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, Lil Yachty, Kid Cudi, Kendrick Lamar, and countless other huge names in hip-hop. 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.

I’m used to sharing at least two or three of the picks with XXL, a coincidence that we both, at the very least, see something similar in the artist(s) in terms of their potential future success in the rap/R&B industry. This year is a pretty large exception however, as not only do our picks for 2018 not overlap once, but reflect completely different evolving spaces in hip-hop.

While XXL’s picks seem to represent a growing Soundcloud rap base such as Wififuneral, Lil Pump, Ski Mask, and Smokepurpp, most of the artists on the list make music within the same space. Stefflon Don is a respectable pick however, out of the UK though not part of the rising grime movement, as well as Dreamville rapper J.I.D., who was chosen as a Roseandblog Freshman last year.

For the 2018 Roseandblog Freshman Class, I’ve decided to shine a light on rappers and artists that I believe to be speaking out and really saying something with their music, whether it be about growing up in a prejudiced America, pushing for LGBTQ+ rights, stronger female representation, or the ever-evolving style and love of genre-bending happening within hip-hop in 2018. Enough with the introduction however, let’s get to the list already. Here’s the 2018 Roseandblog Freshman Class:

IDK

IDK (formerly known as Jay IDK), is probably the closest artist on this list that you’ll get to XXL’s, and that’s still a stretch. IDK got famous off of the internet, like most of the young artists on both lists, but his “street cred,” lyrics about actin’ a fool, and going to jail, may be the most warranted of the group, as he’s actually lived through it all.

At 26 years old, IDK sucks in your undivided attention incredibly on the track “No Shows On The Rug, Leave Them At The Door,” a song about appreciating his mother while he was in prison and learning that she did really love him. The track perfectly encapsulates how easy it is for minorities to get involved in criminal activity, land in prison, and see how it affects everyone closest to them due to a prejudiced system. Every now and then IDK still writes the general turn-up anthem or just showcases his skill, like on “Baby Scale,” but his newest tape IWASVERYBAD and songs like “No Shows On The Rug, Leave Them At The Door” display his versatility, as well as co-signs from rappers such as Del the Funky Homosapien and the legendary MF Doom.

CupcakKe

I’ve written about CupcakKe for about two years now, and the raunchy Chicago rapper just keeps getting better every year. Her 2016 mixtape Audacious featured tracks about hedonistic and dirty sex acts, police brutality, LGBTQ rights, and abortion, with this year’s Ephorize tape building on her pop sensibility and displaying her exceptional wordplay and lyrical aggression.

While she sometimes gets so dirty that it’s shocking, I do agree that for every gratuitously raunchy sex song made by a male rapper, there should exist one by a female emcee. Not that I’m a massive fan of that kind of rap, but hey, at least it’s fair. If there’s anyone I’m happy about repping that side fully, it’s CupcakKe, and for every “Duck Duck Goose” kind of track, there exists an “Exit” or “Quiz,” where her style and lyricism come together to create the perfect mix.

SAINt JHN

I actually met SAINt JHN while working in a recording studio in Manhattan once. I told him I wanted to be a music journalist and he told me that he believes music blogs are dying. He wasn’t wrong, as journalism has definitely suffered recently—publication have shifted to become online only, ending their print magazines, and some companies such as Interview have shut down entirely, but if anything the comments didn’t discourage me, they helped drive me to gain an audience and try to say something that people would want to read. If anything, his view showed that he was just trying to think of what was next for the industry.

Not longer after that interaction where we talked about music blogs and ate takeout asian food, he performed at Governor’s Ball and then released his debut project Collection One. It’s Kid Cudi meets The Weeknd in the time of Instagram for this former Usher and Jidenna writer, and it reflects today’s youth party culture with the most accurate tinge of apathy and heartbreak. Songs like “Reflex” show his pop prowess, and the singer from Guyana debuts his “selfish project,” as he told Billboard, full of, “feelings, emotions, experiences, luxuries, [and] opportunities.”

Leikeli47

Leikeli47 is an aggressive rapper but there’s anger in your words. She refers to her rapping as “communicating,” and her machine gun fire bravado is equally matched by her cutting edge fashion style. Signed to the same label as A$AP Rocky, her music is inspired by Issa Rae’s rapping on HBO’s Insecure, and her hometown rap hero Notorious B.I.G.

Her defining article is her ski mask, but it’s not due to anonymity like Pussy Riot, it “distracts from everything that everybody would normally go to,” such as “what’s she look like, what’s her shape, her complexion.” When you think of Leikeli47, she wants you to think of powerful love, and her gun imagery is her firing out bullets of love and fun. “It’s like an escape,” she told Noisey, “You hear that boom bap, and you just want more. It’s fun!” “I’ma do me, you know?” she says about the fierceness of songs such as “Miss Me,” “2nd Fiddle,” and “Attitude.” “When you put that mask on, it’s empowering,” she explains, “You feel invincible.”

SiR

There’s a lot of genre-bending artists on the list this year, and it’s because hip-hop in 2018 has really branched out from the standard boom-bap of rap to include R&B, Soul, and even pop influences. One of the best examples may not be as young as the rest of the Freshman, but with SiR, 31, he finds the perfect balance of what people are doing between rap and R&B to create a truly unique sound of now.

