10 Rap Artists To Watch This Year, As XXL's Freshmen Cover Identified
Each year, rap fans, critics and haters alike wait for the coveted XXL Freshmen cover drop that never fails to stir controversial debate.
Although this year feels somewhat dull — some people blaming the list itself, and others blaming the pool to choose from — there never seems to be a shortage of artists floating between the hip-hop and rap hemisphere.
Still, many of us view the list as a registrar for who has or who is on his or her way to blowing up this year.
Albeit, we can’t forget the many mistakes XXL has made, like Iggy Azalea, who clearly cannot even freestyle, or OJ da Juiceman, who was a complete flop.
But, the beautiful thing about rap is the incessant argument over who is on top.
Whether our judgements pierce through guest verses, radio freestyles or YouTube views, artists are always fighting to be on top and earn their respect in the game.
Let’s take a look at who these freshmen are and who must have been invited by mistake:
You probably haven’t heard of Vince Staples, but you definitely have heard him. Although he doesn’t have any huge radio hits, Staples spits hard.
The Long Beach native is extremely wise beyond his 22 years, crafting an incredibly dark sound that haunts us through his lyrical truths.
With records like “Hands Up,” he exudes political agency by documenting his own life and sharing the brutally honest daily accounts of being a young black man on the streets of Southern Los Angeles — without glamorizing it.
In 2014, Staples dropped his EP, Hell Can Wait, which solidified his style and purpose in the game with seven menacing tracks.
It’s not just the harsh realities Staples shares that catch your attention, but it's his ability to successfully rap over any beat and his knack for killing every verse on any track he appears in.
Yet, he can’t be pigeonholed into just one style or story, and this is what makes Vince Staples the most up-and-coming rapper in the game.
GoldLink probably emerged into the electronic hip-hop scene through your SoundCloud stream, where he crafted numerous records to turn any location into an infectious party.
Goldlink creates pieces perfected from a range of old and classic samples, slicing in the right amount of electronic sound.
We love Goldlink for the momentum he breeds, keeping us bouncing all day long and seamlessly blending into any festival scene.
In 2014, he dropped The God Complex, which essentially put him on everyone’s radar.
He gave fans a complete collection of his instrumental, catchy and trill seeking tracks.
Fetty Wap has pretty much taken over the past year with your favorite record, "Trap Queen." The track basically does whatever it wants.
It was first independently released in April 2014, and then it was released again in December 2014, making its way to Billboard’s Hot 100 early in 2015.
It's a most unusual road for any record to take (as Rembert Browne breaks down in “Let Fetty Wap Take You To The Summer”), but it’s the most obvious reason why Fetty Wap is on the list.
Although it didn’t hurt when Drake came on his remix to “My Way,” essentially cosigning the artist alongside Kanye West, Fetty Wap signed to 300 Entertainment in November and hasn't even dropped a mixtape.
While I would undoubtedly love to see more female emcees repping on the cover, I think the list could have done without DeJ Loaf.
Out of Detroit, she dropped her debut mixtape, Just Do It, in 2012 and signed to Columbia Records shortly after releasing Sell Sole in 2014.
DeJ comes in with ferocious lyrics, but her rapping and singing flow doesn’t leave me memorized.
She has caught major hype from her single, “Try Me,” which is essentially how she has grabbed the attention of veterans in the game. But at this point, I’m not totally convinced.
Followers of the underground game have watched Raury’s debut EP, Indigo Child, circulate through the scene and invade every mixtape site and social media feed.
Raury's sound isn't for everyone. He’s an eclectic, unofficial rapper utilizing a myriad of sounds with lyrics of deep-seated meaning.
Much of his allure rests in records like "Amor," which is swift, calm and heartwarming.
Other standout tracks like “God’s Whisper” boom with background indie sounds and children's voices.
His influences run from Kid Cudi, Phil Collins, Bon Iver and, most notably, André 3000.
Although he’s not a personal favorite, the Atlanta native is a good fit among the cover, gaining attention from kings like Outkast.
Indigo Child may require some patience, but he certainly shares his skills and some ideas of what’s to come.
My belief is there will always be a Shy Glizzy on the Freshmen cover.
