2018 XXL Freshman Class

Each year, XXL Mag picks the rappers that will go on to be a big deal in the coming years. Read up on what Crossfader’s music department thinks of their 2018 selections.

XXL Freshman BlocBoy JB

BlocBoy JB

2018 hasn’t been a good year for Drake fans, so when my introduction to BlocBoy JB was that he was a dancing rapper put on by Drizzy, my hopes were excessively low. That said, boy, were my presumptions wrong. The Memphis-based rapper stays true to the groundwork laid by fellow Tennessean legends like Three 6 Mafia and Project Pat, but takes it to the next level through upping the production value. “Rover” showcases a banger beat that sounds like a mix of Kodak’s “No Flockin” and Kendrick’s “HUMBLE.” As if the production didn’t hit hard enough, BlocBoy’s bars sound like a southern A$AP Ferg, and talking about Range Rovers (in my opinion the best car to rap about) is the icing on the cake to make the track a certified bump. Lil Pump collab “Nun of Dat” shows JB asserting his dominance over his XXL freshman peer. Where Pump sounds nasally and breathy with lines about standard hip hop fare like drugs and boats, JB manages more creative bars about Yugioh and making the Fader. On top of being a talented rapper, the dance moves I expected to be corny are actually pretty cool. Watching JB nimbly jump around in his videos is invigorating and demonstrates that his entertainment value is more grounded in talent and idiosyncrasy than his buddy Drake. With three tapes out since 2017 and collabs with YG, 21 Savage, and Rico Nasty, BlocBoy JB may have what it takes to put Memphis rap back in the spotlight. He may not have the conscious rap intricacies of J.I.D or the lightning fast rhymes of Ski Mask, but as far as making southern rap bangers is concerned, BlocBoy is an exemplary freshman. [Ted Davis]

XXL Freshman J.I.D

J.I.D

You feel bad doing this to an artist who’s just starting out, but it’s just too easy—J.I.D sounds like Kendrick Lamar. I’m far from the first person to make that observation, but his record THE NEVER STORY makes it incredibly obvious, as he borrows liberally from both the production techniques and flows found on TO PIMP A BUTTERFLY. Fortunately, it’s a very, very well done facsimile. J.I.D, who hails from Atlanta, already holds a reputation as one of the city’s best lyricists (that may not quite be deserved yet, but his talent for wordplay is undeniable) and frequently dips his toes into the same kind of jazz/funk samples found on TPAB. There’s still a bit of tangible Atlanta lineage in his music as well—he’s got a little Andre 3000 in him, which shows itself in his willingness to explore personal issues in his music, and in surprisingly good R&B vocals that are occasionally showcased on THE NEVER STORY, which is like a more potent version of the second half of Big K.R.I.T.’s 4EVA IS A MIGHTY LONG TIME. Nevertheless, right now, J.I.D comes across as mostly flash with little substance. He has a great ear for production and a lot of potential as an MC, but his music still lacks a coherent voice that holds all the aspects of his work together. He’s far from all hype, but he’s also not necessarily the most fully realized artist on this list, even if he very well could be the most talented. [Adam Cash]

XXL Freshman Lil Pump

Lil Pump

Truth be told, friends, I was more on the fence about this one than I originally expected myself to be. If you’ve generally kept up with my opinions on rap, either on Crossfader or in real life, you’ll know that there will always be a special place in my heart for the 17-year-old born Gazzy Garcia. Long championing the maximized, lowest-common-denominator bombast he propagates, it would be disingenuous to suddenly renege on a long of history of considering Lil Pump Actually Good. LIL PUMP is still an aggressively and intentionally ignorant firestorm, a neverending cavalcade of low-end bass abuse, furious, nightmare-visions of violence, sexuality, and inebriation, and eminently capable of getting everyone at a party on their feet. Lil Pump himself is still an unapologetically polarizing figure who makes no secret that nobody in their right mind should consider him a rapper of traditional merit, entirely trafficking in oppressive and claustrophobic atmosphere. His original oeuvre makes use of snarling, ragged production with a minimalist refutation of musicality, sounding like nothing else coming out at the time. In short, while the memory of 2017 is still at least somewhat fresh in our minds, Lil Pump’s astronomical leap to the top of the cultural consciousness lands him a well-earned spot on an XXL list. But it’s hard to shake the feeling that this time next year, Lil Pump will be but a distant, hazy memory. Clueless studio executives are already diluting his firecracker burst into the game with cash-out features, sterilized production, and appearances on the DEADPOOL 2 soundtrack, each of which grinds down the vicious edge of his surprise appearance on the scene that much further. It would appear as if Lil Pump is set to have the unpolished, willfully tasteless aspects that made him such an electric jolt tempered out into tepid, passable mundanity, going the way of the fallen King of the Teens. But for now, while you still can, it’s still well worth giving some consideration to the logical conclusion of 20 years of rap existing on the internet. If you don’t love Lil Pump, he’ll at least piss you off to no end, and that’s better than yet another S A D SoundCloud competitor for Lil Peep’s throne. If you’ve got music of your own that you think could take SoundCloud absolutely by storm, your music could benefit from using an online service such as www.upyourplays.com that makes your songs more popular, helping you to reach a wider online audience.[Thomas Seraydarian]

