Hello, I’m MusiCommentator, and since it’s finally here, it’s time to do my second annual XXL Freshman ranking post! For those who don’t know what the XXL Freshman List is, you might be confused, so let me explain.
XXL is a hip hop magazine that originated in 1997. It has become one of the most popular news sources for hip hop and rap through the many and articles and interviews they post in their magazine and on their website. However, the most popular thing they do is the annual freshman list. Every year since 2007, they have picked ten up-and-coming rappers that people should be on the lookout for, and each one does a freestyle and cypher for the website. Due to the list’s success, the rappers that appear here are usually regarded as those who will lead the new school. Sure, some rappers that make the list fade into obscurity almost immediately after the list becomes irrelevant (tell me if you remember who OJ da Juiceman is), but many rappers that have been featured on it have gone on to be extremely successful, such as Logic, Chance the Rapper, and even Kendrick Lamar!
I personally love these lists! I find it interesting who XXL thinks will be the next big thing and love listening to the freestyles and cyphers. This has also been a very interesting year for the list, as there are only 9 freshmen this year, and it’s the first year where a rapper has refused to give a cypher verse (more on that later). However, I listened to everything I had to so I can make this list.
I made a ranking just like this last year, and I’m going to do the same format I did then. So, I made three separate lists to rank each artists’ previous music, their XXL freestyles, and their XXL cypher verses. I then took the average of each person’s rankings and put them into a final list. This article will be me sharing my opinions on these three categories of every artist on the list, and I have them ranked from worst to best. Also, to clear from confusion, I will be referring to the cyphers as Cypher 1 (J.I.D. and Ski Mask the Slump God), Cypher 2 (YBN Nahmir, Stefflon Don, & Wifisfuneral), and Cypher 3 (Lil Pump, BlocBoy JB, and Smokepurpp).
Alright, enough of this long ass intro. Let’s get into this!
#9: Lil Pump
This list is from worst to best, so I guess I have to start with Lil Pump.
Born Gazzy Garcia, Lil Pump is a Miami rapper who is undoubtedly the most popular artist on this list. However, I can’t stand the guy’s music. I’m not someone who just listened to “Gucci Gang” and said it was bad to be on the bandwagon either. I listened to his whole self-titled debut, and I truly struggled to get through it. If I’m listening to a swag rapper, I don’t need them to be as lyrical as Biggie, but I at least want some kind of clever wordplay or interesting scenarios. Lil Pump does none of this. His lines are more basic than you can imagine. Plus, he’s inanely repetitive, and I’m not just talking about his choruses. Every single one of his songs has a line about his/your grandmother doing something ridiculous, himself taking a lot of Molly, and so on. It’s like he has a template for every one of his songs that he just fills in. His beats don’t help make things better, either, as they range from boring (“Gucci Gang”, “Drug Addicts”) to garish (“D Rose”, “Crazy”). But, I need to talk about his other stuff, too, so I’m moving on.
Many people were mad at Lil Pump for his freestyle because it was his first freestyle and he just used a verse from his hit “Esskeetit”. I really don’t know why everyone was in a fit over this because rappers have taken their freestyles from songs before. Smokepurpp, Ski Mask the Slump God, and Trippie Redd did the same thing this year and no one was complaining about it. People say they didn’t like his freestyle for this reason, but I didn’t like it just because it’s a crappy verse.
Lil Pump’s cypher verse was still pretty bad, but marginally better than his freestyle. From what I can tell, his verse on here is actually original, and his flow is not half bad. The lyrics are about as lifeless as the rest of his stuff, but at least there were a couple small positives I could find in it.
#8: BlocBoy JB
Born James Lee Baker III, BlocBoy JB is a Memphis rapper who skyrocketed into popularity after his Drake collaboration “Look Alive”. I actually kind of dig this song, but it’s one of the shining moments in Blocboy’s discography. Going deeper into his discography, one can realize that much of it sounds similar. It is basically dark, bass-boosted beats with BlocBoy rapping about being in a gang and participating in gang-related activity (with limited wordplay). The beats can be really good, and I am a fan of BlocBoy’s Memphis accent, but listening to a whole project of his is draining. He’s definitely a rapper that is best in moderation.
