Crossfader’s XXL Mag’s Freshman Class Coverage

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

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21 Savage

Arguably the most interesting and unique part about 21 Savage’s SLAUGHTER KING mixtape from late last year is the sound of the guy’s smoke alarm going off every couple of minutes throughout the entirety of the release. And even that gets old after a while. There’s not really a lot to draw from Savage that hasn’t been trodden to death in the past few years by rappers with much more charisma and creativity. It’s not so much that 21 Savage offends, but that he does something much worse: bores listeners to tears. At the risk of turning ourselves into another few marks on his supposed lengthy list of kills, Savage’s work is uninspired and brings absolutely nothing new to the table. He is little more than ammunition for all of those so-called music fans that claim rap is lowest common denominator trite. Even when he attempts to get real and describes disturbing scenes in the streets of Atlanta, he shoots himself in the foot by relying on a hook with 15 lazy utterances of “skirtt skirtt” of which the track is named after (over 60 “skirtts” in total). With that many “skirtts,” it’s a wonder why he’s not called Forever 21 Savage. [Alexander Larios]


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Anderson .Paak

Is he an R&B singer? Is he a rapper? Is he a producer/multi-instrumentalist/rapper? The inability to easily categorize the Oxnard, California rapper may be why Anderson .Paak is just now getting his day in the sun at 30 years old, but he’s certainly having a great year now that he’s arrived. MALIBU is well on track for being one of the biggest records of the year, and mostly for good reason. While it’s not hard to get lost in the groove of .Paak’s soulful voice and expert instrumentation, the big knock against him is that his rhyming style and delivery feels suspiciously similar to a certain massively influential rapper from Compton and his massively successful 2015 record. That being said, he’s an on-point performer, hustler, and has the respect of heavy-hitters like Schoolboy Q and Talib Kwelli. For a mainstream, suburban-leaning audience, he’s an easily consumed fan-favorite and earned his spot on the XXL cover. [Carter Moon]


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Dave East

It’s a weird thing to realize that Dave East is one of the only MCs from the Freshman Class this year that could be called a “traditional rapper.” That’s more a testament to what a bizarre lineup this year ended up being than a dig at Dave East. The Harlem rapper is a classic East Coast MC with impressive old school style. That old school sensibility would explain why one of his best tracks, “Forbes List,” has him going toe-to-toe with none other Nas himself. Last year’s HATE ME NOW was a varied, full-bodied 20-track mixtape that could’ve easily been a major label, full album debut. He’s a polished, mature artist who’s definitely ready to move up to the next level. From a boom-bap influenced production style to his straightforward gangsta rap storytelling, Dave East would stand out in any lineup of contemporary rappers, but on this year’s XXL he’s a very welcome black sheep. [Carter Moon]


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Denzel Curry

We’ve sung his praises before, but it’s good to know that XXL agrees. Though he’s been rapping for a good while now, Miami-based rapper Denzel Curry may finally bask in some well-deserved limelight thanks to the release of IMPERIAL, which put on full display his perfected talent earlier this year. After detaching himself from Spaceghostpurrp and Raider Klan, Curry was free to embark on new horizons. He somehow manages to combine close to all aspects of Southern hip hop, as well as its delineators such as trap and cloud rap, without falling into step with every single other rapper on today’s market banking on those genres. It seems almost effortless the way Curry details intensely dark subject matter from the depths of Miami with an impassioned and relentless style and flow, maintaining an uncompromised confidence throughout it all. Anyone would be hard pressed to find another MC who spits as hard as Denzel Curry. He’s definitely someone to keep tabs on for any fan of rap music. [Alexander Larios]


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It’s all good and fine that you have broads in Atlanta, but it would be even better if you had just as many tracks. Seriously, the luck that Brooklyn’s Desiigner has is unfathomable. To be able to come out with a song that rips off the style of any old, mediocre Future track and have it be the number one song in the country is unprecedented. But to garner that much fame with one of the only five tracks with his name on it is smoking gun evidence that Desiigner is working with some sort of deal-with-the-devil type of situation. When he does live performances how long is his set? 10 minutes? Desiigner is basically living proof that rap is at risk of stagnation, if not losing its soul entirely. It’s true that nearly every up-and-coming rapper wants to sound somewhat like those in the South, but achieving this much mainstream success by so blatantly copy and pasting another artist only encourages more copycats to emerge. If you’re asking me, it’s safe to corral him with Post Malone in the “guys who Kanye pays attention to but you need not” section. Also, Desiigner is a really dumb name. [Alexander Larios]


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G Herbo

On the surface, Chicago rapper G Herbo, aka Lil Herb, may seem like your typical purveyor of drill. One may hear his repetitive, smash hit single “I’m Rollin” blasted in a club or meme’d into oblivion by tumbling puppies on Vine. But digging deeper into his repertoire reveals that Herbo truly possesses an incredible wealth of talent and has definitely made a name for himself in the genre of drill next to greats like Chief Keef. Though he doesn’t completely redefine drill, Herbo makes it as fresh and exciting as it was in the early days of its inception. By employing just the right amount of speed and ferocity, he paints a brutal picture of the worst side of Chiraq with an unmatched intensity, all while methodically switching up a variety of flows so that nearly each line may blow the listener away before they even knew what hit them. With three critically-acclaimed mixtapes under his belt, XXL should have put Herb on this list years ago. [Alexander Larios]


