Every year, XXL magazine chooses ten up-and-coming rappers to make their “Freshman Class,” a feature that gives these rappers an insane amount of press and attention that usually launches them to stardom. Past freshman have included J. Cole, Big Sean, Lupe Fiasco, Kid Cudi, Kendrick Lamar, and countless other huge names. When the list goes up around mid-June, criticism and “who’s that person?” jokes fly in like vultures to a meal, and who should or shouldn’t be there gets talked about for months after—especially once their debut studio records drop.
Last year, XXL and I shared three of our ten picks, but this year seems to be even less (You can see both of our 2016 picks here). Like XXL’s 2016 picks of 21 Savage, Kodak Black, Lil Uzi Vert, etc., their 2017 Freshman Class features a lot of rappers with a similar vibe, such as PnB Rock, Playboi Carti, Boogie, etc. Although these artists, by being featured, are going to get all of the attention (and I hope they change my mind and do well on their freestyle features), I still choose my own Freshman Class, wherein I highlight the ten rappers that I believe should be given the same opportunity as XXL’s picks (with some overlap). So, without further ado, here’s Roseandblog’s 2017 Freshman Class:
1 | Kamaiyah
It goes without saying that putting Kamaiyah on the list is a no-brainer, especially for readers of the Roseandblog. I’ve been listening to A Good Night in the Ghetto since its debut last July and even included her in my discussion of who holds the current title of “Queen of Rap.” She was an XXL pick this year as well, which makes complete sense—the record was a hit, she had successful features with YG and Lil Yachty, and she just made a record deal with Interscope.
The 21 year-old Oakland native said of her album that “A Good Night in the Ghetto is a fun time with no drama and no one being hurt. That’s what I want to promote. l want to promote living but also make it known that it’s OK to have problems. It’s not what you go through it’s how you get through it. This is the soundtrack of how to get through it.” There’s nothing noteworthy in terms of insane flow or lyricism when it comes to Kamaiyah, she just writes some well crafted rap-pop full of nostalgic 80’s g-funk, but ultimately it’s just crazy fun. Her new record Don’t Get It Twisted has been pushed back since the Interscope signing, but hopefully we get a new release date soon. For now, just keep bumpin’ A Good Night in the Ghetto via Apple Music or Spotify.
2 | Taylor Bennett
Taylor Bennett, Chance the Rapper‘s younger brother, has made a name for himself with two decent mixtapes (Broad Shoulders and Restoration of an American Idol), putting him right up there with all of the other great artists coming out of the Chicago since Chance’s crew blew up. At just 21, he still has a lot to improve on as a rapper, but I believe his connects with Chance can help launch him to where he needs to be.
His last record featured artists such as 2016 XXL pick Lil Yachty, Chance (of course), Jeremih, Raury, and 2017 XXL pick Kyle, as well as some stellar production, and he just had a fantastic collection with Urban Outfitters for Pride month. With his smoked-out montone and somber lyrics, Taylor has quickly become one of my favorite rising young rappers (and the fact that he and Chance share so many similarities definitely helps). Listen to his latest project, Restoration of an American Idol, via Apple Music or Spotify.
3 | 3D Na’Tee
Another artist whose appearance on this list should be no surprise, 3D Na’Tee is a New Orleans rapper who has remained under the radar despite possibly being the most talented female rapper alive. She had one of the best verses in the 2016 BET cyphers, released two albums in the past two years, and was on Sway with Kendrick Lamar back in 2013 where she took shots at Nicki Minaj.
As I have said before, the real Queen of Rap could be 3D Na’Tee if only she had the same amount of press and attention as everyone else. While 3D Na’Tee doesn’t have any problem holding my attention with her lyrics or catchy hooks, a lack of features on her record, or especially the lack of her featuring on other big artist’s records, seems to keep her out of the spotlight. She more than has what it takes however, and you can hear it for yourself by listening to her latest project Songs That Didn’t Make The Tape Vol. 1 via Apple Music or Spotify.
4 | Saba
As a part of Chance the Rapper’s crew, Saba has been all over Chicago projects since featuring on “Everybody’s Something” off of Chance’s second record, Acid Rap. He’s also had features on Surf by Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment, “Shadow Man” by Noname off Telefone, and “Cornerstore” by Joey Purp off iiiDrops (a rapper who appears later on this list), as well as his own official debut record, Bucket List Project.
With incredible flow and lyricism, Saba has demonstrated that he’s got the chops—he just needs to put them to work. He’s part of a Chicago scene that can take him there, even as competitive as it is to stand out and make your own name among all the talent. Saba’s route is to be the most “grassroots” out of all the Chicago MC’s, and it paid off highly on his last record, which can you listen to here via Apple Music and Spotify.
5 | Aminé
Aminé is probably the goofiest guy on this list, but he’s also on XXL’s this year. From Portland, Oregon, the young rapper debuted at #11 on Billboard with “Caroline,” and the video was viewed over 160 million times on YouTube. His follow-up, “Red Mercedes,” sported a remix featuring the legendary Missy Elliot, and he recently recorded a track with pop-singer Kehlani. His goofiness, however; plays out in his Coolio-esque hair styles and various sketches like the one in the “Red Mercedes” video.
