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 in hip-hop/rap. When the list goes up around mid-June, criticism flies in like vultures to a meal.
After the list is revealed, XXL slowly rolls out freestyles and cyphers from the Freshman Class ahead of their collective tour. In a freestyle, the freshman raps a cappella (that is, without any music), and in the cypher, they take turns with a group of fellow freshman set to a beat from a live DJ/producer. The videos are not only amazing exposure for the artists, but open trials to prove their worth to a larger and brand new audience.
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) which you can read here, but the following is how the XXL 2017 Freshman Class performed, ranked from worst to best:
10) Playboi Carti
THE CLASS CLOWN—I don’t know how Playboi Carti ever got here. Carti not only redefines the meaning of mumble rap, but is also one of the most boring performers I’ve ever seen. Forget understanding a word he says, the “Magnolia” singer doesn’t even seem grateful or happy to be here. His freestyle and cypher both sound like a draft for the aforementioned single, that or just what he could remember at the time. If anyone’s sitting in the corner wearing the dunce cap, it’s Playboi.
MOST LIKELY TO SLEEP THROUGH CLASS—Madeintyo (pronounced “Made in Tokyo”), is the kid in the class who didn’t read the book and tries to bullshit his way through the final report. He starts off both his freestyle and cypher with what seems to be rapping, but then quickly shuffles into repetitive phrases before bowing out early as if he didn’t want to give away the secret that he didn’t know anything about the subject he was assigned to speak on. His freestyle video is the shortest, at just 0:44 seconds long, and only 3/4th’s of that time is spent rapping before the XXL sponsor ads pop-up for the last quarter. He couldn’t even get his due minute of fame.
8) Kap G
MOST FORGETTABLE—Last year it was G Herbo, and this year it seems to be Kap G. The most forgettable rapper of the 2017 Freshman Class, Kap G seems to be doing the bare minimum. He’s got a little melody about wanting a Rolls Royce, he mumbles, he makes political references, but it never amounts to anything impressive. Plus, his cypher flow is barely on the beat save for the short length of just forty seconds. If there’s anyone here that we’ll never see or hear from again, it’s Kap G.
MOST OVERRATED—Definitely the scariest of the bunch, the nineteen year-old rapper who looks like he raided all of his Florida hometown’s Hot Topic stores won the 10th spot in the class, a position that fell upon the people to vote their favorite potential freshman to the last spot. He isn’t the nicest of kids, having spent all of 2014 in a youth detention center and eight months in jail for robbery, assault with a deadly weapon, witness tampering, and aggravated battery of his pregnant then-girlfriend, but he’s a popular up-and-coming rapper nonetheless.
Released this past March, the “Look At Me” horror-core rapper is the youngest and freshest face of a violent style of rap most memorable to that of works by Eminem and Gravediggaz, coupled with the goth-like image of teenagers who just want some angsty music to blast out of the sub-woofers they’ve installed into the back of their cars’ trunks.
Hailed as a “lyrical prodigy,” it doesn’t really matter to me since he just lets words rapidly fly out of his mouth without any flow or pause for understanding. His holier-than-thou attitude is also oddly accepted by his peers, as DJ Sonny Digital cuts the music in the cypher to let XXXTentacion rap a cappella and bent down on one knee. XXX isn’t a genius, he’s a mildly provocative buzzkill, and there’s nothing about his satanic, murderous ramblings that I find currently entertaining.
BEST CELEBRITY LOOK-ALIKE—Kamiayah was one of two artists that was also featured on Roseandblog’s 2017 Freshman Class list, which for me was a “no-brainer” at the time. As far as I was concerned about a month ago, her record A Good Night in the Ghetto was a 2016 Summer smash, she had features with Lil Yachty and YG under her belt, and she had just signed a deal with Interscope.
