The 2020 ‘XXL’ Freshmen List, Revisited

Yesterday, hip hop magazine XXL released their annual freshmen class list, a collection of up and coming artists in the rap and hip hop world that the magazine deems as the next wave of artists to make it big. The magazine has no set criteria in place for their freshmen list that is publicly known, and thus the list every year is subject to both positive and negative reactions among fans.

The lists have been extremely hit or miss in years past, and this year appears to be no different. The magazine has recognized some very important and influential artists in the past three years, such as JID, A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, Animé and Roddy Ricch, but has also included some more than questionable choices like Kamaiyah, Wifisfuneral, YK Osiris and Comethazine. This year appears to be no different; while some artists on the list like Polo G, Lil Keed and Jack Harlow are deserving of the honor, other names on the list left a sour taste in the mouth of fans, especially considering the names that were left off of the list.

The main criticism of the XXL Freshmen class lists are the clear financial incentives and motivations that are behind the selections. The artists who get picked have often already broken out into the mainstream at least somewhat through streaming successes or a viral hit, and are mostly artists who have yet to display a wide range of artistic versatility or musicianship. The list fails to recognize artists who have yet to achieve streaming or viral success, despite having shown a wide range of skills and demonstrating an advanced understanding of musicality. The XXL list is just the tip of the iceberg when looking for small name rappers who are primed to make an impact on the music world in the coming years.

This article is meant to highlight the artists who did not receive recognition on the XXL list, not to disparage the artists who are on the list. All of the artists on and off the list have put in the time and dedication into their crafts that few people are willing to do, and have put their thoughts, feelings and desires out in a public space for anyone to hear. That alone is admirable.

The artists listed below have all demonstrated immense talent, versatility, and an artistic direction. These artists vary in age and popularity, but they all have been rising to prominence, and they all will continue to impact the hip hop world as their careers progress. That being said, here is the official TREMG revisited XXL freshmen class of 2020 list:

KOTA The Friend

The first selection highlights a Brooklyn-based rapper who has shown a great deal of versatility as an artist; being from New York City, not only can he spit pure bars on par with the likes of fellow New Yorkers Joey Bada$$ and Bas, but also can bring positive uplifting vibes to the ears of listeners with ease, as he demonstrated on his latest album EVERYTHING. His mellow, lyrically driven approach over lo-fi type beats has allowed KOTA to reach out to broader audiences and achieve musical success as a multifaceted artist. His decision to remain independent is likely why he was left off of the list, but there is no denying his talent and his commitment to his craft.

Marlon Craft

The second entry features another New York City based rapper who has combined a unique perspective with an immense talent for pure rapping. Like KOTA, Marlon has remained 100% independent, and doubled down on his independent approach yesterday, as he announced a new project to self sustain his musical career without being bogged down by any record label. Marlon brings sheer intensity and strong flows with a book-and-street smart approach to his lyrics that have yielded profound songs and a perspective that is not often found in the hip hop community. His debut studio album Funhouse Mirror dropped last year, and should have yielded him a spot on the XXL list, as it showcases the variety of talents Marlon possesses.

REASON

Transitioning to the west coast, REASON is the next rapper under the TDE umbrella, which has given us the likes of Kendrick Lamar and other west coast superstars, and his omission from the XXL list is nearly criminal. His raw passion comes through on every one of his songs, and although is debut studio album, There You Have It, dropped back in 2018, his talent alone should have been enough to give him a spot on the list. REASON combines talent, passion, a socially conscious mind and unbridled energy to provide rap that can be both intense while also extremely important and relevant. Under the influence of TDE, the sky is truly the limit for the west coast rapper.

Deante’ Hitchcock

Based in Atlanta, Deante’ Hitchcock has been in the game for a few years, but has been on the rise among rap heads since his invitation to Dreamville’s Revenge of the Dreamers III studio sessions last year. He dropped his debut studio album Better this year, further propelling his name in the hip hop community, and has collaborated with some big names that include JID, 6LACK and Earthgang. Deante’ is able to provide deep lyrics, high energy, versatile flows and an undeniable charisma to any and all of his songs, and will undoubtedly be yet another important hip hop figure coming out of Atlanta.

Boldy James

The entry of Detriot based rapper Boldy James becomes tricky, because he is far from a freshmen in the rap game. At 38 years old, Boldy has certainly been around the block, but his recent rise in the past year, including the release of two of 2020’s best rap albums so far, The Price Of Tea In China and Manger on McNichols, should allow him to be eligible for the list. Regardless of the recognition he does or does not receive, his talent level is undeniable. His patient, deliberate flow serves as a distinct style of rap, and that paired with his profound lyrical ability allows him to be a truly unique force in the hip hop world.

Westside Gunn

Like Boldy James, Westside Gunn is no stranger to the game at 38 years old. However, also like Boldy, there is no denying Westside’s rise over the past year, which also includes two albums released in 2020, Pray for Paris and Flygod Is An Awesome God 2. Westside combines a subtle flow with high energy and intense lyrics, and effortlessly brings the classic 90’s boom-bap style of rap into the modern rap scene. One cannot highlight the recent success of Westside without noting the success of his label, Griselda, and fellow Griselda rappers Conway The Machine and Benny The Butcher, who are both deserving of recognition as well.

YGTUT

Most don’t associate Chattanooga, Tennessee with hip hop, but YGTUT is working hard to change that. The high intensity rapper has a strong lyrical approach combined with a truly sick flow that will leave rap heads questioning why they haven’t heard of YGTUT before. Although he has yet to make his debut studio album, his 2019 EP I.O.U. not only displays stylistic versatility, but a sheer confidence that pierces through his bars. Don’t be surprised if YGTUT’s name comes up more and more in the next coming years, as his talent level is already far above and beyond most rappers who have achieved streaming success.

Wynne

Like YGTUT, Wynne doesn’t hail from a hip hop hub like the other entries on the list, but the Portland native oozes talent and energy when she spits. Her ability to match high lyrical talent with a precise flow puts her skill level among some of the best in the rap game right now, and while she has yet to receive major recognition, she has nonetheless collaborated with big names, including JID and NBA superstar Damian Lillard (aka Dame Dolla). Although the female rap scene is headlined by names like Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion, those looking for less flash and more substance from female rappers can look no further than Wynne, who stylistically emulates the likes of Rapsody and Noname.

MAVI

Simply put, MAVI does not receive the recognition he deserves. The DC based rapper’s poetic and profound lyrical approach is only comparable to the likes of Earl Sweatshirt (who happens to be his mentor), which is on full display on his 2019 album Let The Sun Talk. Unlike Earl, MAVI tends to be slightly more uplifting, looking for the light despite living in the dark. The part time rapper, part time neuroscience major brings an extremely nuanced approach to his lyrics that look to tie hip hop with spirituality, and his unique perspective and style should be appreciated much more than it currently is.

Tobi Lou

The last entry on this list, Tobi Lou may have achieved more streaming success than some of the other artists on this list, but due to his career being less than three years old, he seems like he should be eligible for the XXL list. Born in Nigeria and raised in Chicago, the rapper is equally talented as a singer, and brings a tender approach to his music. He is still more than capable of bringing high intensity bars, as Tobi brings the energy on every single one of his songs. Tobi has the charisma to hold his own on tracks with big names like Smino, while also displaying his own vulnerability and imperfections, as seen on his 2019 EP Live on Ice.

Honorable Mentions

The following artists also deserve recognition for their effort, and should be expected to continue their rise into the mainstream of rap:

Guapdad 4000, Ben Beal, Armani White, Caleborate, Anonymuz, Don Toliver

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