XXL Magazine’s 4th annual Freshman cover leaked yesterday and on cue it had the Internet going nuts. Rather than the usual 10 artists, this year’s crop of hip-hop up and comers numbered 11; Meek Mill, Big K.R.I.T., CyHi Da Prince, Lil Twist, Yelawolf, Fred the Godson, Mac Miller, YG, Lil B, Kendrick Lamar and Diggy Simmons.
“Honestly, I was initially surprised by XXL's selections,” says Andrew Barber of Fake Shore Drive. “There were a handful of artists that I thought would make the cut, that were nowhere to be found i.e. Chip Tha Ripper, Vado and Danny Brown. However, there is some serious talent on here, so I'm excited to see what becomes of the Freshmen over the course of the year. It's been a gift for some and equally a curse for others.”
Earlier this year Cam’Ron announced that Vado would pass on being on the Freshmen cover if an invite was to be extended. There were also plenty more artists that heads felt deserved a spot.
“Well to be honest, I was not completely impressed with the picks nor was I shocked by them either,” says Skyy of SkyyHookRadio. “Being an avid supporter of indie hip-hop worldwide has taught me that talent, skills and ability are not always valued over simple marketing gimmicks and quick sells. I'm not knocking XXL or their picks, but what I am saying is that I am featuring artist from around the globe that could eat some of their freshman for dinner...any day...so until XXL finds a way to take the Senica Da Misfit's, Bodega Brovas, RoQy TyRaiD's, Son Real's and Keko's of the world into account, then I can't pay too close attention to the covers that show Mac Miller and Lil Twist as the dopest up and coming. No dis to those artists, but to me, the culture's more important than the sell.”
Still, others felt that XXL did an admirable job of compiling its list.
“I thought their picks were pretty well thought-out and on-point,” says Ian Steaman of Different Kitchen. “If I was going to quibble I could argue that maybe they were late giving the nod to an artist like Yelawolf, who probably should have gotten it last year and I feel pretty safe in saying will blow in 2011 now that he's on Shady, and they should have included Odd Future who have been bubbling for a minute (or at least well before the lead time for this issue!).”
Continues Steaman, “I'm not personally impressed by some of the artists on the list either (and flat out didn't know one of the artists at all), but it did seem to mostly accurately reflect which new artists had the most buzz going into this year if the Internet and blogs are any measure of such things nowadays and that's where I probably would quibble. These picks seemed skewed towards the artists who have mastered the digital and social media marketing game acknowledging the dominance and continuing influence of bloggers all other opinions to the contrary.”
While the criteria seems to be up and coming artists most likely to blow (Wiz Khalifa, J. Cole and Lupe Fiasco are a few standout XXL Freshmen alum), some of the picks caused critics to wonder how these selections are exactly made.
“This year's class is a mixed bag of thoroughbreds and blahs, as is always the case with these things,” says Henry “Rizoh” Adaso of The Rap Up. “And with only 11 spots to spare, you're going to elicit groans regardless of who's on the list. It also begs the question, ‘How does XXL pick its freshmen?’ Is it based on talent, buzz, or ear size?”
Despite the varying opinions and questions XXL’s list, or any list for the matter, ultimately raises, it has people talking, arguing and discussing. Maybe that is the point.
“Similar to the VIBE producer bracket, XXL’s Freshmen cover is simply an exercise to spark dialog about those artists so they can sell more magazines,” says Gedi Dabakaeri, Managing Editor of PotholesInMyBlog.com. “Please point me in the direction of what Lil Twist has done musically. I think Danny Brown should have made the cover. Out of the eleven artists featured on the cover I’m really glad Big K.R.I.T. and Kendrick Lamar are on it. Both are very talented and deserving. Why are there never any groups included on the XXL freshmen cover? Maybe not this year but Pac Div and U-N-I certainly merit being on a cover. Travis Porter had some hits on urban radio they could have been in discussion also.”
For those that did make the cut, being an XXL Freshman doesn’t mean it’s time to rest on your laurels.
“The selection is good,” says Brad Wete, staff writer at Entertainment Weekly. “Like all the other years, some of the artists will continue on and become great. Others won't. What XXL does is give all these local favorites and rappers with cult followings validation. That stamp of approval from one of the top magazines in the culture is huge in the beginning. Now Fred is more than just a NY rapper. And Meek is more than just the guy next to Ross. And so on. Obviously it'll take more than a cover to take them to the next level. But this shine sure doesn't hurt.”