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XXL Freshmen List: Does It Matter? (An Editorial)

A few weeks ago, the biggest deal to anyone who is a part of hip-hop culture was MTV’s Hottest MC list. Designed to ignite controversy, it indeed got everyone talking about who should and shouldn’t be included and where they ranked. Kanye West was so riled up about placing seventh that he called in to a radio station, breaking his self-imposed media silence, to whine and even bring up a TV set he once gave MTV’s Sway Calloway.

I was somewhat ambivalent towards the list because, to me, it is highly subjective and doesn’t dictate individual taste as much as simply help MTV stay relevant. About the only thing that made me bat an eyelash, however, was Nas placing higher than Drake, which gave some reassurance that good music can get mainstream recognition (or maybe it’s because I like underdogs, and Nas, who came up empty-handed at the Grammys, deserved some redemption). The fact that Kendrick Lamar was named the Hottest MC by MTV was expected: few artists have garnered as much hype yet actually delivered a stellar project than Kendrick. It was well-deserved.

Just as the brouhaha about the MTV list died down, another list has surfaced this week to give us hip-hop fans something to talk about. XXL Magazine released its 2013 Freshmen cover, which has become an avatar of sorts for new- and new-ish rappers. The only criteria to make the list is not having a major label debut and have “buzz.” I was once again ambivalent, simply because the grouping features artists I already follow and the idea behind the Freshmen concept is for XXL to sell magazines (nothing wrong with that). However, it was odd to see a name like Logic (have no idea who he is) next to Dizzy Wright (a rapper you’d know only if you check hip-hop blogs every day) next to ScHoolboy Q – who is more like a sophomore or junior if not a rising senior, if we’re going to use the class analogy. Meanwhile, Action Bronson and Ab-Soul have almost graduated altogether.

I see the purpose of these groupings and the lists – hey, Complex has it down to a science – and I am not hater on anyone who is on them or isn’t on them. These opportunities serve as extra publicity boosts to the artists and the brands creating them. I do have a slight problem with groupthink in general – that is, the idea that a magazine or TV network can tell fans something that should be decided by them, on a strictly individual basis. I remember the good ol’ days when groups such as Living Legends and Freestyle Fellowship had fervent underground fan bases without getting any ink or MTV love. They earned the respect from live shows and skills. Perhaps that’s what’s lost in these lists as we debate who is on them or not – discovery of good music on our own.

Here’s the 2013 XXL freshman class. Who was excluded that should’ve been there and vice versa? Sound off in the comments.

XXL 2013 Freshman Class

Action Bronson


Angel Haze

Dizzy Wright

Joey Bada$$

Kirko Bangz


ScHoolboy Q

Travi$ Scott

Trinidad James

Chief Keef (11th Freshman)


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About the Author


Slav Kandyba has worked as a journalist for more than a decade for a number of general interest newspapers, a wire service, trade publications and music and culture magazines and websites. Slav is currently a tech reporter for iTechPost.com, and has previously written for The Source and contributed to HipHopDX.com from 2007 until 2011. He began writing about hip-hop in 2006 when a friend challenged him to write about L.A.'s hip-hop scene, and he was one of the first journalists to spotlight Pac Div and U-N-I. Slav is a respected writer covering hip-hop culture and rap and has assisted in organizing events including the One Nation Hip-Hop Summit in Santa Monica, California, which featured a concert with Pete Rock and CL Smooth, and the first annual Academic Hip-Hop Conference at Cal State Northridge.

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Posted in: Featured, Hip Hop Music


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