These three are fun, energetic and easy to comprehend. Trippie Redd can even double as doing what August Alsina did one year with only doing a hook/a more melodic bridge to the verse because from what we’ve seen, he shines in situations like this. Dex and Ski can duke it out over some experimental production with their ad-libs and fun bars, and everyone ends up winning.
CYPHER 2: LOU the HUMAN, STARRAH and DUCKWRTH
It may look like I just picked the least popular artists here: and I did, but they fit. Lou, Starrah and Duckwrth are capable of being the more obscure freestyle from this year similar to 2016’s G Herbo and Dave East two-man cypher bar trade. Starrah shines in settings where she’s able to experiment and both Duckwrth and Lou thrive in that environment as well. Lou can make up for an absence of bars singlehandedly but the Duckwrth stimulus package would be a great add-on to what’s already fantastic without him.
CYPHER 3: NBA YOUNGBOY, OMB PEEZY, TEE GRIZZLEY and MAXO KREAM
Here’s the one that gets the old heads to go “oh, alright then.” when they’re busy arguing about how Mumble Rap has made their entire early 90s Vinyl collection spontaneously turn into dust, somehow. These four names are incredibly good at talking that shit about what they know and their common ground is that they’re Anna Wise levels of really-really-real. Maxo’s storytelling, Tee’s visualizations, Youngboy’s emotional struggles and Peezy’s surprise appeal would all amount to one of the best XXL cyphers of all time if not the greatest of all time if executed over the right production.
SNUBS, AND WHATEVER ELSE I’M GONNA TALK ABOUT HERE
There’s a few huge names missing from this list and that’s for a multitude of reasons. I’ll list the “snubs” here even though I don’t think they need the list/deserve the list.
The obvious one. 6ix9ine isn’t on this list because at this point, I feel he’s too big for it and has really nothing to offer to it. While I have zero doubt he’d do great in a high-energy cypher, he’s also got problems playing nice with others and his entire mystique revolves around being antagonistic/the villain of the new rappers. While he will end up on the list (as he’s at 1.1m views on his pitch, something no one else has) I don’t think he should be on it or even needs it.
The other obvious one. Nahmir isn’t impressive enough. He’s only big because Tay-K got locked up and Rubbin Off The Paint was marketed by Instagram meme pages as “NEXT TAY-K?” and then from there, he had a fake beef with a guy in prison (Tay-K) who can’t respond, dropped a myriad of mediocre singles and still has somewhat of a following somehow. Get him out the paint. Go back to GTA.
Blocboy just needs an album or something. I can’t justify him being on this list solely off of a track he got renegaded on by Drake and a couple other singles where he’s not the best artist there. He’s got something, of course, but he’s woefully unimpressive from what he’s promoting right now. Given time, he’d have deserved this and if the list dropped this summer instead of late spring, he’d be a prime candidate for it. I think if he gets on, it’ll be through the fan vote or something.
FAT NICK (AND POUYA BY EXTENSION)
This one’s more personal. I’ve been tapped in with Miami/South Florida hip-hop for a while and it seems like neither of these guys can blow up. They’ve been doing this music shit for a hot minute now and yeah, there’s some great tracks, but I don’t think the masses can get behind their shit because it hasn’t evolved at all. If either of them are to go anywhere, it’ll be Fat Nick because of how instantly recognizable/charismatic he can be off the mic but these two simply don’t deserve it with this crop of talent around them.
Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha. He was an option. He might win the Fan Vote off of exposure alone. If Jaden goes, he needs his own cypher where he invites all of BROCKHAMPTON and completely fucks the game up for XXL. I just don’t think he like, belongs here. This list is for helping artists blow up and gain exposure. If you count The Pursuit of Happiness, I’ve been a Jaden fan for 12 years. He’s got his exposure. Let the other guys cook.
J.I.D. just needs another album. If he had another album that was better than The Never Story released recently, or even an EP with more buzz, he’d have been here. He got snubbed because he just doesn’t have enough content out for me to justify it.
He’s too big for it. End of.
It’s funny, this article was written in late March and I scrapped it because of how far the XXL cover was. Between the time it was written and now, I’ve gone from a Skies hater to somewhat of a fan and so the only reason he got snubbed was time. I heard his feature on a Pollari song and really enjoyed it and then from there, realized I’d only ever heard his worst work. Skies isn’t too big for the cover, but he’s also not on the level of a lot of these other guys. If he were to replace anyone, I think it’d be Trippie in both his spot on the cover and in the cypher I posted above. Also, I think if you do Skies, you have to add Landon Cube as sort of an item. Skies and Landon Cube are a great pairing.
He’s just not big enough now and hasn’t released a body of work recently enough for me to justify putting him on the list. I love Night Lovell. If you somehow read this, Night Lovell, drop a new album. Thanks, Night Lovell.
His rapping isn’t very good at all. The only reason Pi’erre should get a spot is off of his production because he’s practically the new age Metro Boomin. I do think XXL should add a Producer spot every year, however — one where they DJ all three cyphers with beats tailor-made for everyone there. Issue withstanding with Pi’erre is that if 6IX9INE ends up on the cover, he’s not producing for him and so politics would get in the way of innovation. I’d love a producer spot yearly though; it’d probably avoid moments like Kodak’s “Who the fuck picked this lil sorry ass beat?” line because I think he’d have gone way harder if that beat wasn’t trash.
If you don’t agree with my picks, tell me on Twitter @culturedboy. Harass me on Instagram @nevercultured. Snap me pictures of your cats with “you’re dumb for putting OMB Peezy on your list” on their forehead @culturedboy.