Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Ranking XXL's Freshmen Classes

So I read XXL Magazine's Freshman Class 2013 issue and I was really fascinated by the idea. For those that don't know what it is, every year for the past six years, the hip hop magazine has released an issue with its Top 10 newcomers for the year, giving them some free press and getting them new audiences. I really like the idea, even if the execution isn't particularly awesome.

This made me think of two things that I'm going to write about. The first is to go over the six freshman classes they've done so far and ranking the artists. It'll be a combination of how much I personally like the artists mixed with some measure of their success and output since they were recognized. A combination of subjective and objective rankings. The second thing would be to do a retroactive list of Freshmen for every year during the rap era. I'll do that second one later, for now I want to rank the classes...

(Take these with a bit of a grain of salt, though, since a lot of these rappers I've only heard a little bit from and some of them I'll be listening to for the first time while writing this. I'll update it in the future as I learn more).

2008

1. Lupe Fiasco: Seemingly, by far, the most successful member of the first class. I like him quite a bit. I like his style and I like songs like "Words I Never Said" and "Kick Push" quite a bit.

2. Papoose: I first heard of Papoose doing a track about a police brutality incident in NY and I loved the track. I've liked some of his other stuff, too, but I wouldn't say I love anything he's done, although I do keep listening, because he's far from whack.

3. Crooked I: Like his flow and his voice. I'm definitely going to listen to more after hearing "Dream Big" and "Pac and Biggie."

4. Saigon: Mostly know of him because of his appearances on "Entourage." The tracks I listened to, "Come on Baby" and "Ryders" were solid, but not spectacular. "Come on Baby" has a great beat and really takes off when Jay-Z comes in, but that's not a spectacular sign for Saigon.

5. Joell Ortiz: Not a bad writer, but his style doesn't stand out to me. He's far from terrible and "Hip Hop" isn't a bad track.

6. Lil Boosie: He's been pretty successful, but I tried listening to "Devils" and it didn't do anything for me.

7. Plies: I can't get past how much I dislike the production on the tracks I heard, "Bust It Baby Part 2" and "Shawty," although "Hypnotized" wasn't terrible. He doesn't seem to be horrible technically.

8. Gorilla Zoe: While I totally respect the idea of releasing a mixtape a day for an entire month, the tracks "Echo" and "Hood N*gga" really left me cold. They're really part of what I call the "lazy" trend in hip hop. Slow, awkward delivery, pointless lyrics that could've been delivered by anyone and nothing to stand out from any other song.

9. Rich Boy: Really don't like the choppy style and run-of-the-mill production on "Throw Some D's" and I hate songs about cars.

10. Young Dro: "FDB" and "Shoulder Lean" are even lazier than Gorilla Zoe.

2009

1. Kid Cudi: I'm not yet a massive fan, but I could be on the way since I've liked quite a few of his tracks, including "Day N Nite," "Poke Her Face," and several tracks off of "Indicud."

2. Blu: A much better sound than most of the 2009 class, I'm really interested in hearing a lot more of his sound, which is influenced by the genre that shares his name. His flow is pretty solid, too.

3. Asher Roth: Silly throwaway stuff, but "I Love College" and "Party Girl" are fun songs.

4. B.o.B: He's obviously massively successful, even if he leans very poppy. Although to be fair, he isn't exactly poppy in a bad way, more Justin Timberlake than Britney Spears. Teaming up with the likes of Eminem, Lupe Fiasco, and Morgan Freeman get him a boost and his response to "Control" was pretty strong, but then again, he did a song with Taylor Swift, so...

5. Charles Hamilton: "Brooklyn Girls" is a pretty awesome track, so it's hard to understand why such a prolific rapper has little to no mainstream stuff out.

6. Mickey Factz: He's pretty good on "Paradise" and as a guest on "I'm So Tall," but he really needs to step up the production schedule or risk being a footnote.

7. Ace Hood: He seems to have a lot of potential, but he's hanging out with people like Lil Wayne, Chris Brown, Future, Rick Ross and Wiz Khalifa, all of whom he's better than and bring him down on songs like "Body 2 Body" and "Bugatti," although he does much better when alone, like on "Hustle Hard."

8. Cory Gunz: Hard to say much about someone who has so little output. He did guest on the only Lil Wayne song I can stand "6 Foot, 7 Foot," but I don't get much of a feel for him from "Foreign." Maybe "Colder," which is somewhat better is a better example of what he can do. Remains to be seen.

