Last week XXL announced on Twitter they are beginning the hunt for their 2016 Freshmen Class and, as they intended, the tweet spawned a laundry list of hundreds of unknown rappers being plugged by their fans.
This is typically how it goes for the publication’s annual list of the top 10 up-and-coming rappers in the country: They announce they’re looking for freshmen and the Internet goes abuzz brainstorming who might make the list. Then the list is announced and it’s hotly debated all day on social media who should have made the list and who should not have made the list. Finally, when the freestyle sessions or cyphers are released it’s once again debated who had the best freestyle and who had the worst. It’s a cunning stunt of year-round publicity but the hip-hop community continually keeps an eye on the list because as many times as they’ve reached and struck out nominating folks like Gorilla Zoe, Mickey Factz, OJ Da Juiceman or Fred The Godson, they’ve hit plenty of home runs predicting the superstar success of acts like J. Cole, Big Sean, YG, Kevin Gates and Kendrick Lamar.
The list isn’t the be-all and end-all, though. There are plenty of rappers who have been chosen for the list but declined to be featured by XXL such as Drake; Nicki Minaj; A$AP Rocky; Tyler, The Creator; and most recently, Young Thug and ILoveMakonnen. This usually happens because XXL is no fool and isn’t attempting to predict the future by selecting complete unknowns. The freshmen they’ve chosen to feature have already garnered some semblance of real success or are on the trajectory to stardom and, like the names previously mentioned, feel slighted by the term “freshmen” when they’ve got skins on the wall.
Nevertheless, based on the criteria and patterns XXL seem to have established for their freshmen class, it’s fun to take a look at who in Dallas’ vast array of hip-hop talent look like real fits for the XXL Freshmen Class of 2016. This list may only feature five artists but it’s been whittled down by a process of elimination based on XXL’s history. As much as the city loves and supports acts like A.Dd+ and The Outfit, TX, they have no chance of ever making the list considering there has never been a group featured on the cover.
And because the emphasis is on freshmen, i.e., artists early on in their careers, folks like Dorrough get no play here either. We’d also love to see artists like Buffalo Black or Lord Byron stand a chance here, but looking back on the list’s eight-year history, it generally overlooks wordsmiths outside of a few choice picks like Lupe Fiasco, Kendrick Lamar and Hopsin. Lastly, although there is a ton of young, burgeoning talent in the city like Devy Stonez, Young OG, Brandon Fxrd or MO3, these five artists have a few more achievements under their belts.
5. Blue, The Misfit
Until last year, an artist like Blue, The Misfit didn’t seem like a genuine contender for XXL’s list because, as his name alludes, he’s a bit of an outsider and his brand of hip-hop can easily be deemed alternative or indie. Typically XXL’s picks have been mainstream friendly but with the inclusion of artists like Goldlink and Raury last year, both of whom complement Blue’s unique production and rap stylings, Blue is a solid nomination. It’s also worth pointing out that Kid Cudi was once on the list. The biggest thing going against Blue right now is that he hasn’t earned as much national attention as he’d need to really make the list. His debut album Child In the Wild debuted on RedBull’s website and attracted attention from Fader for a now erased-from-existence collaboration with Kendrick Lamar, but he still needs a little more national recognition. We do know he will be releasing new music in the early part of 2016, though, and hopefully that work will earn him the recognition needed.
2015 was a big year for G.U.N., with the release of “Johnny Cage” hitting semi-viral status with Dallas’ youth and beyond. His nomination on this list isn’t only based on the trap hit. He also released the song “Undi Lay," which showed a versatility to produce radio-ready singles and, more important, he spent a good portion of the year sharing stages with some of hip-hop’s biggest acts such as Travis Scott, Chief Keef and Future with the same star-in-the-making pedigree. Just like Blue, The Misfit, it will be interesting to see how much G.U.N. can branch out onto the national scene in the early part of 2016.
3. Snow Tha Product
Now we’re getting closer to the very real possibility of nominations for the XXL Freshmen Class of 2016. It’s a bit of a wonder how Snow Tha Product hasn’t already been included on the list. She’s been signed to Atlantic Records for several years now and has amassed a fanbase that from a numbers standpoint is much larger than previous Freshmen chosen, with 109,000 followers on Twitter and over 1 million likes on Facebook. Snow’s rap skills stand on their own whether male or female, but if we were to compare her to the other women chosen in previous Freshmen classes like Iggy Azalea, Angel Haze and Dej Loaf, she is far and away a more skilled and versatile rapper. The greatest case against Snow could be her age and years in the game, but at 28 she’s hardly too old to be nominated. Danny Brown was chosen in 2012 at the age of 31. Snow will either have to have some sort of viral hit in the next few months or release her long-awaited major label debut to put her her name into the conversation. And once it’s released, here’s to hoping she’s in consideration.
This would be a really interesting selection by XXL. Justus, the hand-picked protégé of Dr. Dre, has writing credits on half of Compton, which also happened to be one of the most successful albums of 2015, debuting at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 charts and selling over 295,000 copies in the first week. While we all know him as JT from Brain Gang, who has supreme rap skills, nationally he’s still an unknown hook man on Compton. Most recently he performed a freestyle on Dre’s Beats 1 show, The Pharmacy, for Apple Music, but it’s hard to gauge his place as a rapper in XXL’s eyes. It will be interesting to see if XXL has the foresight to highlight a young, promising talent who’s definitely on the cusp of breaking out in his own right.
1. Post Malone
This is the easiest selection because if it turns out Post Malone isn’t chosen for this year’s XXL Freshmen Class of 2016, it’d be a damn shame and one hell of a miss by the publication. Unless of course Post decides to turn down the publication. He seems to be doing fine since the overnight viral success of “White Iverson” in February, which is still in heavy rotation on radio stations across the country, and he’s released a load of other tracks that have garnered nearly as much attention as that initial hit. Hell, a couple weeks ago 50 Cent released a song featuring the former Grapevine resident. With the release of his debut album impending, it wouldn’t be a surprise in the slightest if Post Malone was chosen as one of 2016’s freshmen. It almost feels like a lock at this point.
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