XXL is back again for this year’s Freshman issue. Every summer, the infamous hip-hop magazine picks 10 up-and-coming rappers to pose on the front cover and participate in some freestyles, cyphers and rap battles. Seen as a formality by some and a rite of passage for others, the Freshman list always sparks debate and friendly competition in the hip-hop community. We’re here to throw our horse in the race and pick some of the good, the bad, and the highly questionable of the 2017 XXL Freshman Class.
Playboy Carti, the former member of Awful Records and semi-recent A$AP Mob recruit, has risen in popularity over the last few months. Carti’s longtime fans might argue he was wrongfully omitted from last year’s list, but his debut self-titled album and hit song “Magnolia” made him impossible to ignore for this year’s list. The Atlanta-native rapper has a knack for picking beats and spitting creative adlibs, but it will be interesting to see if he can back up his semi-brainless music with real bars during one of his upcoming cypher or freestyle challenges.
This California-based artist has gained considerable attention recently after releasing her debut mixtape in 2016 and featuring on YG’s hit single “Why You Always Hatin?” Her voice is brimming with confidence and clarity, an uncommon yet welcomed trait for an artist as young as herself. She’s talented enough to borrow influences from both R&B and hip-hop, so we think it’s safe to say she’ll bring the heat when it comes to rapping over a 32-bar beat.
Kap G is probably the least recognizable name featured on this year’s list, and he’s certainly the closest thing we’ve seen to an industry plant on a Freshman list since Macklemore’s 2012 appearance. While we believe in showcasing a good balance between already popular up-and-comers and totally unknown rappers, Kap G doesn’t show the most potential in either world. Instead he solidifies his spot while taking up a spot that could go to more deserving artists such as Tee Grizzley or Maxo Kream. Maybe he’ll surprise us, but don’t expect anything more than some inoffensive, drab bars from Kap G.
Where do we begin with this guy. Voted into the tenth and final spot by one of the most loyal fanbases in music, XXXTentacion is a headline machine. His track, “Look At Me,” is an incredibly vile track with almost 90 million steams on Spotify alone. Tackling a variety of styles, it’ll be interesting to see what he tries to do with the spotlight. XXX’s uncensored lyrics aren’t just another ploy to make money though. He has also been rumored to be incredibly violent (e.g., accusations of beating his pregnant girlfriend or the beef with LA rapper Rob Stone). If I were any of the other nine rappers on this year’s list, I would play nice with this guy. There’s no telling what kind of stunt he might try to pull with his biggest stage to date.
A much more family friendly, but equally as coarse artist, Ugly God is the Soundcloud rapper that we never saw coming — or maybe we just thought he’d never actually make it this far. His organic hit, “Water,” is left-of-center, catchy, a little insensitive and 100 percent genuine. Ugly God has never pretended to be anything besides himself; his Twitter account and music filled with some spit-take worthy bars further prove this. If there was any artist that would make your parents entirely give up on the world, it’s Ugly God, and in some odd way we should appreciate him for that.
If this year’s Freshman Class is any indication, 2017 is the year of the Soundcloud rapper. Three most popular artists on this year’s list — Carti, XXX, and Ugly God — made their way up with only Soundcloud’s help. Hopefully this new class of rappers can make a few new moves this year, and we’ll keep our fingers crossed for new music from the still-hidden gems of hip-hop who have a lot of potential (looking at you, MadeInTYO). This year we at least know XXX will probably grace us with a country tune while Carti adlibs over catchy beats and Ugly God throws down a handful of newly-written ignorant verses. Until then, we’ll wait in anticipation to see what these new artists have under their sleeves.