9. Wale: Really not my type of music. After listening to "Bad" and "Lotus Flower Bomb," I respect the quality of the production and the guest appearances are solid, but they music is just too R&B and light for my tastes.

10. Curren$y: "Jet Life" and "Capitol" both sound kinda dull to me. Not quite in the lazy category, since the production is better than that, but you can see a bit of the Master P/Lil Wayne influence on him and it hurts him when you hear it.

2010

1. Big Sean: The fact that he got Kendrick Lamar to join him for "Control" puts him to close to the top of the 2010 list, but "Hall of Fame" is growing on me, so he's probably at the top of what looks to be the weakest of these lists.

2. Fashawn: He has better production than most of the people on any of these lists and has a flow that is well above average, even if some of his lyrics are a little cliche. "Samsonite Man," "Relaxation" and "Nothin For the Radio" were all well worth listening to more than once. "Life As A Shorty" also has a really great overall sound.

3. J. Cole: Been listening to "Born Sinner" and I definitely don't hate it. It's going to take some additional listens to make me know how much I like it since nothing jumps out at me.

4. Donnis: He's a little too poppy for my tastes, generally speaking, but his stuff is better than most of the pop rappers out there right now. I checked out "Gone," "I Made It," and "Knockout" and while none of them, well, knocked me out, I didn't hate them, either.

5. Nipsey Hussle: His name alone gets him further up the list. His flow isn't bad at all, and "I Need That" and "7 Days a Week" don't sound terrible, although the production is a bit weak and the lyrics are a little cliche.

6. Jay Rock: On "Say Wassup" and "Hood Gone Love It," Jay Rock has solid production and a good enough flow, but the songs just don't grab me. I'm wait and see on this guy.

7. Pill: The first two tracks I listened to, "Pacman" and "Don't Let Go" (a guest verse) were marred by intros that featured Rick Ross and autotune. The lyrics on "Ride Dat Pole" are atrocious. Pill's flow is solid, but I've already heard these songs. Today.

8. Freddie Gibbs: By this point in the list, I'm really coming to the conclusion that the 2010 class is by far the worst in the freshman era. Gibbs' work on "Bout It Bout It," "BFK" and "Eastside Moonwalker," is passable, but, again, sounds just like everything else that is on this list that I've complained about already.

9. OJ da Juiceman: To start off, his name is pretty dumb. "Make That Trap Say Aye" is so annoying that I couldn't listen to anything else he was involved in.

10. Wiz Khalifa: I do not like Khalifa. He's so dull he almost messed up Tyga's "Molly" song and it isn't like Tyga's the best technical rapper in the game, so if you can't hang with Tyga...

2011

1. Kendrick Lamar: Of anybody on this list, he has the profile to launch him into megastardom. "Backseat Freestyle" might be the most banging track of the last decade and I love it when he starts rapping in Spanish. His calling out of pretty much every rapper in the game was a genius move from a marketing standpoint AND from the point of view of trying to elevate the artform.

2. Mac Miller: Just started listening to him, but I really like "Donald Trump," "Knock Knock" and "Goosebumpz." A bit poppy, lyrically dumb and white boy silly, but still well done.

3. Lil B: Unlike most entrants on the list, Lil has a strong sense of humor and a willingness not to take himself so seriously, particularly on standout tracks like "I'm Paris Hilton," "California Boy," and "Barbiie Girl," and, to a lesser extent, "Wonton Soup."

4. Yelawolf: There's a lot of potential here. I really liked the menace of "Pop the Trunk," and "I Just Wanna Party," "Let's Roll," and "Daddy's Lambo" all caught my attention. Definitely will listen to more.

5. Cyhi The Prynce: Prince has some impressive writing credits and guest appearances, but is a little short on his own original songs, although his flow on songs like "Sideways" and "Far Removed" is pretty strong.

6. Meek Mill: Man I hate when the first song I hear someone on involves Rick Ross, as does Mill's "Ima Boss," which is totally forgettable. Much better without Ross is "Dreams and Nightmares" which is a great song. "Levels," with too many lines I've heard before, is somewhere in between.

7. Diggy Simmons: I gather that Diggy has a very high opinion of himself, maybe higher than the rest of this list, which is saying something. I can't say as I agree with him, though. His flow isn't weak, and his voice is somewhat original, but what is he saying? Same old stuff on tracks like "Fall Down" and "You Got Me Now."