Putting aside the lackluster performance of her latest single “Build You Up,” the female MC’s blunder was just the first of many to follow, as both her freestyle and cypher proved to be not only boring, but monotonous. Without any music, or in the case of the cypher, without any nostalgic/fun-loving 80’s samples, Kamaiyah appears incredibly dull and limited. A Good Night in the Ghetto was a very fun record, but this Missy Elliot look-alike has a long way to go if she wants to reach Supafly standards.
5) PnB Rock
THE TRY-HARD—PnB Rock has something to prove, and it’s that he can do it all; the only problem is that based off of his Freshman performances and his latest record GTTM, he can’t. PnB Rock is trying to be everything at once, as his look fits his hometown of Philadelphia, but his sound fits Atlanta. His rapping is sub-par, but it’s what he focuses on the most despite the best part of his freestyle coming from the gem of a potential chorus. He boasts women, drugs, money, bad neighborhoods, a rough childhood, jail time, and wanting to give back to his community in a fashion that is so cliched and all over the place that it almost doesn’t feel sincere. When he hits the last bit of his freestyle; however, he really shines, and its in those last couple of seconds that the real PnB Rock comes through.
4) A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie
BEST NEW DRAKE—Can Boogie really sing? No, not really. But that’s what auto-tune is for. When he ends his freestyle with “I still think about you but why try,” the Drake-sound-alike screams out as he can’t focus his eyes on the camera and hides behind his hood. With the right guidance and producer , Boogie could really be something, and possibly the most likely to succeed if Aminé’s album doesn’t pan out. At only 21 years-old he’s still got a lot of time, but Boogie is one of the only artists here that I would actually love to see hone his craft and put out a great release.
3) Ugly God
BIGGEST SURPRISE—Damn did I not expect Ugly God to be anywhere near the top of this list when the Freshman Class was first announced. The guy whose viral videos of him putting little lizards on his nose was given the chance to rap and boy did he impress. Maybe my bar of expectations was just set incredibly low, or most of his competitors were lousy, but the number three spot going to Ugly God is the biggest surprise of XXL’s 2017 Freshman Class. He might be foul-mouthed, but his rhyme scheme and flow are light-years beyond some of the rappers towards the bottom here, and there’s something enjoyable about watching him rap and seeing the pure joy in his face to be here. Unlike Playboi Carti, Ugly God appears to really respect the chance he’s been given and the meme-turned-rapper surprisingly came through.
THE TEACHER’S PET—A goofy kid with a penchant for spurts of clutch rhymes, Aminé really plays out the teacher’s pet here in the 2017 Freshman Class. Shouting out the DJ before rapping the cypher, adding in a choreographed halt in the beat, and performing a freestyle most-probably pre-written and highly practiced, Aminé came very prepared, like any rapper on the cusp of real success accepted into the XXL Freshman Class truly should. It speaks on his character if anything, but it’s all besides the point as his freestyle is simply stellar regardless.
Hard work pays off, and hopefully it translates over to his soon-to-be-released record Good For You, of which I wouldn’t be surprised to see his freestyle turn out to be one of the songs, say track eight: “Sundays.” Rappers have performed entire verses for the Freshman Class freestyles and cyphers before, such as Chance the Rapper and Lil Dicky, but when it all comes down to it really, these moments are more about gaining an audience then it is showing that you can freestyle. “Sundays” sounds like it’s going to be a cool song, and to me, Aminé used his XXL spotlight wisely.
BEST IN CLASS—KYLE is a performer, hands down. I originally hated the ecstatic MC back when he was featured on “Wanna Be Cool” off of Surf by Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment, but every encounter since has been better and better. His song ‘iSpy (feat. Lil Yachty)” wasn’t anything earth-shattering, but it was highly entertaining, especially with the accompanying video. His cypher included some decent jokes and rhymes, but his freestyle was one of the most heartwarming versus that I’ve heard in a while. He seems to the most energetic rapper to be included in the Freshman Class, and the most on top of his wits. His freestyle, although most probably not, even seemed actually off the cuff for the most part. I don’t know what kind of future exists for KYLE, but for some reason I just like this guy more and more every time I see him.
What do you think? Drop your thoughts in the comments below: