2017 XXL Freshman Class

Each year, XXL Mag picks the 10 rappers that will go on to be a big deal. Read up on what Crossfader’s music department thinks of their selections.

Aminé 

I already know that this is one member of the freshman class that many are going to skip over, but if my opinion matters anything to you, please, give Aminé a chance. For my money, he’s the most interesting musical act here by a country mile, regularly making use of samples that are unexpected and often simply strange, demonstrating a chameleonic ability to hold his own over the course of several different genres and styles in the process. Nowhere is the more present than on his electrifying 2015 mixtape, CALLING BRIO, where Aminé proves he can hold court over both the dance floor (the blistering opener, “La Danse”) and Arctic, menacing trap minimalism (“Beast”) in equal measure without blinking an eye, with more recent singles such as “Heebiejeebies (featuring Kehlani)” and “REDMERCEDES” proving he can also turn in straight-laced contemporary R&B cuts and cooler-than-cool hyphy callbacks, respectively. The weaker parts of Aminé’s discography consist of a clear attempt to channel some of Chance the Rapper’s immensely marketable style, but when he sticks to trying to suss out his own artistic identity, the results are consistently enjoyable to experience. It seems that when compared to his other classmates, Aminé has the least current corporate attention focused on him, but listen up listeners of the world: this is actually the 2017 freshman you should be giving your attention. I’ll be rooting for him. [Thomas Seraydarian]

 

A Boogie wit da Hoodie

Considering how ridiculous and decadent his name is, you’d hope A Boogie wit da Hoodie would at least deliver an over-the-top style. Sadly, he doesn’t really bring much to the table, and generally is the dull counterpart to PnB Rock, who he’s come up with. He’s competent on all fronts: his flow is steady and consistent, his rhymes aren’t particularly inventive but are perfectly functional, and his choruses are accessible and easy to sing along with. Having a single on THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS probably means he’ll be exposed to a mainstream audience and gain some sort of moderate success. The weird thing about his music is that it exists in a grey area that a lot of hip hop seems to be finding itself in lately. Most of his songs, like “Proud of Me Now” and “Drowning,” are too emotional and introspective to really be considered pop rap or club rap, but they’re too superficial to really appeal to the backpack rap crowd. With 60 million plays on a few of his singles, he clearly has a fanbase, but it’s hard to imagine him doing anything particularly innovative or exciting on his next full release. It also needs to be said that his hit single “Drowning” is pretty obviously biting Mick Jenkins’s THE WATERS, while nowhere near as well executed. “My Shit” is a fun enough track and everything, but we’ve heard this stuff already from everyone from Lil Uzi Vert to iLoveMakonnen, he really isn’t bringing anything new to the table. Overall, it’s not clear why he made it onto this list while someone like Tee Grizzley got left off, considering he comes from the same school and is so plainly more engaging as an MC. [Carter Moon]

 

Kamaiyah

It’s actually a shame Kamaiyah wasn’t on this list last year after her stellar mixtape A GOOD NIGHT IN THE GHETTO. I can’t stress enough how satisfying Kamaiyah’s music is. Her precise knack for west coast, old-school revivalism comes off as incredibly natural, keeping older relevant influences intact while pushing their sound to fit the modern pallet. She foregoes egotistical lyricism for a storyteller’s ethos more than any rapper on this list, though leaves plenty of room for straight-up bangers, especially in her collaborations with YG. Maybe I have bias after seeing her perform a solid set at FYF 2016, but I can certainly testify for her sheer efficacy as an artist connecting with an audience of mostly first-time listeners—it was fun as hell. Sure, after a while the Kamaiyah/YG combos blend together a bit, but seeing as she’s just getting started, it should be stressed instead that she’s the only person out doing what she’s doing. Kamaiyah creates more quality, fun-first hip hop than anyone on this list, all without making compromises—absolutely XXL’s most underrated freshman. [Micha Knauer]

 