8. Big K.R.I.T.: Well, he at least gets some great guests on songs like "Country Shit" and "Money on the Floor," but nothing in either song stands out to me and I'll have to listen more to figure out whether or not he's any good.

9. Fred Tha Godson: I don't really have anything bad to say about "Doing My Thing" and "Work," but I don't really have anything positive to say, either.

10. YG: Really, really dull. Songs like "Snitches Ain't" and "You Broke" could've been written by a crap rap music song generator and while "Toot It and Boot It" sounds a lot better, the name is "Toot It and Boot It."

11. Lil Twist: On "Turn't Up," Twist gets a great guest appearance from Busta that clearly outshines the young rapper. On "Love Affair," you have the opposite situation, where Lil Wayne comes in to suck things up a bit. Twist has a similar voice to Wayne, but he's not as lazy. After listening to "New Money," though it seems the highlight is the Busta Rhymes appearance.

2012

1. Macklemore: Maybe the most successful single and album of any of the freshmen ever, he's already one of my favorite rappers.

2. Hopsin: I didn't think anyone would beat out Danny Brown for second on this list, but after hearing songs like Hopsin's "Ill Mind" series (particularly 4 & 5), it wasn't that close. Hopsin has a lot to say and a lot of very cool ways to say it.

3. Danny Brown: Just started listening to him, but "Radio Song," "Grown Up," "Black Brad Pitt" and several others have already been in heavy rotation for me.

4. Iggy Azalea: She's trying a bit to hard to be one of the guys, but she isn't exactly failing on songs like "My World" and "Work," which are good songs.

5. Don Trip: He's not exceptionally different than anyone else, but he's more honest and songs like "Letter to My Son" and "Rep My Hood" are worth a listen.

6. Roscoe Dash: "All the Way Turnt Up" made me almost immediately want to turn it off, but "Good Good Night," was much better. Still a little bit too similar to everything else out there, but he has some potential and I might listen to more.

7. Machine Gun Kelly: Not a lot of his stuff is freely available online, but "Alice in Wonderland" is a promising start. The beat is somewhat original and his flow is pretty technically difficult.

8. Kid Ink: "Money and Power" and "Hell and Back" are similar enough in title and sound to make me not particularly interested in listening to much more.

9. French Montana: Apparently, after writing the hook to "Ain't Worried 'Bout Nothing," French Montana wasn't worried about writing anything else, as the song only has 16 bars that don't mention all of the hook. If you take out lines that also have the word "nothing" in them, there isn't even a full verse in the whole song. That really, really didn't make me want to listen to anything else he wrote.

10. Future: At the beginning of "Karate Chop," Future uses autotune to talk about how real he is. Then Lil' Wayne comes in. Then Future uses that lazy-ass flow that I hate with a passion. Then I was done with him.

2013

1. Schoolboy Q: What I've heard so far, I love. "Collard Greens" is one of my favorite songs right now.

2. Action Bronson: I love his voice and his delivery, but I haven't heard a lot of truly great tracks from him, beyond "East Bound and Down," which is amazing.

3. Ab-Soul: "Terrorist Threats," "A Rebellion" and "The Book of Soul" were all in my rotation, although none of them quite made my hall of fame.

4. Angel Haze: Listened to her for the first time today and "New York" and "Werkin' Girls" went straight into my rotation. Her voice and flow are great and the production's even better.

5. Joey Bada$$: "Waves" is growing on me and leaves me wanting a bit more, but I haven't heard the other track that I'm gonna listen to a lot.

6. Trinidad James: "All Gold Everything" is pretty solid, but "One More Molly" could've been written by anyone else on this list. Probably better done, too.

7. Logic: I listened to "Young Sinatra II" and it was nice, but it didn't make me fall in love.

8. Dizzy Wright: Seems to be a bit familiar, might even be biting his style. "Cant Trust'em" sounds pretty good, but it also sounds like deja vu. Pretty sure Kanye said "don't let me get in my zone" first.

9. Travi$ Scott: "Upper Echelon" is not in the upper echelon. And can we really, really stop using dollar signs for letters? Please?

10. Kirko Bangz: Am I supposed to stay awake during "Drank In My Cup"? Very hard to do.

11. Chief Keef: "Love Sosa" isn't a terrible song. It's not really a good one, either. And it's all down hill from there.

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