From the previous paragraph, you could probably tell that I thought his much was decent. Well, his freestyle is far from decent. The two things I mentioned that I liked about his music were the beats and his voice. This is a freestyle, so obviously there is no beat. I was hoping his voice would still sound cool, but he really quieted down his voice for this freestyle, making it sound like he was about to fall asleep. This made the freestyle a pretty bad one.
His cypher verse was not much better. His voice was a bit better on this, but for the cyphers, artists really have to rely on their lyrics and flows to make them stand out. For his verse, he has neither. His flow is basic, and he spits some of the worst lines I have ever heard him give. Usually his lyrics are just bland, but I couldn’t help but cringe at lyrics like “Talkin’ cheese, I get cheddar” and “Pullin’ hoes, I need a lever”. This definitely wasn’t a good verse.
Born Omar Pinero, Smokepurpp is a Miami rapper and frequent collaborator of Lil Pump. To me, Smokepurpp is a somewhat better version of Lil Pump. They rap about the same kinds of things, but Smokepurpp’s flows are usually better, and he usually tries to throw in wordplay to make his songs more interesting. His wordplay may not always be great, as they end up being similes or basic metaphors most of the time, but it usually breaks up the monotony his music can sometimes have. I listened to two of his albums in preparation for this, “Deadstar” and “Bless Yo Trap”. “Bless Yo Trap” was a lot more boring, as part of Smokepurpp’s appeal is his bass-heavy beats, and with Murda On The Beat producing for the whole project, the instrumentals ended up being much blander. “Deadstar” was better, as it had some high points like “Audi” and “Fingers Blue”, but there were also many lulls where I found myself incredibly bored with the album. Smokepurpp can be good, but he also ends up being forgettable a lot of the time.
His freestyle reflects this sentiment perfectly. On this freestyle, he doesn’t really attempt wordplay at all, and it kind of feels boring to listen to, as he really does not have much to say throughout it. There was also one point where you could tell that he nearly forgot a line, as he pauses for about a second, and since I know you can do multiple takes on these freestyles, I can’t really forgive him for slipping like that.
Luckily, his cypher verse was a bit better. Out of all the other rappers on Cypher 3, he was the best one. He flows very well over the beat, and he tries out some good wordplay such as “You’re getting lost in the sauce, here’s a f*cking map” and “B*tch I keep a MAC, and I ain’t talkin’ Macintosh” that make his verse memorable. It was certainly an improvement from his freestyle.
#6: Trippie Redd
Born Michael Lamar White II, Trippie Redd is a rapper from Ohio whose expertise lies in “sing-rapping”. There is no denying that he has a unique voice. Sometimes it sounds terrible, like two goats mating, but other times it works in his favor and makes a song sound really good. Listening to both of his “Love Letter To You” mixtapes, I can see his appeal. The first “Love Letter To You” had some songs I really liked on it, such as “Love Scars”, “It Takes Time”, and “Can You Rap Like Me?”. I would absolutely return to all of these songs in the future. Still, I was not a fan of other songs on the album, like the second part to “Love Scars” and “Poles 1469”. Trippie’s next project, “Love Letter To You 2”, unfortunately, was a sharp decline in quality. His voice sounds a lot more processed, which makes it lose some of its authenticity. The album was also a boring experience, as I could not tell you a full line from any one of the tracks. Luckily, he gave us “Dark Knight Dummo” shortly after, which is one of his best tracks ever.
