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Every year since 2007 (excluding 2008), XXL Magazine reveals their freshmen list. The list showcases upcoming rappers and singers in the hip-hop world who are on the verge of blowing up, and making this list is usually that last step in getting a foot into the revolving door of the industry.
Over the years, we have seen a total of 84 artists grace the magazine’s cover as a freshmen, but some of them don’t have the same staying power as others. Dwelling on the negatives is no fun, so we decided to take a look at the most notable and successful XXL Freshmen graduates over the past nine years.
Reading the 2007 Freshman class list nine years after it was released makes you wonder how long some of today’s current artists will be around for. In this list, it would be surprising if anybody was able to immediately recognize a name that isn’t Lupe Fiasco.
After making his career debut on Kanye West’s Touch The Sky back in 2006, Lupe released his debut album Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor the following September. The album was positively received, and the single Kick, Push has now become one of his most notable tracks. Since his career took off, he’s accumulated close to 2 million total album sales, had an album debut at No. 1, and had two singles go Platinum. Let’s just hope he doesn’t fall off with the three releases he has planned for this year.
The 2009 Freshman Class was actually not that bad, but Kid Cudi is definitely the most notable name on the list (if you aren’t into B.o.B.’s flat Earth conspiracies). In the summer of 2008, Cudi released his first project, a mixtape titled A Kid Named Cudi. The project caught the attention of Kanye West, who then signed him to his GOOD Music record label later that year. Before releasing his debut album Man on the Moon: The End of Day, Cudi was writing and providing vocals for West’s fourth studio album, 808s & Heartbreak.
Since his first two critically acclaimed albums, Cudi has experimented with different lanes and sounds, —he even created his own alternative rock group, in case you forgot. His most recent effort, Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven was met with negative reviews. Most fans are hoping that his next project is a continuation of his popular Man on the Moon series.
Big Sean had quite the interesting come-up story. In 2005, Kanye West was doing a interview at a Detroit radio station. Big Sean got word, and made his way over there in attempt to freestyle for Mr. West in hopes of some attention. After spitting 16 bars, he left his mixtape with Mr. West, who then signed him to GOOD Music two years later. Sean picked up an Internet following when he released three mixtapes prior to releasing his debut album, Finally Famous in 2011.
Sean’s infectious ad-libs (oh God!), sometimes corny punchlines, as well as discussions surrounding his unique flows may have birthed a generation of rappers, all make him a polarizing figure in hip-hop. His latest album Dark Sky Paradise debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard charts. He’s slated to release a collaborative project with Jhene Aiko titled TWENTY88 at the top of April.
No question about it. No need to even read the rest of the freshmen in the 2011 class to realize that Kendrick Lamar is at the top. Not only is he still at the top of his class in terms of success and relevance, he’s also arguably at the top of the entire rap game in its current state. From 2003 to 2009, Kendrick released four mixtapes under the name K-Dot, before releasing his fifth mixtape,Overly Dedicated, where he dropped the name K-Dot and went with his birth name.
The song Ignorance is Bliss was a stand-out track and caught the attention of legendary hip-hop producer Dr. Dre, who then wanted to work with Kendrick on his often-delayed album now known as Compton. Since being noticed by hip-hop’s doctor, Lamar has propelled into mainstream success, releasing two critically acclaimed albums, as well as featuring on the popular Taylor Swift song Bad Blood.
After taking home five Grammy’s earlier this year, Lamar released the compilation album untitled unmastered., a project with unfinished demos and tracks from the recording of To Pimp A Butterfly.
2012 was a painfully average year in terms of the XXL Freshmen class list. Incredibly painfully average. Kid Ink? Hopsin? Don Trip? In terms of mainstream success, the only person even worth noting is Macklemore. Sure, you had Iggy Azalea who blew up off a catchy single and Future who might not have realized his potential until last year, but neither of their success compares to Macklemore. He has released two number one singles (Thrift Shop, Can’t Hold Us) and went on to win Best Rap Album at the Grammys in 2012.
Since being featured as a freshmen, Macklemore has won four (controversial) Grammys, has a certified platinum album that debuted at No. 2 on the charts and is solidifying his spot in hip-hop with his music that can be both fun and uplifting, as well as serious and political. It could be a song about clothes or a song speaking on some relevant social issues. No matter what, you can count on Macklemore to surprise you with what comes next.
This year may have been the most difficult year to choose one stand-out artist, because a lot of these freshmen have found their own success, almost all of them in their own unique lanes. Joey Bada$$ and Ab-Soul fill out that conscious-rap lane, Chief Keef popularized drill music, and Action Bronson was able to blend his love for food, rapping and wonderful imagery which made him a fan-favourite.
But nobody filled their lane quite better than ScHoolboy Q. Remember when everybody was hopping on the bucket hat trend a couple years back? Thank Schoolboy for that one. And for the beat-drop moment on Kendrick Lamar’s track m.A.A.d. city where Schoolboy’s infectious “yak yak” ad-libs made the song an instant hit for live performances. With notable singles like Collared Greens, and Man of the Year, Schoolboy Q was able to make himself known as a new breed of gangster rapper.
Chance the Rapper has only released two solo projects, the last of which, Acid Rap was released in 2013. Acid Rap was met with extremely positive reviews. Thanks to Chance’s uniquely raspy voice and his colourful inflections, the mixtape pushed him forward towards the mainstream, as it made many year-end lists for some of the best projects in 2013.
After being named to the XXL Freshmen list in 2014, Chance has since released a collaborative project, Surf with the jazz-fusion group Donnie Trumpet and The Social Experiment. Nearly three years removed from his last solo project, Chance finds himself in the spotlight constantly, performing on Saturday Night Live (twice), collaborating with R. Kelly, and being one of the reasons for the delayed release of Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo. Chance has some big names in his corner showing support and his creative blends of gospel and hip-hop have us eager to see what he has in store for us on his next project, the elusive “third mix-tape.”
Fetty Wap was that guy who almost forces you to listen to his music. He was the guy commenting on Facebook links and spamming your Twitter with his song in hopes to get some recognition. Luckily for him, it actually worked out, as his song Trap Queen was an undeniable hit, accumulating over 130 million plays on his SoundCloud and landing him a record deal.
Last summer, less than a year after scoring a record deal, Fetty Wap was a household name, breaking Billboard records set by artists like Eminem and Lil Wayne. Fetty has seemingly found a catchy sound that works well with his creative vocals, so we’re curious to see if he switches up the formula or sticks to what got him here in the first place. We’ll be keeping an eye on you, Fetty.
It’s interesting to also note that there are some popular artists who once denied the opportunity to appear on XXL’s freshmen list, including Drake, Tyler, the Creator, A$AP Rocky, and Young Thug.
The artists of previous XXL Freshman classes were able to captivate fans early on in their careers and maintain that following for the years to come, making a spot on the Freshman list a coveted distinction. But in recent years, it seems that the XXL Freshmen class lists have gone downhill in terms of quality and staying power. Be careful, Freshmen of 2016, you don’t want to end up like OJ da Juiceman.