What 2018’s XXL Freshman List Will Say About Hip-Hop

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Trigger warning: This article and the articles linked within it cover artists who have been accused of violent and sexual crimes.

Every mid-June, the hip-hop community takes a breather and devotes a couple weeks of friendly, yet heated discussion towards the XXL Freshman list. Annually, ten handpicked artists – including a single fan-vote in — hit the front cover of the XXL mag and try to outdo each other with bodacious cypher bars and foreign designer fashion. In past years, hip-hop masterminds like Kendrick Lamar, OJ Da Juiceman, Danny Brown, Meek Mill and Vince Staples flexed their talent lyrically to millions of hungry fans, giving them a platform to succeed and spread their seed in the hip-hop community. Historically, the XXL cover has been a fun debate topic for enthusiastic hip-hop fans to argue over with their friends, making lists of the best rappers and trying to rank their favorite freestyle verses. Lately, it’s gotten much more…political.

At the advent of the #MeToo movement, hundreds of thousands of fearless women are taking pride in ripping down the abusive patriarchy by making abusers, otherwise famous and beloved, culpable for their inexcusably evil actions. The movement has seeped into all facets of social media, film and music, shifting the narrative away from “separating art from artists,” and instead choosing to support artists who engage in moral discourse through their speech as well as actions. In the music world specifically, the PWR BTTM controversy sparked an outcry of disgust and betrayal from a band who incessantly promoted inclusivity and consent. The band was immediately dropped by their label and shunned by their entire fanbase, leaving a paltry trail of breadcrumbs behind after being one of indie music’s most promising young bands.

Hip-hop, on the other hand, has had a little more trouble banning its abusive musicians from the mainstream. In fact, some would argue cases of abuse have brought said abusive artists even more fame and notoriety than they would possess otherwise. XXXTentacion (multiple cases of assault and battery), Famous Dex (domestic violence), 6ix9ine (use of a child in sexual performance), Youngboy Never Broke Again (assault & kidnapping), Kodak Black (sexual assault) and Tay-K (murder) have all skyrocketed in popularity over the past year, with severe cases such as Tay-K’s “The Race” going viral because of — rather than in spite of — the artist’s horrifying history of violence. Even Adam22, the founder of No Jumper podcast and notorious culture vulture known for interviewing countless new school rappers, was accused of sexual assault on two accounts, one with a 16-year-old girl.

Hip-hop’s harmful relationship with violence and abuse is not a new one. R. Kelly and Chris Brown still hold tremendous power in the R&B community after continued and escalating proof of severely troubling crimes involving them both. The problem is cyclical and destructive. When news publications publicly condemn these artist’s actions and then post their music on playlists and “best-of-lists,” it leaves the burden of guilt to the listener who didn’t ask for Kodak Black to pop up on their Spotify daily mix, or the hip-hop fan who didn’t know of Famous Dex’s troubling violence toward his girlfriend until after buying his mixtape.

XXL has shown in the past that they do not care about the unforgivable crimes committed by certain members of the hip-hop mainstream. Despite leaving Famous Dex off the 2017 cover because “We saw,” evidence of his abuse, Kodak Black and XXXTentacion made the front cover in back-to-back years during the peak of their abuse coverage. It’s worth mentioning Famous Dex is a much less popular artist than both Kodak and XXX, and leaving either of the latter off the list would cause more backlash from rabid cult fans than XXL felt like dealing with, and XXXTentacion’s inclusion was sure to bring millions of new viewers to their website and Youtube channel.

This all brings us to 2018. Another cover is in the works for XXL and the fan vote is up and ready. It’s unsure who the first nine of the cover are, but 6ix9ine, Famous Dex, Tay-K and Youngboy Never Broke Again stand among the top names being mentioned for the 10th spot (as well as controversial figures such as Lil Pump and Bhad Bhabie). If he keeps his upward momentum, 6ix9ine will likely snag the last spot, despite his unruly sexual accusations and his use of the n-word as a non-black artist. Without knowing who grabbed the other nine spots, it looks like XXL tries to duck the blame by putting any and all abusers up for a vote, making the fans ‘accountable’ for picking these artists even though XXL has no intentions of keeping abusers and criminals out of the voting pool.

It’s XXL’s responsibility, as well as every major music news publication, to keep the airwaves clear of abusive artists and give the platform to more deserving, more inclusive, better music. It’s hip-hop’s responsibility to take a critical look at the artists it chooses to idolize and quit vying for absurdity at the expense of people affected by abuse and violence. It’s our responsibility, as listeners, to be conscious of what we listen to and try not to give a platform of power to those who betray our trust and support. We can do much more to foster a community that puts talented and rational men and women on before sadistic, harmful headline machines. Hip-hop deserves better.

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