Trippie Redd’s freestyle was one of the last freestyles to come out, and I’m pretty sure everybody was shocked by it. He emulates the style of his song “Can You Rap Like Me?” to give us 90+ seconds of pure fire. He had some great figurative language such as “Might just have to drop a bomb, Han Solo” and “N*ggas came around, now they extinct like Dodos”. He also addresses his worries about fame in it, which is a deep topic for him, so I applaud him for going that route.
Now, I mentioned earlier that this was the first year where a freshman declined to give a cypher verse, and Trippie is the rapper to that did this. I’m sure that this was a surprise to everyone, as no one has ever done that before. He gave his reasoning by saying “I chose not to do it because I knew the beat was going to be trash” in an interview, but I find this reason to be total BS. He probably didn’t have anything planned and didn’t want to do his verse off the top of his head. Also, they had Sonny Digital doing the cypher beats this year, and he is probably one of the best modern trap producers, so I have no idea why Trippie would say the beat was going to be trash. However, for not participating in a cypher, I put him last in the cypher verse ranking, which greatly affected his score. If he did give a verse, he would probably do a lot better on this ranking, but oh well, I guess.
Born Isaih Guy Rivera, Wifisfuneral is an emo rapper from West Palm Beach that almost no one expected to make the list. He has appeared on the “Vote for the 10th Spot” for a while, but he actually made it on the list this time. Before going into his music, I knew he was an emo rapper, and the one fear I had for him would to be the stereotypical emo rapper that uses moody beats and choruses but just raps about the usual “money, girls, drugs” themes in the verses. Needless to say, I was completely blindsided when I listened to his “When Hell Falls” tape. It was actually emo rap! He talked about his sad emotions in the choruses and verses. “Dinner at Mom’s” is about his troubling relationship with his mother, and “Luv Me Never” focuses on his insecurities with love and himself. So, coming from this amazing tape, I was excited to listen to his next project “Black Heart Revenge”. However, the original fears I had for “When Hell Falls” came alive on this project. The songs had dark trap beats with moody choruses, but the verses were basic brag raps. A few songs were reminiscent of the “When Hell Falls” style, but not enough to make it a good project. “Boy Who Cried Wolf” went further into this swag rap style, with some songs not even feeling like they were trying to be emo. “Ethernet” was a bit better, but not by much. I had a lot of hope for Wifi, but he let me down. It feels weird for me to say “Oh, I liked it when he was sadder in his music”, but hearing him follow this misguided style of emo rap was a huge letdown.
His freestyle, of course, is like his newer music, in that it is mostly just bragging. It starts out cool with “Ayy, I see dead people when I’m walking outside/I was raised to be on my sh*t, stay ten toes outside/Like is you really down to ride? Don’t think you live this life/I could walk to hell and back, you know I’ll be alright”, but devolves into lines like “Hurricane Chris my fist, oh yeah” and “I can’t f*ck no hoes, that b*tch contagious like a sneeze”, and I don’t think I need to tell you why these lyrics are bad.
As you can probably guess, his cypher is basically the same thing as his freestyle. But, it was while listening to his cypher that I realized why I hate it when he brag raps; he does it terribly. He doesn’t try to use cool wordplay or make it sound interesting or anything. He sounds so basic when doing it that you can almost block him out. Not to mention, when he is trying to front that he is an emo rapper but really just raps like any other rapper would, it makes what he says a lot less believable.
#4: Stefflon Don
Born Stephanie Allen, Stefflon Don is not only the token female rapper of this year’s list, but also the first British rapper to ever be in the XXL Freshman Class. Knowing this, I was intrigued to see what kind of music she would make. After listening to her mixtape and a few singles, I came to find out that she has two musical genres she delves in. The first one is contemporary dancehall. Some of her biggest hits as of now, such as “Hurtin Me”, have been in this dancehall style. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of it. It’s just a bit too glitzy and sugary for my liking. From Stefflon, there are a couple dancehall songs I do not mind of hers, like “Hurtin Me”, but other times, I am not a huge fan. Her song “Senseless” shows this particularly, as I find she mumble-sings throughout most of it. The other style she goes into is grime. She’s made songs like “16 Shots” and “Ding-A-Ling” that prove she can actually spit fire bars. Since her dancehall got her more famous, I feel like she will pursue that route more, but I hope she still does some grime in the future.
