Every year, XXL Magazine puts out its highly contested and controversial “Freshman Class,” a list of the of their favorite fresh new faces in the world of hip-hop/rap. In magazine profiles and videos online, XXL highlights their abilities and gives the up-and-comers such much needed new listeners.
Not necessarily in response to, and usually very different, I put out my own list here on the Roseandblog, which for the last two years has been named the “Starting Lineup.”
This year, the 10 artists I’ve chosen to highlight are CHIKA, Duke Deuce, Flo Milli, JAHMED, Kenny Mason, Lil Tjay, Quando Rondo, RMR, SoGone SoFlexy, and SpotemGottem. Enjoy!
Getting her start making Instagram videos freestyling over famous beats like Kanye Wests “Jesus Walks” or Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You,” Jimmy Kimmel Live! guest host Lena Waithe had CHIKA come on the show to perform in 2019. After that, she was signed by Warner Records, starred in Super Bowl ads, and landed the song “My Power” on the Jamie Foxx Netflix series Project Power. Rapping about racial justice and body positivity, she was an XXL Freshman last year, and her Once Upon a Time – EP featured the bippity bop “Hickory Dickory.”
Memphis is having a moment in hip-hop right now. Ever since Three 6 Mafia called it quits, the past decade has left the city solely on the shoulders of Young Dolph, who quickly grew into (as he dubbed himself), the king of Memphis. Newcomers like NLE Choppa and Gucci Mane signee Pooh Shiesty have recently arrived to give the city some more hits, but honestly nothing has invigorated the sound as much as Duke Deuce’s ‘Crunk Ain’t Dead.” Produced by Juicy J and featuring Project Pat and on the remix, “Crunk Ain’t Dead” brought that Three 6 Mafia feel back, even. going as far as chanting “Break Da Law” as part of the chorus. “I’m bringing this shit back,” he told Genius. “I’m reviving it, the right way.”
Flo Milli’s on the list easy. Dropping right after last year’s Starting Lineup went up, Flo Milli’s debut project, ho, why is you here?, made me want to rewind time to get her on the 2020 list ASAP. On XXL’s list this year as well, Flo Milli confidently took the rap world by storm with her single “Like That Bitch,” produced by J. White Did It, the beat-maker behind Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow” and Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage.” If that wasn’t enough, the rest of her debut album destroyed us with flow switches and lines such as, “All they do is talk shit like a toilet with some lips,” or, “D**ks up when I step in the party.”
One of the best rap releases of the year, track-to-track, JAHMED’s ARMANI is as fun as it is quality. Not only can JAHMED rap, but he’s playful, rapping, “You say you gon’ cuff me, but I don’t see no cops around,” on the single “USAY.” Suga Free and Freddie Gibbs assist with verses on the record, a nine-track, 24-minute ride through everything the versatile, Los Angeles rapper has to offer.
As I wrote back in April, it’s not too often that people fly under my radar and then pop up with features from artists like Denzel Curry and Freddie Gibbs, but that’s somehow what happened when the young Atlanta rapper Kenny Mason released the deluxe edition of his debut project, Angelic Hoodrat. Surprise, surprise too, here he is keeping up with Denzel Curry on “A+” like it’s nothing. Mason is definitely one to keep an eye on, and props to Denzel Curry for hopping on and making sure I know exactly where my attention should be locked on.
It almost feels silly to include Lil Tjay here when he’s already reached star status. Even before his appearance on XXL’s list last year, the Bronx, NY rapper/singer had some a decent hit with Polo G and “Zoo York” with Fivio Foreign and Pop Smoke, but it was after that he truly made his mark. “Mood Swings” with Pop Smoke was probably the biggest song of 2020, and this year’s “Calling My Phone” with 6LACK is an amazing follow-up. “People started calling me the Bronx Justin Bieber on Facebook and everything,” he told Pitchfork in 2019. They dubbed him the, “Hip-Hop Heartthrob Who Wants to Be the Next Usher.”
Quando Rondo. Always loved that name. Hailing from Savannah, Georgia, Rondo got a lot of attention last Winter when he was involved in a shooting that led to the death of King Von, a rapper signed to Lil Durk’s label. Bad press as it may have been, it put his name out there for a larger audience, and those listening to him for the first time on Still Taking Risks would probably be surprised to find out he had a good working relationship with Lil Durk just one year prior on his debut studio project QPac. “Okay” may be his lightest, catchiest song to date, but it’s a good sign that he’s moving on past the altercation, and thinking out a safer road to music stardom.
When am I not talking about RMR, and when it the world going to follow? With respect from features like Westside Gunn, Future, Timbaland, Young Thug, and Lil Baby, RMR’s Drug Dealing is a Lost Art was one of the best releases of 2020. F**k that game show, the masked singer is right here.
Signed to Kevin Abstract’s new label VIDEO STORE, fellow Texas emcee SoGone SoFlexy stuns on “Big Wide Body,” following his debut feature on the Brockhampton song “Windows.” Exuding the chopped-and-screwed classic sound of the South, “SoGone SoFlexy” emits the most Texas rap sound I’ve heard since UGK, and its got me “swangin’ in a big wide body.”
One of E-40’s favorite new artists, SpotemGottem’s quirky, slurred speech wears his Future and Young Thug influence on his sleeve. His single “Beat Box” had a never ending series of remixes from DaBaby, Latto, Polo G, Young M.A, and more, and now he’s back right away with Most Wanted. On the Michael Jackson referencing song, “Dirty Diana,” Gotem proves that there’s still tons of potential in post-“Beat Box” future.
What do you think? Drop your thoughts in the comments below.