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Kodak Black

Kodak Black’s been making moves since he was 12 and it shows. The 18-year-old has a voice that still cracks and sounds aggressively youthful, but if anything it just adds to his cred. By not trying to make himself sound older or more masculine, he never sounds like he’s trying to front, giving his rhymes about growing up in the Miami projects an extra layer of authenticity. On top of that, he’s got a tendency to be introspective and melancholic about his experiences rather than just bragging about his wealth, making him a more original lyricist than most of his peers. With both the mixtapes he churned out over the past couple of years, he’s put out consistent work, and the spectacular singles “SKRT” and “No Flockin’” prove that he can put in time in the booth and in establishing his sloppy, free-form, mellow flow. His latest tape, LIL B.I.G. PAC is a great step forward for Kodak, working with a whole stable of great producers and copping a perfect feature from Gucci Mane himself on “Vibin’ in the Bih.” If he can manage to stay out of prison, Kodak Black’s got all the makings of being a huge star in hip hop, definitely someone you’ll want to know as he grows up and rockets to stardom. [Carter Moon]


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Lil Dicky

I do not speak with hyperbole. To the day I die, I will swear that Lil Dicky is the worst thing to ever happen to rap, and one of the worst things to happen to music in general. Groveling in the dirt below the barrel alongside Macklemore, on a technical level Lil Dicky is certainly verbose, but he’s a one-trick pony indulging in the same tired regurgitation of highly syllabic whitebread jibber-jabber that white rappers have deemed their calling card for time immemorial. Lil Dicky is not alone in his intent to indulge in the nauseating trend middle-class white rappers have wherein they heavily lean into their supposed “quirky” side to mask the fetid stench of a complete lack of engaging viewpoints, personality, or prowess of any sort, but Lil Dicky is disgustingly aggressive in his intentions to subvert and pervert the very foundations of hip hop in general. In “Professional Rapper,” Lil Dicky ACTUALLY SCOLDS SNOOP DOGG’S CHARACTER FOR POINTING OUT THAT HE NEVER HAD TO STRUGGLE BY SAYING THAT HE HAD TO “BE THE MAN IN SCHOOL” SO THAT HE COULD “GET WHATEVER JOB [HE] WANTED.” After FURTHER stating that he started his rap career with his bar mitzvah money, Lil Dicky then still has the audacity to explicitly state that he aims to move the audience of hip hop away from the impoverished communities where the genre had its start as a form of social protest in order to cater to teenage stoners who find rap “unintelligent” and will respond to his “stand up rap” and “anti-rap” stylings. Is that perfectly clear, that Lil Dicky wants to make hip hop for people who speak from a place of Eurocentric respectability and class and ignore the parent genre due to the supposedly subpar intellect and talent? And THIS is someone who XXL Mag chooses as one of the Freshmen of the Year? Someone who is mounting an actual campaign to rip hip hop away from the people and places that need it most and feed an abjectly brutalized simulacra of privilege, mockery, and systemic racism back to the white consumers that hurt the message most? I despise Lil Dicky with every fiber of my being, and his inclusion in the list is a sick, sick joke. [Thomas Seraydarian]


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Lil Uzi Vert

This is proving to be the year when hip hop fully embraced its softer side, and Lil Uzi Vert fits firmly in that category. While there’s absolutely nothing “hard” about Lil Uzi Vert, his saturated Auto-Tune is addictively fun to get lost in, particularly on his hits like “Money Longer” and “Top.” While it’s a little disappointing that Lil Uzi Vert was included on the list as opposed to more high-energy bop contemporaries like Sicko Mobb, he’s also been putting in the work and cranking out consistent mixtapes to warrant his inclusion. If nothing else, Lil Uzi Vert proves that trap is definitively moving into more of a bop- and pop-inspired realm, with he and Lil Yachty both earning spots this year. Will he go on to anything spectacular from here? Hard to say, but only time will tell now that he’s made it to the cover. [Carter Moon]


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Lil Yachty

Although we’re overjoyed that Lil Yachty won the 10th spot for Freshmen of the Year, by all accounts he should be freshMAN of the year. Lil Yachty is more important to the future of hip hop than any other artist on this list, precisely because at times he’s only the most tenuous of hip hop performers, as he is constantly pushing the parameters and qualifications of the genre, a qualification that is more virile and vital than any of the other traditionally capable artists on this list. As I’ve pointed out in our trap rap primer, Lil Yachty is the first definitive post-trap artist, an amalgamation and assimilation of the varied influences of the past few years, whether it be “the concise, street-smart sensibilities of Young Jeezy and Migos, the thematic and percussive influence of Gucci Mane and Waka Flocka Flame, the reductive and willfully ignorant delivery of Chief Keef, the baleful Auto-Tuned balladry of Future, and the sheer bizarreness of Young Thug, all delivered over production that exists in the twilight zone between cloud and pop rap.” Almost impossible to put an essentialized finger on, Lil Yachty is challenging, polarizing, and entirely out of his mind. In short, he’s the kind of musical artist any publication should champion. [Thomas Seraydarian]

Crossfader Staff

The good people of Crossfader Magazine.

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