XXL Freshman Ski Mask

Ski Mask the Slump God

It’s unfortunate that Stokeley Goulbourne will probably forever live in the shadow of XXXTentacion. Had XXX not been gunned down right as the XXL freshman class had been announced, maybe Ski Mask would’ve had a shot at carving out a lane for himself. He deserves that shot, because his association with XXX has more to do with happenstance than any solid similarities they share musically. Ski Mask’s flow borrows a bit from Offset, but his rhymes are more off-the-wall and clever. If you listen closely, he sits on the fence between mumble rap and trap in a satisfying way, even if he’s not exactly breaking new ground. With some certified streaming hits already under his belt, it’s clear that he’s capable of drawing a crowd with his bars, even if some of his initial success may have come from his association with XXX. If Ski Mask can keep building what he’s already started, there’s nothing preventing him from getting out from the considerable shadow of his problematic peer. [Carter Moon]

XXL Freshman Smokepurrp

Smokepurpp

The 2018 Freshman Class version of Mr. Miyagi and young Daniel-san, there would be no Lil Pump without Smokepurpp. The man known as Omar Pineiro produced the “Gucci Gang” producer early in his career, and while the student has now become the master, at least in terms of mainstream popularity, Smokepurpp’s influence can be felt across both this class and the SoundCloud generation in general. While he’s a more conventional rapper than Lil Pump or Playboi Carti, he has that same aura of punk about him that makes his adoption of dissonant beats, flailing Auto-Tune, and cooing, smoked-out vocals all the more intriguing. The cover of the Florida rapper’s debut commercial mixtape, DEADSTAR, features a recreation of an infamous photo of GG Allin’s funeral, and it’s that kind of reckless swagger Smokepurpp brings to the table. And as is the case with his aforementioned peers, asking if the music presented on the rumbling low-end DEADSTAR tape and on his Murda Beatz collaboration BLESS YO TRAP is “good” is something of a loaded question; the anarchy Smokepurpp seeks on these projects seems important to the genre’s current state, and while the music itself is perhaps not good by conventional rap metrics, it is fascinating, if not important, to listen to. The twitchy, industrial sweat of DEADSTAR represents the sound of a youth moment, and he’s shown enough different looks to prove potentially versatile outside of the SoundCloud world, whether it be defiant and cocky on “Fingers Blue” or at the mercy of cloud rap drippings on “Different Color Molly.” Is he particularly pop friendly? Not really, at least not unless the culture truly pivots or he adopts the simple, almost-goofiness of his younger sidekick. Whether Smokepurpp has longevity is unclear—it’s unclear for the entire SoundCloud generation—but while he’ll likely be all hype when we look back in 10 years, that hype is proving important in upending the current state of rap. [CJ Simonson]

XXL Freshman Stefflon Don

Stefflon Don

I distinctly remember the first time I heard “16 Shots” for the first time, the chills I got as I watched her video. Here was an MC with absolute bars and a powerful voice rapping about . . . defending her mother. Two years ago, the REAL TING mixtape stood out in comparison to the rest of the hip hop coming out at the time, and now in this year’s very Florida-focused Freshman Class, Stefflon Don is a welcome anomaly. The XXL Freshman Class is exactly the kind of turn that can make or break an MC like Stefflon; she could very easily team up with producers that figure out how to use her flow, voice, and Caribbean background to maximum effect, or she could be pigeonholed into a more accessible pop route that would waste her more angry energy. All I know for certain is that hip hop needs more artists like Stefflon in the spotlight, especially in an era when XXXTentacion seems to have permanently shifted rap into an unapologetically misogynistic and narrow direction. Keep your ears open for her, she may surprise all of us a year from now. [Carter Moon]

