XXL Freshman Class of 2014
Earlier this month, XXL magazine unveiled its Freshman Class for 2014. Unlike previous editions that settled on ten picks, this year featured a "dirty dozen," thanks to R&B vocalists August Alsina and Ty Dolla $ign. It seems that the nascent "ratchet R&B" phenomenon has helped singers long derided for being soft (among other, more homophobic epithets) shore up their macho bona fides. Also, rappers these days are just as likely to sing or "harmonize" as they are to actually rap — a quality that applies to about half the artists on this list. The 2014 Freshman Class includes a mix of established names and newcomers. Isaiah Rashad, Kevin Gates, Chance the Rapper and Rich Homie Quan are already familiar with the Billboard charts, so their inclusion is more of a coronation. Vic Mensa may be the critics' favorite (along with friend Chance the Rapper), thanks to last year's Innanetape; he recently signed a deal with Virgin EMI. Jon Connor is mostly known to blog-rap heads, but he signed with Dr. Dre's Aftermath label last year, so great things are expected of him soon (or at least an expensive marketing campaign). Lil Bibby and Lil Durk hail from a "drill rap" scene that arguably peaked in 2012. Jarren Benton is part of Hopsin's Funk Volume camp, so he benefits from the Tech N9ne phenomenon: a rapper that most rap fans may not care about, but who has an enviably loyal cult audience. A very minor controversy arose when some observers argued that underrated indie rapper RAPSODY should have made the list, and XXL editor-in-chief Vanessa Satten responded that her magazine doesn't use "quotas" in determining the final list. That's not necessarily true, because she seems to find a space for at least one New York rapper in each edition. This year's bonus baby is Troy Ave, who earned some positive reviews for his New York City album and later got online coverage for dissing Kendrick Lamar. But the real hot spot is Chicago (thanks Kanye!), which Chance the Rapper, Vic Mensa, Lil Bibby and Lil Durk call home.
Cynicism aside, XXL's Freshman Class list has earned a reputation for predicting which rap artists will blow up next. It's likely that you will be hearing from this group in the years to come.