XXL 2008: The Freshman Class That Could Have Been

This year celebrates the 10th Freshman Class for XXL Magazine, what’s become a watermark of the coming year’s rising stars. There have been busts, there have been hits, but generally, the announcement of a new class has become a source of internet debate and exploration of potential. XXL debuted the feature in 2007, with a lineup that included Lupe Fiasco, Gorilla Zoe, and Lil Boosie, but took 2008 off before returning in 2009 to hype Kid Cudi, Curren$y, and burgeoning radio stars like Wale and B.o.B. So who would have been the 2008 class? Which rappers would have slid onto the infamous cover in that moment as a new decade loomed and rap’s adoption of the internet was being felt more heavily than ever? With that, we present to you the long-lost class of 2008. — CJ Simonson, Music Editor

XXL 2008 Black Milk

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Black Milk

This might just be the type of break that Curtis Cross needs. The multi-talented rapper/producer from Detroit has a lot to offer, and has been buzzing around the underground for a couple of years now under the name Black Milk. Entering the production scene in 2002, he’s been consistently turning out great beats alongside Young RJ and Fat Ray as part of a rap group B.R. Gunna, and put out a solid compilation album, DIRTY DISTRICT: VOL 2, in 2004. His debut album, 2005’s SOUND OF THE CITY, was a great exercise in flow and introduction to his lyrics for new listeners. While there’s still excess present, some of the fat has been trimmed, with most of the songs clocking in at under two minutes, offering tight and concise tracks that cut to the quick. He has since signed to a major label, Fat Beats, and also released another album in 2007, POPULAR DEMAND, where he really flexed his talents as a producer, sampling mostly from soul records from artists like Aretha Franklin, The Originals, and The Supremes. Black Milk has also shown growth as a storyteller to match, and is one of the most exciting young rappers in a new wave of hot new artists from Detroit. [Mohammed Ashton Kader]

XXL 2008 The Cool Kids

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The Cool Kids

The story of The Cool Kids is the future of hip hop and, perhaps, music. Antoine “Sir Michael Rocks” Reed and Evan “Chuck Inglish” Ingersoll meet on MySpace after one of Ingersoll’s beats finds Reed and the two strike a friendship that would eventually lead to endorsements by party DJs like Diplo and A-Trak and a signing to XL. Traces of Run-DMC and the duo’s initial internet meeting touchpoint, Eric B. & Rakim (who they even sample on the body-contorting “Pump Up The Volume”), can be heard on their debut EP, TOTALLY FLOSSED OUT, a rambunctious collection of bizarre and breathy alt-hip hop. Chuck Inglish’s production is a mixture of sparse, twitching, and dissonant, a bubbling warble that both rappers navigate with similar head-on directness as their influences. Sir Michael Rocks grasps at his words as they come out, an often lethargic but satisfying delivering that feels self-aware of that satisfaction the moment they leave his mouth. Inglish, ever the architect of The Cool Kids’ internet wormhole of nostalgia, has stand-up and classic sounding bars that would make Eazy-E or Big Daddy Kane proud. As hip hop continues to evolve around the world of hip hop, The Cool Kids offer a delightful origin story for the future. [CJ Simonson]

XXL 2008 Drake

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Remember Jimmy Brooks, the unfortunate victim of a paralyzing gunshot wound on DEGRASSI: THE NEXT GENERATION? If not, we won’t hold it against you. But if you do, you might recognize the actor behind Jimmy’s most memorable scenes: Aubrey Graham. What you might not realize, however, is that Aubrey and rapper Drake are one in the same. Last year, Drake made headlines with the summer jam “Replacement Girl,” and since then has been schemin’ up while on tour with Young Money Records founder, Lil Wayne. Last September’s release of COMEBACK SEASON marked the second mixtape for the Canadian-born rapper and proved that he can go from 0 to 100 pretty damn quick. Not only did he snag features from the likes of Wayne, he also managed to procure production credits from hip hop royalty such as 9th Wonder and Kanye West. It’s all evident, given the velvety R&B influence that laces the album, yet Drake still proves that he has the energy to brand himself as a premiere streetwise emcee. Having clear intent in who he wants to be, Drake’s unique take on rap-singing might just be the prefatory symbol that hip hop needs in its continuing quest to dominate pop radio waves in the USA. We do not know if Drake is that guy, just yet, but we can all assume that it’s far from over for this blossoming young artist. His leverage for success could generate a newly found mentorship in Lil Wayne—it might even just be God’s plan. [Michael Stanziale]

