INTROSPECTIVE: XXL’s 2020 Freshman Class

Every year, Hip-Hop news magazine, XXL releases a roster of around 10 to 12 young rap-proximate artists who show promise as the next big Hip-Hop stars. Since 2007, the popular mag has executed a colorful rollout of their artist predictions titled The Freshman Class, with teaser videos, provocative cyphers, react content and the annual, highly awaited magazine cover picturing all of these Hip-Hop hopefuls together. Naturally becoming a point of reference for fans and industry folk to closely watch the trajectory of their favorite artists, the disclosure of the lineup always sparks controversial reactions; And this year particularly, there was no shortage of that.

Some of the biggest conversations revolved around why certain rappers were included; or not. Popular artists like Sada Baby, Don Toliver, Guapdad4000 and Pop Smoke were consistently mentioned in the comment section of XXL’s Instagram for being snubbed of their place in The Freshman Class. Many readers also weren’t aware of the only two female artists on the roster,(Mulatto and Chika) which led them to theorize the chosen femcees are industry plants. Reviewers also questioned the “Whats Poppin” star Jack Harlow for his placement since he’s well known only for his very recent hit song. In the same breath, readers praised traditionally rap leaning artists like Polo G, NLE Choppa, Fivio Foreign and Rod Wave for their placements. Ironically, the overwhelmingly negative reception for XXL’s 2020 Freshman Class lineup is shocking to me, because this is probably the most initially impressive one I’ve seen.

Much like 2015’s Freshman Class, this year feels like its representing every rising sub-genre and it’s leading artists respectfully. They have Fivio Foreign and Lil Tjay representing New York and the explosive drill scene. NLE Choppa is a youthful rapper combining high energy and a southern flow from Memphis, Tennessee. Baby Keem is from Las Vegas and 24k Goldn from San Francisco is repping the West Coast with their genre-defying and (sometimes obscure) Rap-Pop edge. Calboy and Polo G are both from Chicago, Illinois yet their sounds are a little different; Calboy rhymes integrates more harmonizing and melody focused tracks, while Polo G’s are more direct and aggressive. Mulatto and Lil Keed are both from Atlanta, Georgia bringing their fresh-faced talents to trap-esque hits. Jack Harlow hails from Kentucky and is well known for his quick witted rhymes, Chika’s conscious and introspective flow took form in Alabama and Floridian Rod Wave is very popular for his passionate vocal abilities on rap tracks – all three of them, distinguished, and rather unique artists from the South East. All in all, every placement this year feels purposeful, representative and not clouded by clout.

Unfortunately in the past, XXL has had a tendency of just listing whose hot, instead of who will further the genre, or who has longevity. Because of this, readers expectations are focused on whose popular now when the whole point of The Freshman Class is to leverage artists who are not only gaining popularity, but shows potential to thrive and transcend past the mainstream. This is why I always expect to see at least two or three faces I haven’t seen before; And others should keep this in mind.

I had no clue who 24k Goldn was, but I was okay with that. Because Hip-Hop doesn’t consist of just the stuff I listen to ( which is a pretty elementary idea lol). A quick click to Goldn’s music and the realization became clear why he was included and more specifically fan-voted in. This is the same energy XXL’s fan base should be on. Sada Baby is hot right now, but will his brand of music age well? Guapdad4000 is crazy impressive, but he hasn’t had a strong moment or song yet. Despite Pop Smoke’s untimely death, his imprint on New York’s sound will ALWAYS be acknowledged and it wasn’t XXL’s fault why he wasn’t included. Don Toliver has some hits, but his dip in consistency might’ve worked against him timing wise. IDK, the complaints this year seem biased…

Top: Chika, Bottom: Mulatto

Personally, my biggest problem was with the fact that the female rappers suffered more slander than any other artists on the cover. As a matter of fact, the same people who didn’t know who Mulatto or Chika are, are the same ones who fervently praised Polo G, Rod Wave and NLE Choppa like they were gods. The issue with this is that other than the obvious fact that the industry is male-dominated, and therefore prefers male artists, lesser known male artists like Lil Keed, Baby Keem and Calboy didn’t receive the same critique, which is leading me to believe further there is A NEED particularly for these female artists to shine. I’ve been following Chika since her freestyle IG days and Mulatto has been heavy on my radar for the last few months. If most of these guys did just a few searches on these women as I did with 24k Goldn, they would understand why Mulatto and Chika are super deserving of being in XXL’s 2020 Freshman Class. BUT I WILL DIGRESS (sideye)…

Overall, I am uber optimistic for all of these artists. They all show a capability to push their sub-genre and the culture forward. If one thing is true, everybody will know somebody on this list.

LISTEN TO SOME OF THE FRESHMAN CLASS NOMINEES ON THE SNEAKVIBING playlists. Exclusively on Apple Music!

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