The 2016 XXL Freshman Class is set as the hip-hop magazine’s 9th edition of the feature issue hit the shelves on June, 28. It may be the fact that I’ve been paying closer attention as of late, but this year’s freshmen, as a group and individually, are undoubtedly the most varied and unique. I’m not yet sure if that statement is an ovation or a passive-aggressive disapproval – only time will tell.
Annually 10 up-and-coming rap artists are selected to be featured on the cover of the quarterly cultural publication. This not only gives the artists an abundance of publicity, but also provides music fans an in-depth look at the future of hip hop.
The most notable (my favorite) artists that have been featured on the cover of the mag and went on to cement themselves as forces not only in hip-hop, but in music overall are Kendrick Lamar, Big K.R.I.T (2011), Jay Rock, J. Cole (2010), Vince Staples (2015), Lupe Fiasco (2007), Isaiah Rashad, Chance the Rapper (2014), and Logic (2013).
Though XXL has highlighted some of my favorite artists, they’ve also featured their share of rappers that left me unimpressed, scratching my head, and occasionally opening Google Translate trying to decipher their mumbled, cryptic lyrics.
*Cough, cough, Fetty Wap, Freshman Class of 2015.*
Nonetheless, the past is the past and the future is nigh.
This year’s immensely varied group of Freshmen consists of Anderson.Paak, Dave East, Denzel Curry, Desiigner (yes, with two I’s), G Herbo, Kodak Black, Lil Dicky, Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Yachty, and 21 Savage. Each artist is clad in their smoothest white as they grace the glossy pages of XXL Magazine (this year could potentially take the cake for containing rappers with some of the most creative/ridiculous pseudonyms in the game).
Despite this vast diversity of the rappers’ auras and lyrical styles, the skill and quality as a whole is slightly below average.
Solely in terms of lyrical skill and raw rapping ability, Denzel Curry, Herbo, Dave East and Lil Dicky surely qualify, but even then some their music doesn’t fully entice me.
Curry, 21, a Florida native, and Herbo, of Chicago, both have angrily ambitious, loud and fast flowing styles. Their subject matter of violence and drugs isn’t too creative, though. Both of the youthful artists have lyrical skill, but I’m just not too interested, not yet.
Lil Dicky, or LD, is the funniest of the bunch (on purpose). His music is playful, very comedic, and he doesn’t take himself too seriously; but don’t let that fool you. Despite his off-kilter rhymes that defy the average rap song, he surely holds his own in regard to lyrical ability with his fast flow, and thought provoking bars that may require you to rewind a couple of times.
Anderson.Paak is the eldest of the class at 30 years old, and is a bit different from the others. More of an unconventional rapper, Paak has a better skill in singing, instrumentation, and songwriting. He is undoubtedly the most talented, versatile and multifaceted artist of the class with a style akin to Cee-Lo Green and Andre 3000 of OutKast. With his interesting mix of Gospel-influenced soulful singing, raspy and high-pitched Kendrick Lamar-esque rapping, and intriguing subject matter, Paak has the best and most enjoyable music of the group, hands down.
The remainder of the Freshmen, Desiigner, Kodak Black, Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Yachty, and 21 Savage, kind of leave me at a loss for words – not in the good way.
I can’t really take these rappers too seriously. Though it isn’t much of an issue, each of the artists are products of viral fame. YouTube made each of these artists relevant with their outlandish styles, boisterous personalities, and ridiculous lyrics. While I enjoy laughing and having fun to some of their music, there is no way I can listen to them for long periods of time, and I highly doubt their careers will have much longevity if they remain as they are. Desiigner, 19, is essentially a carbon copy of the rapper Future with a Kanye West co-sign. Lil Uzi Vert and Yachty are clearly just having fun, which I can’t hate too much. Then there’s Kodak Black, 19, who claimed that he is better than rap legends Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. Whether he’s joking or not, his music is far from the caliber of the aforementioned greats.
If the XXL Freshman Class of 2016 showed me anything, it is that the internet is a very powerful and dangerous entity, and the genre of Hip-Hop is in the hands of a very unique group of artists.
Collegian Columnist Ave Martin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter @avemartn