XXL 2008 Hurricane Chris

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Hurricane Chris

When Hurricane Chris hit last year, he did so with as much energy and gusto as any 18-year-old could muster in a rap scene hungry for pop chart heavyweights originating in places other than NYC, LA, and Chicago. His club anthem “A Bay Bay” was a veritable contender for last year’s song of summer, and it continues to be a trailblazing transition away from crunk and into the ratchet movement. With hooks like “You wanna know what we say in the club (ay bay bay) / Whites folks , gangster, and them thugs (ay bay bay),” Hurricane’s style is indicative of a new guard that tends to evade street politics and soulful samples in order to focus on having a good time no matter where you are. Hailing from Shreveport, Louisiana, his sharp regional accent is a unique spin atop the high-pitched synths and drums that coat most of his debut album, 51/50 RATCHET. The album is fully loaded with tracks that will excite Southern house parties and late night club goers for the foreseeable future. Hurricane Chris, along with fellow ‘08 freshman Soujia Boy, gets a hand from producer Phunk Dawg to create a sound that is somewhat cookie-cutter in nature but will surely give its best to stand the test of time. Hurricane Chris is off to a good start, but hook masters such as Soujia will make for tough competition in this year’s class. [Michael Stanziale]

XXL 2008 Illa J

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Illa J

Illa J has some big shoes to fill after the passing of his brother, J Dilla, a legend in the hip hop world. But luckily for listeners, he might just have what it takes to fill those shoes. Illa was attending Central Michigan University when his brother passed, and in the passing months he decided to drop out and pursue music to continue his brother’s legacy. He’s set to release his debut album, YANCEY BOYS, later this year, a record entirely produced by his late, great brother and given to Illa J by Mike Ross, founder of Delicious Vinyl. The anticipation for this release is huge, not only to hear new J Dilla beats, but to see if Illa J can deliver something interesting and profound like his brother before him. His rapping seems to demonstrate such potential; on his 2007 self-titled EP, his vocals sounded energetic and his flows were tight. Lyrically he still has work to do and a ways to go, but there might not be another more interesting name in this year’s Freshman class than Illa J. [Mohammed Ashton Kader]

XXL 2008 Max B

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Max B

Jim Jones may have just lost his golden boy, fellow ByrdGang member and Harlem native Max Bigavelli. In the past two years, the 30-year-old has already released four mixtapes, each jam-packed with certified bangers. His latest release and sequel to his debut mixtape, MILLION DOLLAR BABY 2, shows no signs of slowing, even after his falling-out with the Dipset doyen, as he slides over tracks with his signature gravel-mouthed flow. He’s of the gangsta rap variety, but manages to boost his music with a much needed levity and soul. His remix of “Flashing Lights,” known as “Where All My Hoes,” showcases just this, as he genuinely muses about the whereabouts of surrounding ingenue, making an equally catchy chorus out of Ye’s framework. It’s also just an example of his chameleonic flow, not solely relying on today’s typical G-Unified maximalism. He careens from spitting bona fides and street vignettes to crooning on the choruses, all with a swagger that rivals, and maybe even bests, that of his former boss. While his mixtapes could use some trimming (his latest one stands at 25 tracks), it’s no doubt a major label could hone his energy for a debut. Younger and ballsier than most of his contemporaries, Max B touts an exciting (wavy) zest that’s worth looking out for. [Nick Funess]

XXL 2008 Santogold

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From the moment we all heard “Creator,” the dizzy, sing-jaying club nightmare featuring Switch and Freq Nasty, it was clear that Santogold was unlike other artists. It was a strange introduction, tethered to no genre or preconceived notions. Accompanied by the soaring “L.E.S. Artistes,” a bright and deceptively straightforward pop rock track, the question was not “Who is Santogold?,” but rather “What is Santogold?”