The best way to summarize Glizzy's sound is to mention the guest appearances on his last mixtape, Law 3, which includes the notorious Bobby Shmurda, 2 Chainz, Migos, A$AP Rocky, as well as numerous members of the Glizzy troupe.
It's not too surprising Glizzy was chosen for the list with his trill, Southern-influenced sound from the DMV.
Although we know Glizzy by his breakout tracks like “Awwsome,” his album was nothing to write home about. However, we know he has the ability to deliver tapes that will catch like wildfire on the streets.
Maco's most recent EP, Breathe, was written and recorded in just one day, inspired by the events surrounding #BlackLivesMatter.
It is through this EP that Maco instills our confidence in his ability to make a mark in the game beyond his hit record, “U Guessed It.”
The production and beats aren't seeking attention, and they are essentially a platform for him to rap his ass off and share his stories with a haunting, transformational flow.
Now that Maco has signed to Quality Control, we can expect him to do even bigger, greater things.
The name K Camp itself doesn't mean much, but you've heard him incessantly played through every speaker with this year's viral, "Lil Bit."
It posses a catchy character, but it will quickly be forgotten by next summer.
Through his mixtapes, like In Due Time, he's gained momentum. But based off his track record, I'm not sure I can see any promise of potential that would earn him a spot on the cover.
I can't lie; it feels great having a woman on the list who can spit without a doubt.
Tink, otherwise known as the Timbaland’s protege, has been in the game for more than a minute, and her fan base has slowly been growing since she dropped her first tape, Winter's Diary, in 2012.
Tink does a beautiful job dancing the line between rap and R&B, which can be seen across her five mixtapes and in her first album, which will be released sometime this year.
Tink's earned her spot on the list with "Ratchet Commandments," which is currently blowing up, and my personal favorite, “Around the Clock,” where her raps truly come to life.
I think everyone is puzzled on how the hell Kidd Kidd was voted in by fans as the 10th freshman.
Kidd has been fumbling through the game for way too long to even be considered a freshman (unless we're counting someone who’s been left behind for too many years).
From March 16-22, fans had the opportunity to place their votes.
So, either some corruption went down, or we know the audience of XXL is operating at some seriously low standards. Kidd Kidd originally signed to Young Money in 2008, but he was then signed with 50 Cent and G-Unit in 2011.
Although he has released plenty of singles and mixtapes, they essentially are purposeless, which is why you probably like him or haven’t heard of him.
While it's important to remember artists can always turn down the cover, as Drake and Nicki Minaj have done in the past, Editor-in-Chief Vanessa Satten claimed that wasn't the case this year. But, in regard to who is most evidently missing, let's start with Mick Jenkins.
This ambitious kid caught our attention after dropping his anticipated project, The Water[s], which maps out the many ills and distractions of society while laying down his most transparent truths.
With features like Joey Bada$$ and production from Statik Selektah and THC, The Waters[s] was his first release with Cinematic Music Group.
It’s safe to say he is only on his way up, and with another release due out this year, Jenkins is someone we will be closely watching.
Other options include Cozz, a member of J. Cole's own Dreamville Records, who dropped his debut album, Cozz & Effect, in 2014.
The artist has major potential with intelligent clout and superb rhyme schemes, creating an impressive theme for his first major debut.
I was also surprised to see Rae Sremmurd missing from the list, as their hits “No Type” and “No Flex Zone” have been bumping out of every club for the past six months.
Other notables include Oakland’s Kehlani, whose recent album, You Should Be Here, which included guest appearances from BJ the Chicago Kid and Chance The Rapper, has generated immense applause in the rap world.
Although, with her album released so recently (this past April), it’s safe to say she’s missed the cut off.
Next month, cyphers and freestyles will be released, but for now check out the Breakfast Club’s interview with XXL Editor-in-Chief Vanessa Satten and Editor Miranda J. for a more in-depth scoop about the process, hits and misses included.
And for those nostalgic for discussion from previous years, check NPR’s Microphone Check for conversations between Satten, Frannie Kelley and Ali Shaheed Muhammad about the history behind the XXL Freshmen.