For her freestyle, she took more of a rapping route. I feel like it would have been weird if she did sing in the freestyle, but her rapping works well for her. Lyrically, it’s not too impressive, but she has a nice flow, and her accent works well with it.
For her cypher verse, though, she definitely upped the ante. Her flow is even better, and it works really well over the beat. Her lyrics are better, too, as she had some wordplay that even I was impressed by. I especially liked the set of bars “Gun too cold like snowman/Gyal drop my paper like postman/I make gyal run like roadman if my money come short like Konan”. She definitely had the best verse in Cypher 2. As a little sidebar, I think that her popularity will fade away in America, but if she keeps coming with bars like these in the future, I bet she will have a great career in her home country.
#3: YBN Nahmir
Born Nicholas Simmons, YBN Nahmir is a Birmingham native that blew up with his viral singles “Rubbin Off The Paint” and “Bounce Out With That”. When I listened to all of these artists’ previous music on here, I stuck with whatever was on Apple Music, so the weird thing about YBN Nahmir is that he only had a few singles for me to listen to. However, I would say I still got a good impression of what he can do. I would compare him to a better version of BlocBoy JB. His lyrics range from being in a gang to partaking in gang related activities, but he does it in a way that is much more versatile than Blocboy. The hits I mentioned of his earlier show how well his voice works with the beats he chooses, while songs like “I Got A Stick” and “No Hook” show that he has some lyrical ability.
Out of all the praises I gave his songs, I would say that his freestyle is better than all of them. He takes the opportunity to rap about his life before fame, going into imagery I didn’t expect him to go into. The starting bars “My mom tatted on my arm, ’cause she mean a lot/I ain’t never had no dad, never had no pops/I was always on that block, clutching on that Glock/Only way you leave the gang if it’s in a box/Hard nights, it was cold, we ain’t have no heat/And my bro passed away, I was sixteen/Had to get off my ass and get off in ’em streets/We ain’t even have no water in that f*cking sink/But now I’m up and I’m a stay focused and get the paper” show the thought he put into his verse here.
His cypher is more similar to his usual style of music, but it still sounds pretty good. The energy he puts in it melds with the others in the cypher and compared with some of the other cypher verses, his flow is decent, so I put him higher on the list for his cypher.
#2: Ski Mask the Slump God
Born Stokeley Goulbourne, Ski Mask the Slump God is a rapper from Florida who is known for his fast flows and collaborations with the late rapper XXXTentacion. Based solely on previous music, Ski Mask is my favorite. I am a big fan of his “You Will Regret” mixtape, as it really shows what he is capable of. His hit single “Catch Me Outside” is a great example of some of the eccentric production he works well on, as his flows perfectly layer with the Timbaland beat. “Take A Step Back” is a more bass-centric track with a rambunctious chorus from X. I was also a fan of “Adventure Time”, “Rambo”, and a lot of the other songs on that tape. I am not as huge a fan of his follow-up “BEWARE THE BOOK OF ELI”, but it’s not something I would turn off if it was playing. He is also capable of doing great features, such as Higher Brothers “Flo Rida” and Keith Ape’s “Achoo”.
With the positive experience I had with his music, I was really excited to see what Ski Mask had in store for his freestyle and cypher. Tragically, both of them were kind of a let down. Focusing on the freestyle, his flows were good. He switched his flows up multiple times throughout the freestyle, making sure the audience wouldn’t get bored, but he had some awful lyrics. Lines like “Rode on my d*ck and said ‘It was so dandy'”, “Yellow b*tches on me like Lemonhead”, “Made that p*ssy sound like mac and cheese”, and “I just send them ‘XD rawr’/When I be texting your wh*re” made me wonder what he was thinking when he was writing this freestyle.