The answer to that question remains a mystery months later, but it’s clear that whatever the future of music is, it probably sounds like this. With a blend of new wave, hip hop, and electronica she’s been drawing comparisons to M.I.A., but over a very quick several of months we’ve seen her go from virtually unknown to releasing one of 2008’s most memorable albums. As Kanye West’s GRADUATION showed us last year, the future of mainstream rap is bright and pulsating with arena intentions, house and indie rock undercurrents, and an infectious neon buzz. Santogold’s self-titled debut has the same kind of flavors, mixing reggae, rock, and hip hop into something entirely futuristic. Sometimes a straight alternative rocker, sometimes a pop star, and sometimes a fire-spitting bounce artist, you can’t quite pin down Santogold. She’ll be a rising star in whatever pop and hip hop develop into for years to come. [CJ Simonson]

XXL 2008 Soulja

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Soulja Boy

No other rapper this past year has pissed off more people than the man born DeAndre Cortez Way, a scrappy upstart from Chicago taking the world by storm as the vanguard of what the kids are calling “ringtone rap.” Heard blaring out of the same Sidekicks that the song from his second album of 2007, SOULJABOYTELLEM.COM, gets its name from, oldheads beware, as Soulja Boy trafficks in a lowest common denominator flow only loyal to delivering hook after mind-numbing hook. A logical conclusion to the increasing pop rap flirtation of Lil Wayne, Soulja Boy is mostly here for the polarizing ripples he’s sent through the rap world in his meteoric rise to the top of the iTunes charts, a descendant of the snap movement pioneered by Chingy and Dem Franchise Boyz but somehow even more stripped-down, made for homemade dance compilations on YouTube and little more. But—let yourself drift off for a bit and you’ll find it’s much easier to get oriented within Soulja Boy’s world of chintzy dollar store production, aggressively percussive snaps, claps, and gunshots, and infectious energy than you might assume. Say what you will, but he’s nothing other than a personality to be reckoned with on the mic, and clearly his favoring of charisma over technical ability is already taking root, as similar sounds are drifting over from the Bay Area with The Pack, in particular one Lil B. Besides, even if you can’t sense that this might just be the start of an exciting movement away from what we’ve traditionally considered meritable rap, you at least can’t say there’s been anyone more fun to hate. [Thomas Seraydarian]

XXL 2008 uffie

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After making some serious waves in the Myspace community with her electro-rap bauble “Pop the Glock” in 2006, Uffie went for the victory lap a year later with her feature on Justice’s “TThhEe PPaARRtTTY.” With barely a handful of singles to her name, she’s already managed to trailblaze in a scene becoming saturated with sound-alikes. It’s a risky clashing of glitzy electronica and rap vocals that verges on crass tawdriness, but it’s mitigated thanks to Uffie’s ambition and the overall sense of fun she seems to be having. She’ll frequently get away with a bluntness that could only come from a stuck-up, Floridian teenager. “Yo I’m a damn crazy brat / And I don’t give a fuck,” is just one example of her impish sneering, off her song “Ready to Uff”—Ice Cube might even find her intimidating. And to be honest, in a genre dominated by hypermasculinized braggadocio, it’s nice to hear an extreme counterpart. Her lyrics certainly teeter on corniness, and she’s got a long ways to go in terms of songwriting and could benefit from stricter oversight. But with her curious blending of genres and insatiable need to see “Uffie” in extravagant neon lights, there’s no reason a breakthrough isn’t in the cards for her. [Nick Funess]

The good people of Crossfader Magazine.

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1 Response

  1. October 20, 2018

    […] You can read about our 2008 Class That Could Have Been here […]