Kap G 

The largest draw of Kap G is his character and confidence as an MC. From the first track of his most recent mixtape, SUPAJEFE, Kap G’s presence feels larger-than-life, an elusive yet indescribably important facet for a young rapper to possess. Channeling the inevitable influence of Migos and recreating it to a very effective T, it can’t be said that Kap G is offering something that we haven’t heard before, but what he offers is so easily interchanged with any major rap star currently pumping out singles that we have no choice but to stand to the side and applaud his efforts. Farther down the list, you’ll see me call out PnB Rock for a tepid presentation of the sing-rap style that we see emulated time and time again; what Kap G possesses that PnB Rock does not is a comparatively more masterful grasp of rhythm and flow, the regular changes in pace he employs perfectly fitting his smoothly delivered lines into the pockets of the vaguely melancholic and introspective production. Unsurprisingly hailing from the creative hotbed of Atlanta, Kap G certainly makes an argument for his position as one of the trending city’s most dedicated acolytes, the rare disciple that can stand toe-to-toe with those he’s learned from. Maybe don’t give Chris Brown a feature on future projects, though. [Thomas Seraydarian]

 

Kyle

I don’t know why I can’t shake the sense that Kyle started out as a parody rapper. His tracks all sound like they started out as jokes, but that he couldn’t quite come up with enough punchlines to make them land. So instead he serves up this sort of shambling, bemused style that he can’t seem to fully own. “iSpy” is a hit entirely because of Lil Yachty’s presence; Kyle is charming, but without Boat’s more dynamic presence, the track would be just as dull as the rest of Kyle’s work. “Doubt It” is inoffensive, but that’s exactly what makes me dislike it so much: rap isn’t supposed to be for generally nice dudes, it’s meant for larger-than-life personalities. He feels like the collateral damage from what Drake has done to rap: overly sentimental and whiny without a lot of real presence on the mic. Look at the rare moments where it seems like Kyle actually attacks a verse head-on, like on “Not the Same,” and you’ll notice how quickly he pulls out of a more aggressive style, as if he’s nervous of putting people off. It’s not that I’m against MCs having a softer and goofier style, Lil Yachty is one of the most interesting guys in the game right now and Aminé is probably the best talent on this list, but the difference with both of those rappers is that they have actual charisma and style. Kyle’s music, by contrast, feels like an outfit that’s been carefully picked out explicitly to avoid drawing too much attention to itself. Rap is a tough game because there’s a myriad ways an MC can disqualify themselves, but I really can’t think of a greater sin in hip hop than being as dull as Kyle is. [Carter Moon]

 

Madeintyo 

A product of the times, Madeintyo easily situates himself in the same SoundCloud-derived stylistic ballpark as fellow class member Playboi Carti, in addition to every other amateur with big dreams mumbling over beats in their mother’s basement. As such, he almost inherently exists as a polarizing figure, as listeners will have to be willing to do business with vapid, minimalist hooks that make use of vocalizations to round out their lack of rhymes and booming trap bass that practically drowns out everything else in the mix to even begin to attempt to appreciate him. In short, it’s “vibe” rap through and through. It ain’t half bad in terms of its accessibility to the youth and easy extrapolation to hyped-up venue parties, but there’s just not enough differentiation to explain the selection of Madeintyo over more charismatic (and gleefully amateurish) contemporaries such as Lil Pump. Sure, a hook every now and then worms its way into your consciousness enough that you’ll be quietly humming it under your breath for a bit to follow, and when the production tiptoes into brighter realms, the same appealing juxtaposition that launched Lil Uzi Vert and Lil Yachty to fame is achieved. But for the most part, it doesn’t seem to promise much more than a lucrative career on hookah bar playlists for the next handful of years. It’s harmless, though! Just look at this video for “I Want,” which simply consists of Madeintyo bopping in one take on a deserted Japanese subway car. What more really is there to say? [Thomas Seraydarian]

 