When he performed “Caroline” on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, he added a very poignant last verse: “You can never make America great again/All you ever did was make this country hate again.” It was the kind of verse that made you think twice—maybe Aminé isn’t all gimmick. He’s reportedly working with Malay on a new album (the same producer from Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange and Zayn’s Mind of Mine), so there’s actually a lot of real hopes on this kid. Watch his Tonight Show performance here, and listen to the single “Caroline” via Apple Music or Spotify.
6 | 6LACK
One of the only two rappers from Atlanta on the list this year, 6LACK (pronounced “black”), has found a niche in the singing-mumble rap game that has consistently out-poured from the South ever since Future’s DS2, or arguably even earlier. Somehow 6LACK has added a new level of cool to the whole genre, and the 30 million views of his song “PRBLMS” definitely helps his case.
One of my favorite trap/R&B projects to come out in 2016, his record Free 6LACK is a moody, and dark, journal of past relationships that 6LACK faced to get to where he is today—signed to Interscope. It’s a record built mainly on slow jams, but it’s also more sentimental, honest, and as high caliber as everything else booming out of Atlanta these days. Listen here via Apple Music or Spotify.
Skepta and Kanye West might have cleared the path for UK’s grime scene to hit the ears of sound-adopting artists like Drake, but a month earlier than More Life‘s release, the new grime prophet, Stormzy, took flight with the release of his debut single, “Big For Your Boots.” The Ed Sheeran co-sign was a big help as well, but on “Big For Your Boots,” Stormzy perfectly combined paying respects to grime’s past while simultaneously reinventing it.
With the vocal intensity of the grime movement on his back, matched with the high-pitched squeals of Dizzee Rascal, Stormzy addresses his dominance and humbling views towards what it means to be a grime rapper. Like any young, debuting rap artist, Stormzy still has a lot to learn when it comes to lyricism and varying up his rapping style, but after his debut record Gang Signs & Prayer, it’s clear that he has his finger on the pulse. Listen here via Apple Music or Spotify.
8 | Cakes da Killa
Cakes da Killa, a rapper from New Jersey, is turning the tables on what is considered “normal” in rap culture. For Cakes da Killa, being a, if not the first, openly gay black male rapper in a culture where homosexuality is viewed as a weakness (and homophobic lines dominate most insult raps), he maintains that it’s still mainly just about the music.
Just three years ago in fact, he was on Hot 97 when radio host Ebro gave quite an ignorant response to Cakes’ music, saying that he couldn’t relate to it since the rapper was gay. “I think it’s just masculinity and then not wanting to hear about [it],” responded Cakes in an interview with Spin, ” I can’t listen to Jay Z because I can’t relate… to me, it’s not really necessarily about being able to relate to what I’m saying because I’m gay. But I feel like I maneuver it very well and I get my respect.” In fact, Cakes maneuvers more than just lyrics or identity, as his debut record, Hedonism, blends rap with hard hitting percussion like on “Been Dat Did That” or “Up out My Face,” two of the hardest rap songs of 2016. Listen here via Apple Music or Spotify.
9 | Joey Purp
Like I said above, here’s Joey Purp. One of the founding members of the Savemoney crew with Chance the Rapper, Vic Mensa, and Nico Segal (
Donnie Trumpet), Joey Purp is the definition of next generation Chicago-style. Joey Purp seems to be riding the sound that cemented Chicago in the rap world back in the early-mid 2000’s with Kanye West and Lupe Fiasco. Tracks like “Morning Sex,” “Cornerstone,” and especially “Winner’s Circle” flat-out scream “We Major” from Kanye West’s Late Registration.
Not to say that Joey isn’t original by any means, it’s just interesting to hear how much these specific influences had on the next generation of Chicago rappers. Most of the record’s “greatness” might come from the production, but iiiDrops does have Joey at his best thus far. Where iiiDrops succeeds is in showing Joey Purp’s versatility, as he shows a lot of promise as Chicago’s next big thing; if only he can break out of the crowded Chicago scene. While we wait for a 2017 release, listen to the record here via Apple Music or Spotify.
10 | J.I.D.
The newest signee to J. Cole’s Dreamville label, East Atlanta rapper J.I.D. has a unique voice unlike any you’ve heard before. With guest appearances from 6LACK (above), Frank Dukes, and writing/production from J. Cole himself, his debut record The Never Story was a surprising release from left field.
He might be a new face (one most might not have even heard of), but tracks like “General” and “EdEddnEddy” really showcase his quirky flow and tone, something he might be able to really use to his advantage. Like I said of 6LACK, J.I.D. has that rare ability to find a sound of his own to help him rise out of the Atlanta rapper clutter, and I’m excited to see where it may take him, as well as all of the 2017 Roseandblog Freshman Class picks. Listen to The Never Story here via Apple Music or Spotify.
Until next year, please congratulate and enjoy Roseandblog’s 2017 Freshman Class. If you don’t agree with my choices or XXL’s, want to make a suggestion, or want to have your own list posted on the site’s Op-Ed section, just drop a line in the comments below, thanks.