XXL 2018 Freshman Prospects: Why the Lack of (Musical) Diversity is Worrisome for Hip Hop’s Future

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To the dismay of the at-the-time girlfriend, in high school, I was in the running for Biggest Flirt of the graduating class.  My gift of gab granted me the “honor,” while some of my peer’s acumen, leadership ability, sporting prowess, and general congeniality earned them other best-in-class accolades known as superlatives.  It was an eclectic group – the Breakfast Club-esque mix of geeks, jocks, bards, and artisans was hardly homogenous, but it was a motley crew that stood to represent the diversity of thought and skill that should be honored amongst a graduating populace.  In the Hip-Hop world, XXLs Magazine Freshmen of the Year List sets out to demarcate the star pupils from the pack on similar metrics.  Since the 2007 inaugural class, it has become the epicenter of the rising star radar…this years list isn’t as promising.

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Normally, hip hop heads and industry honchos purloin XXLs announcement, as the notarized media outlet essentially knights the princes soon to be kings. It’s also a prized barometer, as it identifies the newest flows and styles that are commanding the airwaves.  Like the varsity days of high school, the 10-selected should depict breadth within the genre and encapsulate the different approaches one can take to impact the game.  Things look a bit starker this year, as the un-vetted list was shared on XXLs Instagram, and didn’t display the Prom King to Mathlete spread we usually get.  Instead, the 2018 offering showcases talent cut from uncannily similar clothe.  As mumble rap permits us to rhyme hoe with hoe and the Soundcloud aesthetic of neon dreads is dubbed fashionable, the viral campaigning that is lighting the future of Hip Hop must shine on ALL of the genres undervalued variety.

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Tastes change, and that’s a law not exclusive to music.  Since the turn of the century, Hip Hop has diverged from the traditional sounds we associate with the genre like the rhyme schemes of Biggie or the melodies Pac would flex.  Before social media and advent of the trending hashtag, musical ability was the metric to measure success.  So much weight is given to the follow count now, where todays artists are able to follow audience preference rather than disseminate their own artistry.  The ergonomics and blue prints of the hit machine are accessible, which is likely why the genre is bottlenecking into the commercially successful flows that others have already found triumph in.  While mimicry is the sincerest form of flattery, the 2018 Freshman List is too uniform.  The proof is in the pudding and while we won’t denounce the talent, we will expose the symmetry.

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Tekashi69:  Memed to be the final boss of the SoundCloud video game, Tekashi is the technicolored rapper who epitomizes todays rap culture and as the more traditional audience would argue, the peril it is in.  Tekashi and his 2.9M followers speak to the authority that branding carries in today’s world, which seems to have become more important than the music itself.    Without an official project under his belt, the Gummo singer has more to prove if Sophomore Tekashi wants to eclipse the Freshman.

I’m on some rob a nigga shit, take a nigga bitch 
Do the dash in the whip, count the cash in the whip

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Lil Boom: The past XXL lists don’t exclude nepotism, as J. Cole (2010) owes his early traction to Jay-Z and Kid Cudi (2009) had some help from the G.O.O.D music fam.  When one doesn’t have such established leverage, like Lil Boom, taking shots at some of the biggest names in pop culture can be the remedy.  Famed for his YouTube hits “Fuck Steph Curry” and “Fuck KD2,” Lil Boom has been pegged the “meme rapper” for his affinity towards all things trendy.  The Florida native doesn’t take too kindly to these allegations, and even captioned one of his videos with this good English…”this ain’t rap meme rap lol.”  Rap and hip hop used to go hand in hand, but Boom won’t be sitting court side if he knows what’s good for him.

Fuck that pussy ass nigga Steph Curry man that nigga in Illuminatti man.  He ain’t shit but a fuck ass nigga man

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 YBN Nahmir:  Catchy and easy accurately describes YBN and his playful rhetoric.  He’s youthful, as most Freshmen stand to be, but lacks the depth that a perennial notable should carry.  His songs are normally less than 3 minutes, of which 2 minutes are allocated to ad-libbing.  Keep in mind he’s only 18, which is why he’s an adamant subscriber to the gang gang lifestyle.

you niggas really hoes and you be acting like these bitches
You niggas say y’all silent but y’all probably in there snitchin’

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 Trippie Redd:  He’s already featured with Travis (2013), so the XXL rank would just be added value at this point.  Trippie leans on auto tune and synthetics to sing, where he channels the rock star vibe popularized by Lil Uzi (2017).  Another teenager likely flush with The angst, he adds the coming of age emotion that has paved the way for a few other artists on the lists.

Ooh, ayy I just got a new Porsche (I just got a new Porsche).  Rocket got a Rari, that’s a new horse (that’s a mothafuckin’ new horse)
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Ski Mask The Slump God: It also appears the days of using your born name are in the rear view, as artists of today become increasingly dependent on the shock factor to gain an audience.  With a feature with Offset though, the Catch Me Outside crooner has the quick spitting ability of Busta, but again, without the lyricism.

Like Gotti nigga, wach me be disgusting.  Imma do ’em dirty like a ringworm ring

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Of course, the 2018 roster has some stand outs that operate within their own space – like Asher Roth (2009) and Action Bronson (2013), we have Joyner Lucas and Tee Grizzly.  But, after the pitch list was released, many established industry men have snubbed the collection for the lack of range being exposed in todays climate.  After the Top 10 get inducted, the avant garde XXL Cyphers will be released and the low bar that is currently set will be exposed.  Let this year act as a course corrector, because the spectrum isn’t be represented accurately.  Wheres Brockhampton? Blackbear?  Amir Obe?

Today’s stars are determined by a new standard, and the 2018 XXL list is evidence of that.  For the first time, it appears that the best are the  best-selling, rather than best rapping, and that’s the way the genre is trending.  Tastes will shift, and so to will the ones who become successful from identifying them.  That’s ok.  The shame here is the omission of diversity that used to spearhead these lists, and that’s a disservice we should cry foul to.  Americas favorite genre is wide ranging and as broad as any musical category is, but this year, that won’t be shown.  My superlative picture in high school showed that different talents and mental configurations warrant reward.  Hip Hop would be wise to show the same principals.

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