For his cypher, he did not have any lyrics as bad as what he gave us in his freestyle, but he made the same fatal mistake X did when he did his cypher last year; he cut out the beat. I am not sure whether he did this as an homage to X or not, but it really ruined the flow of the cypher, especially considering that there was only one other person on the cypher with him. The flows on this verse also sounded very, very similar to those used in his freestyle, so it felt a bit unoriginal. I was expecting more from Ski Mask with his freestyle and cypher, but I will still end up listening to whatever project he ends up putting out next.
And finally, the best XXL Freshman of the 2018 class is…
Born Destin Route, J.I.D is an East Atlanta rapper who could be considered the lyricist of the 2018 XXL Freshman Class. While I am more of a fan of Ski Mask the Slump God’s previous music, I am a fan of J.I.D’s “The Never Story” tape. “Underwear” is the slick trap banger of the mixtape, but songs like “8701” and “Hereditary” show his softer love side. He gives smooth vocals on these tracks that are easy to sing along to. “Somebody” acts as a nice motivational track, and “EdEddnEddy” and “NEVER” are two tracks that should not be skipped. I would recommend anyone who is reading this to listen to “The Never Story”, as there is truly something for everyone on there.
Even though that album is good, what really got J.I.D this top spot was his freestyle and cypher. Much like YBN, J.I.D talks about his childhood and life before fame, but J.I.D does it a lot better. Firstly, his flow is ridiculous. You could tell that he went all out with this. Hell, I’d say it’s a better flow than Ski Mask did on his freestyle. He comes with some fantastic lines, such as “I get my shine on, Belt of Orion, cut on the lights” and ” I heard that when I was five/That’s around the same time my big brother had shown me his .9 and let me hold it/Literally what I call a 9 to 5″. Within it, too, we hear his ambitions as an artist and what he wants to do with his craft. It is definitely something you have to hear to believe.
J.I.D also comes in hard for his cypher verse. His flow on this is incredible as well, with his rhyme scheme being something that I would think a rapper like Eminem would come up with. He does not go too deep into themes and instead decides to flex his lyrical finesses on lesser rappers. He holds no bars on his verse with lines like “Live life like a baby that was dead at birth/But came alive and f*cked the nurses” and “If you sleepin’ on me we can make it permanent”. Just like his freestyle, it is something that you really need to hear to believe it for yourself.
And, there’s my rankings! Hopefully I didn’t trigger too many of you. Read until after the outro to see my original lists that I based these rankings off of.
I’d say this year’s list was an interesting one. While there are a couple of rappers I could say I definitively hate and definitively like, there are many that I am a little bit indifferent to. I guess if I really wanted to know, I’ll have to wait and see what they release in the future. Still, it was fun seeing who XXL picked and listening to all the cyphers and freestyles.
Thank you for reading my 2018 XXL Freshman Class Ranking. If you liked this article, make sure to follow my website, Twitter, and Instagram, like this post, and be sure to check in to read my future posts. Also, if you have something you want to see me write about, tell me in the comments. Until then, keep listening to good music! I know I will.
If you want to see them, these are the three lists I based my rankings on:
Based On Artists’ Previous Music:
9. Lil Pump (WORST)
7. Trippie Redd
6. BlocBoy JB
5. Stefflon Don
4. YBN Nahmir
1. Ski Mask the Slump God (BEST)
Based On The Artists’ Freestyles:
9. Lil Pump (WORST)
8. BlocBoy JB
5. Stefflon Don
4. Ski Mask the Slump God
3. YBN Nahmir
2. Trippie Redd
1. J.I.D (BEST)
Based On The Artists’ Cypher Verses:
9. Trippie Redd (WORST)
8. BlocBoy JB
7. Lil Pump
4. Ski Mask the Slump God
3. YBN Nahmir
2. Stefflon Don
1. J.I.D (BEST)
Alright, that’s it. Good bye.