Blue Robot

The Real Beef with XXL’s Freshmen

Posted by David Porter Callanan on 03/26 at 06:28 PM

Every year XXL, the largest rap publication in the country, puts out a “freshman” list containing ten rappers that the magazine believes will break out in the following 12 months. In the past, the magazine has made some questionable calls for the cover but also has included some of the game’s biggest stars like Big Sean, Lupe Fiasco, Wiz Khalifa, J. Cole and Wale. Obviously not everyone is going to be happy with the list and in the past there has been backlash through email and social networks. But this year the negative feedback reached an all time high. Bloggers, critics, radio host’s, fans and even fellow rappers dissed the magazine for the choices they made and while I can see their beef (I personally respect only three, maybe four of them), the problem lies more within the idea of the cover itself.

XXL is the largest rap publication, both print and online (although the boys at are gunning for that title) for a good reason. They have incredible resources and connections which allow them to conduct great interviews, review a ton of music and even host their own concerts. While this is all commendable and great for their fans (including myself), it’s not like they are the god’s of hip-hop. They have never been a dictatorship. You don’t even have to listen to their opinion at all if you choose. Just simply move on to one of the thousands of other rap blogs. The beautiful thing about the internet is that for every rapper you think is whack that XXL supports, there are other ones you can find that appeal to your tastes. So just because Dom Trip made the cover doesn’t ensure he will have the better year then some guys who missed the cover. I mean sure, exposure from the cover can’t hurt, but here are some former freshman: Papoose, Plies, OJ Da Juiceman and YG. Remember them? Exactly.

Like everyone when they first saw the cover, my initial reactions were “he made it,” “who is that,” and of course “WHAT THE HELL IS THAT SLAUGHTERED ANIMAL ON FRENCH MONTANA’S HEAD?” But after a glass of H2O, some relaxation drills, and watching my favorite drama comedy, I composed myself and looked over the cover again. I was still baffled by the choices and then watched the XXL’s staff interviews, which justified their choices. While I still don’t agree with the choices from a hip-hop point of view, it all made a little more sense. The qualifications for the cover included having a large internet following which most did, not having released a major label album, which all did (even though Roscoe Dash is more of a senior citizen), and they also talked about the importance of the diversity in style. Obviously you can’t have ten guys on the cover that only appeal to a mainstream audience, but then again you can’t have a bunch of deep lyricists or even the self proclaimed “hustlers.” This year’s cover may have lacked skill in those departments but it did not lack diversity. None of those guys (and girl), really don’t sound alike at all which is what the cover was aiming to accomplish and I salute them for that.

The single beef I had with the cover was the “tenth freshman,” vote in. For the first time in the cover’s history they let fans choose the tenth freshman that would join the rest of the class. With that vote the fans chose the first female to grace the cover in Iggy Azelea. If you were wondering, no that is not the uncreative name my five year old cousin came up with for her pet iguana. That is her actual rap name, but I digress. After naming Iggy the tenth freshman, XXL said they were overwhelmed with the response they got from her fans who voted her in. I’m not buying it. Let me tell you why. Before the cover she was highly unknown in the states because she was a female from Australia, and she probably got a lot of support from her home country/continent. But let me put this in perspective. I’m going to choose one person that she was up against (which I personally think could rap circles around her but that’s not my point) and show how he’s more relevant. Earl Sweatshirt of Odd Future recently returned from a two year stint at a camp for troubled teens in Samoa. In less than a week, Earl had 100,000 followers on Twitter and OF fans posted everywhere to vote for Earl as a freshman. I mean seriously, every blog, every youtube video, anywhere they thought people might see it. So let me suspend my disbelief for a second. Even if only half of Earl’s followers voted for him (50k) that would still be more than Iggy’s following on Twitter as of a month ago (40k). So I’m sorry XXL cause I do truly love your publication/staff and I defended your list to everyone. But for Iggy Azelea, you got some explaining to do.

It’s safe to say that this year’s lists turned heads for all the wrong reasons. I cannot see into the future but I will put money on the fact that “future” will not be relevant in five years. In comparison to previous years, this list had more unknown rappers than the year before which is why it will ultimately prove to be the weakest of the freshman classes. XXL took a risk with some of these guys and I commend them for not going with the obvious choices. For everyone that is still complaining about the list, I refer to an old saying that certainly applies “don’t hate the player, hate the game.”

{name} Author: David Porter Callanan
Bio: David Porter Callanan is currently a senior studying print journalism and English at Penn State. In his free time he enjoys eating peanut butter, watching premium television shows, listening to rad music and being tortured by his beloved Philadelphia sporting teams. He listens to a wide range of music but his favorite genres are grunge rock and hip hop. Some of his favorite artists include Pearl Jam, Kanye West and J. Cole. Following graduation, his dream job is to write for the hip hop magazine XXL.


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