Every year, XXL Magazine chooses ten up-and-coming rappers to make their “Freshman Class” list, a magazine spread and video series with enough eyes and press coverage to rocket a burgeoning artist to stardom.
I’ve put up my own Freshman lists over the years (2016, 2017, 2018, 2019). I often share at least a pick or two with XXL, but usually we say two very different things about the state of rap.
To differentiate this site from XXL’s list, the annual Summer selection of new talent will now be known as the Starting Lineup. Is it essentially the same thing as the Freshman Class? Sure. Is it also different? Yes, it has a different name. Plus, I chose eleven artists this year instead of ten.
Get introduced below to the artists selected for Roseandblog’s 2020 Starting Lineup: Baby Keem, Benny the Butcher, Doja Cat, Guapdad 4000, Kota the Friend, Lil Tecca, Pardison Fontaine, Roddy Ricch, 2KBABY, 645AR, and an honorary spot for the late Pop Smoke. Listen to a playlist of their selected hits (Apple | Spotify).
At 18-years-old, Las Vegas rapper Baby Keem told Complex that he wanted to be “the king of flows.” Moving to Los Angeles and racking up production/songwriting credits for T.D.E. albums like Black Panther: The Album, Jay Rock’s Redemption, and ScHoolboy Q’s CrasH Talk, Keem made a sound for himself behind the scenes before releasing his debut record Die for My Bitch. Featuring tracks like “I Invented It,” it’s clear why Keem was picked up for such high profile albums, as he hears and molds the sound of today.
Benny the Butcher
In quite the opposite sound of young contemporaries blending rap and pop, Benny the Butcher is carrying the torch for 90’s hip-hop in New York, most reminiscent of the Wu-Tang Clan. No true newcomer to the game, Benny has been rapping with Griselda, a crew featuring family members Westside Gunn and Conway the Machine, since 2015. He wasn’t able to truly standout among the three until releasing The Plugs I Met last year, featuring a legacy roster of some of the greatest MC’s alive today: Pusha T, Jadakiss, and Black Thought.
If artists like Lil’ Kim or Nicki Minaj could be even more freaky horny, they would be Doja Cat. Citing “Break the Internet,” a Paper Magazine campaign that showcased Kim Kardashian and Nicki Minaj in photoshoots that hoped to dominate digital traffic, Doja’s song “Cyber Sex” landed the 24-year-old Los Angeles native an interview in Paper herself. “I love being a punk to people who take things way too seriously,” she said. “I try not to be political… I’m more like, ‘I don’t give a fuck.'”
Coming up in California alongside fellow-Filipino rapper P-Lo, as well as co-signs from Buddy and ALLBLACK, Guapdad 4000 struck it big on Dior Deposits, his breakthrough 2019 record featuring Chance the Rapper, Charlie Wilson, Denzel Curry, and E-40. His bubbly personality tore through three singles on J. Cole’s Revenge of the Dreamers III compilation project, and there’s seemingly no stopping his output in 2020, with a new single out almost every week.
Kota the Friend
The breezy Brooklyn upstart, Kota the Friend told DJ Booth that he’s trying to give people a map to get out of depression. The nostalgic sounds that fill Lyrics to Go Vol. 1, especially on tracks like “She” and “Can’t Please Everybody,” are full of warm vinyl crackles. The vibe got the attention of Bas and Joey Bada$$, joining him on “B.Q.E.,” an ode to the Brooklyn interstate.
One of the most infectious singles on the list, “Ransom” by Lil Tecca popped off in just a few months following the Lil Nas X “Old Town Road” boom. Embracing the “not your average nerd” persona on Instagram, he told Complex: “I don’t got nothing to prove to nobody, because I’m just here to have fun and do what I wanna do.”
Another bonafide hitmaker, the Louisville rapper 2KBABY shot up with his catchy song “Old Streets,” which recently getting the remix treatment with Lil Durk on 2K’s debut record Pregame Rituals. “This sounds weird, but pain makes me happy. I just be eating that shit up,” he told DJ Booth. “When I’m hurting like that, that shit fires me up and makes me take my ass to the studio. Good music, one good song, like ‘Old Streets,’ resolved a lot of my problems overnight.”
Getting his start as a ghostwriter for Cardi B, as well as Kanye West’s “Violent Crimes,” the New York emcee’s hardcore rhymes punched through on their own on his debut project Under8ed. With features from New York legend Jadakiss, and Cardi B herself, Under8ed is a showcase of why he was such a sought-after writer. “I want the next generation to use me as a reference point,” Pardi told XXL. “I want [to] go on YouTube [and see] producers say, ‘Pardison Fontaine type beat.'”
Getting his start with a co-sign from DJ Mustard and the late Nipsey Hussle, Roddy Ricch entered 2020 with (in my opinion) 2019’s song of the Summer in “Ballin’.” He followed it up with the next Tik-Tok sensation on “The Box,” which has squeezed its sound into tracks from artists like DaBaby and Pop Smoke just over the past two months. “Kendrick Lamar taught me that life experience is an important part of being a good illustrator,” Roddy told Complex. “When you’re illustrating a story, you have to go based off of your personal experiences. When you write about shit you don’t know about, it’s not going to sound right, because you’ll miss the details.” “I used to tell people I slept on the floor in my songs,” he continued. “That’s probably the most humble thing you can say.”
If anyone has utilized the patented Playboi Carti squeak even more than Roddy, it’s 645AR. He’s probably the most unknown rapper on the list, and no doubt the most jarring. 645AR’s high-pitched vocals are no gimmick however, as he told Complex: “I’m using my voice as an instrument, for real. I wanted to do something that took me to the next step.” He’s just one big feature away from being the most talked about rapper on the planet.
A week before his death this past February, Pop Smoke released Meet the Woo 2, a follow-up to his massive hit “Welcome to the Party,” which cemented Brooklyn Drill as the most exciting new sound of hip-hop. Featuring “Shake the Room” with Quavo, and the seemingly Roddy Ricch inspired “Sweetheart” with fellow Brooklyn upstart Fivio Foreign, the record connected the new sound of Brooklyn to the mainstream. Now, artists like Fivio, 22Gz, Sheff G, Sleepy Hallow, and Smoove’L, are carrying on the torch. Hell, even Drake’s hopped on.
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