Let’s talk about this….
Hip hop fans old and young await the day every year where XXL Magazine shares their freshman list, and in the past couple of years it’s been interesting to say the least.
In looking at this year’s list, there’s definitely some deserved spots. XXXTENTACION and Playboi Carti being the most obvious, as they’ve been undoubtedly two of the most electrifying artists of the last 12 months. Madeintyo is long overdue selection in my opinion, as he really should’ve gotten it last year after he blew up with “Uber Everywhere,” garnering remixes of Tory Lanez and Travis Scott.
KYLE was also a quality selection as he’s put out a bunch of A1 music over the last few years, though he hadn’t really had a huge hit until his viral record “iSpy,” which featured Lil Yachty. We saw just how powerful a Yachty feature can be with D.R.A.M.‘s “Broccoli,” and that’s more than likely what drove the record to be as big as it is. This isn’t to take away from the talent or popularity that KYLE and D.R.A.M. possess, but we all know Yachty is arguably the most polarizing artist of this generation and the posterboy of hip-hop music to the youth, which is exactly why Atlantic Records enlisted him as a feature for both songs.
In my opinion, that’s about where the legitimacy of this list ends. I’d like to preface first by saying that I actually do fuck with most everyone on the cover, but that doesn’t mean they all deserved their spot this year.
Kap G and Kamaiyah are the two most confusing selections even though Kap had a viral hit in “Girlfriend” and Kamaiyah was featured on Drake and YG’s smash hit “Why You Always Hatin’.” They’re confusing picks solely because there are a handful of other artists that have done more in the last year and are much hotter currently.
The first few names that come to mind are Ski Mask The Slump God, Famous Dex and Lil Pump. Ski, just like XXX, has a rabid cult fanbase that straight up goes crazy for him. You can see just from the interaction on his social media how strong his pull can be, and same goes for Dex and Pump. Not to mention all of these guys get 10s of millions of streams across Soundcloud, Spotify and everywhere else, and put out a fuck ton of music.
Despite all the controversy in the midst, Famous Dex has kept his focus on his craft and has been flourishing musically, racking up several millions of views on each video and developing nicely as an artist overall. He’s become a lot more than the off-the-wall, ad-lib heavy hooligan that fans have grown to love so much, he’s rounded out into much more of an artist and is really starting the push the boundaries of his music, all while keeping the same momentum, getting hotter and hotter.
Lil Pump on the other hand has experienced a very quick and meteoric rise in success because of his hilarious antics on social media as well as his mega-catchy bangers like “Flex Like Ouu” and “D.Rose.” Simply put, there’s not one artist in the underground who can generate the same numbers Pump can without heavily pushing his drops on social media except for XXXTENTACION, who, as we already know, is a freshman this year.
You can’t mention Pump without talking about his longtime friend and LVTR favorite smokepurpp, who’s also become one of the hottest and most polarizing artists of the underground in an impressively short time.
lil purpp just inked a deal with the legendary Todd Moscowitz and his new imprint Alamo Records and has been teasing his impending album DEADSTAR for a minute, so things are definitely slated to go way up for him soon.
6lack is someone else who probably should’ve gotten a spot on the list, as he’s become the face of this new generation of R&B next to Bryson Tiller. I know he’s not exactly a rapper, but if Anderson .Paak can be considered for the cover than I think 6lack deserves to be in the conversation as well. From his huge hit in “PRBLMS” to his ultra-impressive album FREE 6LACK, he’s simply taken over and won over the world with his stellar songwriting and warming singing voice.
What I think this list represents most is the shift that’s going on the music industry right now. There’s definitely some commercial, mainstream picks on here, but having XXX, UglyGod and Carti is a step in the right direction, and that direction is admitting that the underground is taking the power back and invading the mainstream.
We all know that most things are possible with a major label behind you; you can sell some records, get a 2Chainz feature, go on tour etc., but what this generation of “soundcloud rappers” is proving is that you don’t need to go in the traditional route to get to the same place, and I hope that XXL keeps that in mind more next year.
Let’s be serious, Lil Pump and Famous Dex are probably packing out more venues than Kamaiyah and Kap G right now. At the end of the day, more fans, not industry heads, not bloggers, not magazines, FANS have more of a desire to see these underground artists than who the labels are trying to push into mainstream popularity.
What might be most disappointing out of all this is seeing all the dope underground artists like Dex, Purpp, Warhol.ss, Thouxanbanfauni and more all go up to the XXL offices and make their pitch for why they should be a freshman, take pictures in front of the XXL logo, etc. and not one of them got on the list. I think XXL should stop vulturing the underground to get clicks and buzz for their list and social media when they know damn well they’re not gonna offer the vast majority of those artists a spot.
I have a lot of respect for every artist that did get on the list and XXL as the legendary publication it is, but it’s time to admit that the underground is only going to take over more—respect it.