XXL Freshman 2014

XXL Magazine’s “Freshmen Class” of rappers has become something to look forward to since the magazine started highlighting up and comers in the rap game back in 2008. They’ve gotten a few wrong (OJ da Juiceman, anyone?) but for the most part have called some of the major players ahead of their time – Freddie Gibbs (c/o ’10), Wale (c/o ’09), and yes, even Macklemore (c/o ’12). With this year looking to bear the strongest Freshman Class since 2011’s (which featured Kendrick Lamar, Big K.R.I.T. and YG to name a few), these are the people who SHOULD make the cut as XXL’s 2014 Freshmen.

Vince Staples - XXL Fresh 14Vince Staples

State His Case: All it took was a year.

After popping up on plenty of blogs’ rap radars but never quite sticking, Vince Staples officially made himself worth checking for in 2013. The emcee emerged as the only other active rapper alongside Freddie Gibbs who would be voted Most Likely To Rap About Homicide and Distribution While Holding You At Gunpoint. Staples’ gritty flow is unmatched, playing a nice foil to Jhené Aiko’s flowery one on her sail out EP and he formally introduced himself to the world as an energetic live performer on ScHoolboy Q’s “OXYmoron” tour. XXL would do well to recognize Staples’ growth last year and potential this year for still more, especially with his Shyne Coldchain Volume 2 project still getting all the burn.

The Evidence
: Burgundy (w/ Earl Sweatshirt), Humble

 

Rapsody - XXL FreshmanRapsody

State Her Case: Is the third time the charm for Rapsody? We think so.

Barely four years ago, Rapsody was shouting out the female spitters she admired most on her debut project, Return of the B-Girl. Since then, the woman called “Rap” and First Lady of 9th Wonder’s JAMLA Records has not only collaborated with a majority of her idols but has grown into an outright beast on wax, releasing consistent project after consistent project whether it be an EP, FreEP, or LP. In the process, she’s dismantled the idea of the “femcee” as a rapper whose “power” is defined solely by sex-appeal. Having flexed her lyrical muscles appropriately on the recent JAMLA is The Squad compilation album and snubbed in ’12 and ’13, it can no longer be denied that “She Got Game.” It’s past time for Rap to get her due, especially with her sophomore album lurking on the horizon this year.

The Evidence: Murder by Numbers, Beautiful Music (f. GQ, Childish Gambino)

 

DeLorean_XXL FreshmanDeLorean


State His Case
: Yes, Killa Kyleon was mentioned in fan voting, and as far as the emerging stars in the city go, Doughbeezy and Propain are all but set to join Kirko Bangz as the young guns who will put Houston back on the map for its artists as much as its sound. But 2013 was the year of Delorean. It’s not a debate.

Delorean spent all of 2013 pushing his most ambitious project to date, Grace, his own personal So Far Gone: an album that just so happened to call itself a mixtape. Grace boasted big names – from K.R.I.T. to Slim Thug – sleek production, and put Delo in the driver’s seat of his own fate career-wise. When Houston radio wouldn’t notice him, Delo did it his own way and put himself out there to the nation as a whole, to the point where his music videos were featured on MTV2 and he even showed up on BET’s 106 & Park to drop a smooth freestyle. It makes sense to reward Delo’s hard work with still more national recognition, and to further shed light on a star that WILL be born out of darkness.

The Evidence: Breathe, Feel Like I’m Winning (f. Trae The Truth)

 

Chance The Rapper_XXL FreshmanChance the Rapper

State His Case: Case? What case? Acid Rap IS all the case Chance the Rapper needs.

In all seriousness, Chance’s Acid Rap tape was amongst the Top 5 releases of 2013, so good in fact that it caused people to retroactively track the emcee’s career and get acquainted with his 2012 release 10 Day as well. Chance’s nasally flow simply can’t be duplicated, and his singing voice is not to be slept on, either, when he’s taking himself seriously.

In contrast to Chief Keef, who played upon the Chiraq/gang violence angle, Chance offered a refreshing alternate view of Chicago rap and culture that was positive and perfectly okay with spending a day at the beach lighting up with friends rather than shooting up the streets. To say nothing of the experience that he makes his concert performances. Drake “may not know that n*gga,” but everybody else does, and XXL knows better than to snub Chance after his banner year.

The Evidence: Juice, Child’s Play (w/ Sza)

 

Isaiah Rashad_XXL FreshmanIsaiah Rashad

State His Case: The first of the two rookie selections in the Top Dawg Entertainment expansion draft, Isaiah Rashad was an unknown from an unknown area. Who was this country fried rap flowing guy from Tennessee? I mean, sure, “Shot You Down” was memorable, but really, why should we have cared? Like at all?

Expectations are high when you’re a relative unknown joining the hottest label at the time. But rather than cave under pressure, Rashad rose to the occasion and exceeded expectations. TDE trusted Rashad so much that his initially free mixtape evolved into a retail EP, Cilvia Demo, one that is already an early favorite for Best of the Year lists even in April. It’s tempting to call Isaiah the Chattanooga Kendrick, but Rashad is more than capable of commanding a crowd on his own. Just ask anyone who saw him in Austin during SXSW. Every other member of TDE has broken XXL’s Freshman listing; Isaiah should carry on tradition.

The Evidence: Shot You Down (Remix), RIP Kevin Miller, West Savannah (f. Sza)