The year’s most anticipated moment in Hip Hop, XXL finally released the cover for its 2015 Freshman Class. Representing various trends and subcultures within the culture, artists chosen have already led to interesting conversations of relevancy. Then there are questions regarding XXL’s protocol for picking candidates.
This year’s theme, “Built To Win” has yet to be explained in relation to Vince Staples, Fetty Wap, Dej Loaf, Raury, K Camp, OG Maco, Shy Glizzy, GoldLink, Kidd Kidd and Tink. Are they on their way to having a successful career or has that already been determined? In the mean, Senior Features Writer Ural Garrett and Features Writer Andre Grant try to dissect exactly what went into XXL’s decision.
Is the 2015 Freshmen List A Bust?
Andre: The XXL Freshmen always sparks a serious debate, of course, but this year’s have been particularly vitriolic. What the hell is a “Freshman” anyway? It’s hard to tell in an environment where Youtube views turn to significant buzz, which leads to radio plays and then the Billboard Top 100. Just ask Fetty Wap. Then there’s buzz built through strong all-original material and features like Tink. There’s several on the list with runaway hits, and 99% of these folks are tied to some sort of major label. Vince Staples is one emcee they are just flat out late on, and with one major label EP under his belt, does he qualify as a Freshman? Never the less, XXL is a staple in our Hip Hop diets, and their choice of freshman represent a sort of canon, a stamp in time by which you can judge who was new and up-and-coming in the culture.
Does this list pass that litmus test? I’m not so sure. As a source of what was happening at the time in the Hip Hop space then it does pass, sort of. With no real radio hits, who knows of Vince Staples outside of our small sandbox that is constantly searching for and imbibing dope Hip Hop? Then there are one-hitters that made good in Dej Loaf, K Camp, and Fetty Wap. Dej switching up her image and opting out of guns and into midriffs is one thing, but K Camp has all but disappeared after the wave that was “Cut You Off” peaked at number 49 on the Billboard Hot 100 last year. And with Drake hopping on Fetty Wap’s “My Way” you can expect him to continue his momentum, but for how long? Goldlink is a solid pick, who we think of when we think of a Freshman and so is Raury, whose Indigo Child (mixtape? album?), although he’s toured with OutKast and in Europe. Dave East being left off the list is a straight up snub, and Kidd Kidd (as great of a person and emcee that he is) was on Lil Wayne’s album in 2008. I can’t call it a bust because I like almost everyone on the list. But I’m just not sure what the criteria is, and with water this dark all you can do is pray. Is the list of up-and-comers in 2015? I don’t think so. Is this a list of true freshman? I don’t think that’s right, either. This is more like a list of who’s hot now or been hot in 2014 that we overlooked. And with that kind of ambiguity you can’t help but catch feelings over some of the selections. In my opinion, however, this list isn’t the worst I’ve ever seen. There are holes and glaring omissions in
Ural: What exactly is the point of the XXL Freshmen List? Is it to represent who currently has a buzz or is on their way to rap superstardom? How are potential candidates even measured? There’s never really been an absolute answer. Add into the equation an ever changing music industry and things don’t get any clearer. Then again, maybe the purpose of the list isn’t to satisfy everyone. Plies, Rich Boy, Gorilla Zoe and Papoose made the original Freshmen List in 2008. Lupe Fiasco, Joell Ortiz and Lil Boosie did as well. Even during that time, social media and viral weren’t even determinant factors in artist’s success as well. Fast forward to now and it’s extremely difficult to even get an idea of whether or not XXL is printing anymore if their subscription page says anything about it. The once almighty publication created by former members of The Source is just another victim of an industry that’s gone through numerous transformations. The 2015 Freshmen Class List couldn’t have been a better example for better or worse.
Who knows? Anyone on that list has the potential to be Hip Hop’s next great artist. Tink could serve as the next big female emcee and Vince Staples is a future lyrical heavyweight. But, why does XXL feel the need to have R&B singers like Fetty Wap, Dej Loaf and Raury? Well, the lines between Hip Hop and R&B are becoming more and more blurred. The battle between rap traditionalism and progressivism is difficult to document in today’s content heavy Internet world. Satisfying everyone is close to impossible. After the morning announcement, social media was divided and it should be. That’s why this list comes off as very “today.” Hip Hop has become too fractured to really please the masses. How quick artists careers are created and destroyed are uncertain in today’s industry where a Vine video can make someone an instant celebrity. The length of the said career is even harder to decipher. With that said, XXL’s 2015 Freshmen list will either be a bust or genius; no in-between.
Andre Grant is an NYC native turned L.A. transplant that has contributed to a few different properties on the web and is now the Features Editor for HipHopDX. He’s also trying to live it to the limit and love it a lot. Follow him on Twitter @drejones.
Ural Garrett is a Los Angeles-based journalist and HipHopDX’s Senior Features Writer. When not covering music, video games, films and the community at large, he’s in the kitchen baking like Anita. Follow him on Twitter @UralG.