Playboi Carti

One of the most realized sounds of any artist on this list, save Aminé and Kamaiyah. For the most part, Carti’s eponymous mixtape has a silky, looping, deceptively nostalgic sound without necessarily coming off as trying to be (“Location,” “Magnolia,” “Let It Go”), and acts as a hazy foil to Lil Uzi Vert’s buzzing lucidity. A cynic might argue Carti is merely drawing from the vaporwave toolkit or riding mumble rap coattails, yet in the years since vaporwave’s inception, the tools and symbols it brought to the table have become so disseminated in internet culture they’re indistinguishable from any other motif in the modern musician’s arsenal; furthermore, not only can Carti hold his own, but he excels when paired with other MCs, like on “Lookin” with Lil Uzi Vert, or A$AP Mob’s star-studded “RAF.” His preference for neon-lit, off-kilter samples, full-sounding production, and hypnotic, repetitive delivery distill bubblegum trap’s initial appeal to conclusion, filling that void left by Lil Yachty’s questionable trajectory (RIP “Run / Running”) with a style both distinct from his peers and internally consistent. Admittedly I understand Carti and the latest iteration of “vibey” rap might not be what the average music aficionado is going to be looking for, but at 20 years old, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to argue against Carti’s rightful position among the greats riding at the crest of the new wave—take notice. [Micha Knauer]

 

PnB Rock

It is greatly unfortunate that PnB Rock’s major label debut is called GTTM: GOIN THRU THE MOTIONS because, well . . . As with many of the other rappers that made it into this year’s freshman class, it’s hard to claim that PnB Rock is necessarily bad, but he offers such a standard regurgitation of the lower-half of the radio rap barrel that it’s a real head-scratcher to try to see the justification behind his inclusion. Making use of a mid-tempo delivery style that easily transitions into the sing-sung enunciation currently en vogue, PnB Rock really only seems to gain a sense of efficacy when delivering a hook. And hey, hooks are important, but unfortunately, Rock is easily lapped by any and every guest he appears alongside, with large swaths of filler rounding out his releases. The sleek, polished, and generally uncharacteristic production he works with smooths out any local flavor he may have obtained from growing up in Philly, and the fact that he doesn’t have a burning single under his belt despite operating in this tonally toothless realm of pop rap is room for concern. All that being said, with a little finessing there’s certainly a generically commercial sound here, and maybe with a little luck, PnB Rock can enjoy a long future on Power 106 during the daylight hours. For more discerning hip hop fans, however, nothing to see here. [Thomas Seraydarian]

 

Ugly God

I guess if you just slam the sensibilities of Lil B and Chief Keef together with a love for Pokemon, you can end up on the cover of XXL. I get that he’s supposed to be a comedian/joke MC and that you’re not supposed to take him seriously, but it’s really hard to see how this isn’t just copy-pasting what Lil B already perfected. Lil B made camp his territory so completely that it’s going to be almost impossible for anyone to claim it from him, which makes Ugly God kind of a chore in comparison. If Lil B were a little older and more irrelevant to today I’d be more willing to accept that kids who never knew the BasedGod could think Ugly God was doing something new, but it’s literally only been a couple years since Lil B was still a major meme on the internet. I guess I’m technically obligated to appreciate that Ugly God made “Bernie Sanders,” but that track is just as dull musically as everything else Ugly God has done. The thing that really makes Ugly God worthless to me is that his production isn’t even worth getting lit to; there’s nothing fun to what he does because there’s such a uniform desire to keep things “chill” at all times. He’s somebody who’s not worth the energy it took to write this blurb, and he’s certainly not worth your time as a listener. [Carter Moon]

 

XXXTentacion

We’re gonna give it to you short and sweet, because XXXTentacion is trash that’s not worth any consideration whatsoever. XXXTentacion’s​ music peaked before he was even released from jail for beating his then-pregnant ex-girlfriend. Some tracks on his SoundCloud are definitely intense and carry a veneer of progress for alternative hip hop, but for the most part, his achievements are outdone by folks like Lil Pump, Nah, Antwon, JPEGMAFIA, Dreamcrusher, Brockhampton, and so, so many others. He’s going to ride out his career as far as his male privilege will take him and he’s already compromised his “sound” for the PR. He’d be interesting for six months if he weren’t an abuser—100%, XXXTentacion is fucking hype. [Micha Knauer]

Crossfader Staff

The good people of Crossfader Magazine.

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