XXL Freshman Trippie Redd

Trippie Redd

I won’t deny that I had an extensive emo phase in middle school, but even as a proud My Chemical Romance fan in my youth, I simply don’t understand why so many rappers are trying to sound like Gerard Way. The trend feels very cheesy, tongue-in-cheek, and definitely doesn’t yield itself the potential to last. Trippie Redd is one of the torchbearers of the emo sing-rap movement and feels like one of this freshman classes’ most disposable contenders. Citing The Weeknd and T-Pain as his early influences, Trippie openly disclosed his love for Auto-Tune with XXL in 2017. Though he will admit that his style is similar to Uzi’s, he doesn’t have the same flamboyant rockstar pizazz or memorable lyricism that makes Vert such a one-of-a-kind presence in the hip hop sphere. 6ix9ine collab “Poles 1469” sounds almost exactly like Sahbabii’s “Pull Up Wit Ah Stick,” but with much less smooth rapping. 6ix9ine also stunts on Trippie pretty hard on the track, his full-bodied scream rap proving that if Trippie Redd is emulating Fall Out Boy, 6ix9ine is pulling from Pierce The Veil. While “Love Scars” has a mind-bendingly glitchy video, the track itself simply isn’t remarkable. When Redd started rapping about rocking Balenciaga and sipping lemonade, I turned the track off because I’ve heard the same content from numerous more original rappers this year. “Romeo and Juliet” shows that Trippie’s brand is more enjoyable and approachable when he embraces his softer side. The track is Spooky Black-esque, with clattering half-time drum machines and confident 808s laying the groundwork for vocals that sit much more comfortably in the context of the track than most of Trippie’s harder work. Even though “Romeo and Juliet” shows that Trippie is better suited for his Freshman Class nomination when he cuts back on the shock factor, the majority of his tracks suggest that XXL should have let him cut his teeth for another year or two before nominating him. [Ted Davis]

XXL Freshman Wifisfuneral

Wifisfuneral

Bronx-born, Florida-raised XXL freshman Isaiah Rivera, aka Wifisfuneral, is among the recent deluge of SoundCloud rappers to take the genre by storm. So . . . what sets Wifi apart from the rest, and worthy to hold a place within the prestigious 2018 XXL list? While his vocal inflection and stylings are typical of the xanned-out rappers today, his flow is downright infectious. Rivera has a razor sharp ear on how to perfectly situate himself on a track. With his recent project-a-year run, he obviously has a ravenous drive and output, but what can Rivera improve upon in the years to come? His voice can come off as blase, never unacceptable but at times unimpressive in its execution, and his production can be hit or miss, on occasion coming off as well constructed but commonplace. When it hits though, such as on the lurching banger “Lil Jeff Hardy” off BOY WHO CRIED WOLF, or the darkly shrill “Lights” on BLACK HEART REVENGE, he commands a track perfectly, making him seem like a veteran despite his young age. Rivera has shown a great drive and potential for longterm greatness. Wifi may be one of the more understated artists of 2018 list, making it an even greater disservice to sleep on him. [William Turmon]

XXL Freshman YBN

YBN Nahmir

When I chose YBN Nahmir to write a blurb on, I really thought I was getting the other YBN dude with the J. Cole response that’s fucking fire. But no, I got Nahmir, who, as it turns out, I knew nothing about. So I got with the program, checked out his hits, and now I’m here listening to his meh XXL freestyle, which I think sums up his style and persona quite well. He’s got some decent bars, there’s some interesting storytelling going on about his rough upbringing (which has been the focus of some debate), and his cadence and flow provide some nostalgia for E-40—the latter is especially evident on the short and sweet jam “Bounce Out With That.” However, Nahmir’s rapping tends to lend itself to boredom, lacking the daffiness of his Bay Area influences. Despite him getting the chance to live a lifestyle that hews more closely to the video games his come-up is credited to, he doesn’t sound very excited to be here. And in turn, it’s hard to get very excited over his status too. I do commend him on bringing up all his dogs with him in his rise to stardom, especially as we see one of them really relish in it and make the best of it. I wish Cordae got on this list instead, as he seems like the Ski Mask to Nahmir’s XXX. And if that’s the case, maybe we’ll see him as a freshman next year. [Nick Funess]

Crossfader Staff

The good people of Crossfader Magazine.

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1 Response

  1. October 20, 2018

    […] You can read our rundown of this year’s Freshman Class here […]

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