The newest signee to TDE (the same label that represents Kendrick Lamar, SZA, and ScHoolboy Q among others), essentially sings what would be 2Pac lines on “Something Foreign” but with the swagger of Anderson .Paak. Like TDE’s answer to Daniel Caesar, SiR sings lyrics like “Tryna keep it humble in a world full of egos, gangsters and evils” with the emotion of a gospel track, and he’s part of a new group of musicians breaking that mold.

Tink

Timbaland is one of my favorite producers of all time, but he really missed the opportunity to capitalize on Tink when she was signed to his label, Mosley Music Group. Locked in a contract war between Mosley and Epic Records for over four years, Tink is now finally free, and her EP Pain & Pleasure, released just this past March, was an excellent stepping stone for her career moving forward.

A Chicago artist, the peak of Chance the Rapper really loomed over the city, but recently the scene has picked up room for other talents, allowing previously behind-the-scenes artists such as Saba and Noname (two previous Roseandblog Freshman) to really shine. Tink, although not a collaborator in the same circle, is the SZA of Chicago, and the track “On to the Next One” encompasses everything that Tink is capable of—great choruses, pop sensibility, and star power. Thanks to the rise of female MC’s like Cardi B and Rapsody, as well as pop-stars like SZA and Syd, fans are becoming more and more accepting that there’s doesn’t have to be one female MC or mega-star on top, and artists like CupcakKe, Leikeli47, and Tink are excellent additions.

Suga

One of the coolest things about the K-pop boy band sensation BTS isn’t that they’ve incorporated rap into their super modern pop sound, but that a musical act that mainly sings in Korean is incredibly popular in America. They’re exceptionally fashionable, have a sleek Beatles-like aesthetic, and the musical adventurism of a group like Brockhampton (which feature later on this list).

For how god damn catchy the songs are, they’re also not your normal One Direction boy band, as the rappers really turn up the energy. RM’s deep tone just mouth-f**ks the mic, J-Hope adds some flair, and Suga busts out the most enjoyable flows. Suga is my pick for the list because he’s the front-runner when it comes to verses on their albums, and he’s also one of the co-founders of the group. “I want to be on the Billboard Hot 100 with a single that has Korean lyrics,” he told Elle, and their most recent hit “FAKE LOVE” peaked at the No. 10 spot.

Kevin Abstract

The Odd Future of the Instagram generation, Brockhampton are doing things no rap group has ever done before. Like I mentioned above in my description of BTS, Brockhampton are incredibly diverse and adventurous, calling themselves “the best boy band since One Direction.” They’re not your typical rap group—they wear matching outfits, have super catchy choruses, and are made up of some of the most talented artists around, let alone rappers.

Kevin Abstract is their leader, but the most amazing thing he does besides giving each member there time to be in the spotlight, is rap about being gay in an industry that was known to be very homophobic just a little over a decade ago. On the song “JUNKY,” which received Verse of the Month back in August 2017, Kevin Abstract’s opening verse solidified himself as the rapper to f**k with, as the group brings LGBTQ positivity and inclusivity to hip-hop/rap.

Merlyn Wood

Another member of Brockhampton, I’ve chosen to feature Merlyn because of his pure and infectious energy. There are some amazing artists in Brockhampton such as JOBA, Matt Champion, and Dom McLennon, which are not to be forgotten in the slightest, but including “Brockhampton” as an artist on the list doesn’t feel as important as mentioning Kevin Abstract speaking out for LGBTQ rights in the rap industry and Merlyn Wood for simply bringing the energy.

I’ve never heard anyone as hype on a record as Merlyn over the course of Saturation I-III, and after seeing him live, he unbelievably figures out a way to turn it up another notch. On tracks like “JUNKY,” “GOLD,” and “QUEER,” Merlyn Wood has some of the most memorable verses and functions as the little extra spice to bring the heat to Brockhampton’s excellent roster.

KYLE

Lastly, we come to KYLE, whose addition to the list comes with a bit of a backstory. I first heard KYLE on “Wanne Be Cool” from Surf, the Social Experiment record, where I couldn’t stand him at all. Ever since, surprisingly, I’ve liked him more and more. It’s not the best elevator pitch, as I still can’t listen to “Wanna Be Cool,” but I’ve grown to really enjoy KYLE from there on out. He placed on XXL’s 2017 Freshman Class, following his single “iSpy” with Lil Yachty, and he really shined in the cypher and freestyle, placing him here just one year later.

On his debut record Light of Mine, released just this past May, KYLE shows that he’s all about youth, positivity, and just having fun. Rap in 2018 has become more pop-oriented as ever now that hip-hop/rap is the most popular genre in America. No artist better represents what that means than KYLE and joint hits featuring artists such as Khalid, Kehlani, and Alessia Cara. “Playinwitme (feat. Kehlani)” is a cute empowering song where Kehlani, who is bisexual, doesn’t function as the point of view of the girl who is causing KYLE problems, but as another singer with girl problems like KYLE, while “Zoom” and “Games” showcase that KYLE is all about having a great time. After years of growing on me (and us), it’s finally his big debut, and he’s got a giant grin on his face to kick it off.

Check out the full Roseandblog 2018 Freshman Class roster on a playlist of select hits here via Apple Music.

What do you think of the list? Drop your thoughts in the comments below.