Hip hop magazine’s annual XXL Freshman cover generates significant debate in the rap community, regardless of whether the public consider it to be important or not anymore. Its role in the culture always finds a way to raise ears and eyebrows. Even with the controversy, the choices and omissions are always intriguing to see whether they truly represent the current climate of American hip hop or not.
This year’s XXL Freshman saw a total of 9 rappers rather than the usual ten, reportedly due to Lil Skies’ last-minute withdrawal. Compared to last year’s Freshman list, the 2018 crop hold much more relevancy and value in longevity, though the quality of music and artistic skill from each figure varies.
Here is every 2018 XXL Freshman ranked from worst to best.
Criteria includes: Lyrical ability, melodic ability, originality, production, commercial success, longevity and future potential.
Smokepurpp is an inferior version of Lil Pump with added bass in his production. Down to the adlibs, content and image, Smokepurpp provides nothing new that Lil Pump doesn’t already provide. The distorted production aesthetic is done bigger and bigger by fellow artists (XXXTentacion), as is the melodic element. Aside from a few tracks, Smokepurpp does not provide much that cannot be obtained from other artists.
8. Lil Pump
Lil Pump is like marmite – you either love him or hate him. Exposure to his dimwitted persona may make you lose a few brain cells, which transcends in his music. Pump is the poster boy for the simplest form of new age rap, both lyrically and stylistically. Objectively, his music can be fun at times, and he does stir interest when he tries a little harder such as on the Carnage collaboration “iShyne” and “Welcome to the Party”. What Lil Pump may not possess in his music is balanced by his signs of longevity and support from his core fanbase, so be prepared to see plenty of Pump in the coming years.
7. BlocBoy JB
BlocBoy JB’s personality is infectious, as are his unique adlibs. The incoherent slur in his Southern accent sets himself out from the other Freshman, and he has hits in his bag. However, his abrupt inclusion only 5 months since his breakthrough is concerning. BlocBoy still has a lot to prove if he wishes to attain longevity in the diluted market.
6. Stefflon Don
Stefflon Don made history in becoming the first non-American artist to make the Freshman list. Aside from her questionable antics on social media, Stefflon Don has the tough job of representing UK music. Hailing from the UK where the quality of the music scene is going head-to-head with America’s, Stefflon Don treads the line between hard, alpha-female raps (“Real Ting”, “16 Shots”) and pop collaborations (“Hurtin’ Me”, “Senseless”). She may not be the best rapper to represent the UK scene, and is yet to release a credible body of work, but stands out from the rest of the Freshman.
Despite make the top 5, the majority of Wifisfuneral’s music fits into the generic trad-lib trend. His mixtape Boy Who Cried Wolf shows that he carries the same flows, same adlibs and same production style as every other SoundCloud rapper out there. Luckily, his take on generic trap is not as obnoxious as Lil Pump’s, nor as boring as Smokepurpp’s. Songs like “Wrist Motion”, “1st Day Out” and “Juveniles” carry strong replay value, and his earlier material from the When He Falls mixtape proves Wifisfuneral can rap well over traditional production when he tries (“Lost My Mind”, “Antisocial Club”), which is when we will get the best out of Wifisfuneral in the foreseeable future if he chooses.
4. YBN Nahmir
The young YBN Nahmir has shown promising signs early on in his career. His approach is not melodic Auto-Tuned crooning, but rather bringing flashy gun-talk over bouncy beats. “Bounce Out With That” is a track worth having on replay, showcasing his distinctive voice, flow and memorable production. The singles so far have been hits, it’s now up to Nahmir to continue his style and stand out.
3. Trippie Redd
Trippie Redd is currently at the forefront of emo rap. His screech-singing style comes across as a son of Lil Uzi Vert with a punkier edge, bringing the best out of himself on tracks like “Love Scars Pt. 2 / Rack City”, “Hellboy” and “Dark Knight Dummo”. Trippie’s wailing vocals sets himself out from the rest of the Freshman, possessing both elements of melancholy and explosive bangers in his catalogue. He’s even shown himself to be a lyricist at heart on “Can You Rap Like Me?”, demonstrating that he is a multi-faceted artist with plenty to deliver.
XXL corrected their error on last year’s list by considering what the list was initially created to exhibit – the best lyricists of the nation. Dreamville’s J.I.D represents the roots of hip hop, dropping the critically-acclaimed The Never Story album in 2017. Reminiscent of Anderson Paak, Joey Badass and Isaiah Rashad, In a list that features interchangeable trap rappers, J.I.D is one of the most complete artists of the 2018 Freshman for his attention for artistry and lyrical ability. With one solid project under his belt it is clear J.I.D will continue to grow year by year.
1. Ski Mask the Slump God
Ski Mask is the most zany, off-the-wall artist of the 2018 Freshman. His comedic take on rapping is consistently amusing and entertaining, illustrated best on tracks like “BabyWipe” and “Catch Me Outside”. The signature double-time flow, similes and unorthodox vocals package Ski Mask as one of the most unique rappers emerging in the past few years. He can rap, has obscure production and keeps things thoroughly interesting. Packaged with his compelling personality, Ski Mask is the strongest candidate to make the 2018 Freshman list.
In comparison to 2017’s Freshman list, the 2018 list is a significant improve in consideration of longevity and artistry. It also marks the first instance of American publications recognising talent from abroad, even though XXL are extremely late to the party with crediting UK music. There are plenty of omissions, however XXL more or less summarise what’s currently popular in the mainstream hip hop landscape.