After listening to over 120 different artists, I have compiled a list of who I would pick for the XXL Freshman Class of 2017. Check out the official XXL Freshman List here: http://freshman.xxlmag.com/
I have broken my list into 4 sections: The Establishment, The Hitmakers, The Underground, and The Wildcard. Check out my 10 picks (and 5 honorable mentions) below.
(artists with an accomplished body of work)
Taking spot number 1 on my Freshman List is Virginia rapper/singer, D.R.A.M. In 2015, D.R.A.M (which stands for Does Real Ass Music) dropped his debut single “Cha Cha”, which allegedly inspired Drake’s “Hotline Bling”. D.R.A.M. went mainstream in 2016 with the hit singles “Cash Machine” and “Broccoli”, which went 5x Multi-Platinum and peaked at number 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. D.R.A.M. has worked with artists such as Chance the Rapper, Young Thug and Lil Yachty, garnering a Grammy nomination for his collaboration with the latter. D.R.A.M.’s name (somehow) didn’t make it onto the XXL list for 2017, but that might be due to the fact that he has already broken into the mainstream and isn’t considered “new” anymore.
Body of work: 1 EP, 1 Mixtape, 1 Studio Album
Top Tracks: Broccoli, Cash Machine, The Uber Song
Taking spot number 2 on my Freshman List is Indian-American/British-Pakistani hip hop group, Swet Shop Boys. The only group on my list, SSB is a trio made up of rappers Heems (formerly of Das Racist) and Riz MC (actor known for Rogue One and The Night Of) and producer Redinho. Though Heems and Riz have been in the music game for the last ten years, they never worked together until 2014. Prior to that, Heems focused on primarily joke-rap, and Riz was bubbling up in the acting world. It wasn’t until 2016, with the release of their debut album, that they really started to gain recognition as a group. But the secret weapon of SSB is their in-house producer Redinho. With lyrics primarily about South Asian representation from Riz and Heems, Redinho gives them beats to match, filled with Bollywood-esque samples and some bumping sitar. I could ramble for days on the merits of SSB, but I won’t. All I will say is, if you ever get a chance to see them live, it is totally worth it.
Body of work: 2 EPs, 1 Studio Album
Top Tracks: T5, No Fly List, Shottin
The 3rd spot on my Freshman list goes to Chicago rapper, Taylor Bennett. Though he is probably best known as Chance the Rapper’s little brother, Taylor has quite an impressive body of work for a 21 year-old. Taylor’s two most recent projects contained features from Jeremih, Lil Yachty, Raury, Joey Purp, Nico Segal, Chance the Rapper, Kyle, and Mike WiLL Made-It. In 2017, Taylor came out as bisexual, receiving support from both family and fans. Despite major cosigns and several solid projects, Taylor has yet to break into the mainstream like his big brother. But with material as strong as his, it won’t be too much longer.
Body of work: 1 EP, 3 Mixtapes, 1 Studio Album
Top Tracks: Broad Shoulders, Grown-Up Fairy Tales, Neon Lights
(artists with that one viral/popular hit)
The 4th spot on my Freshman list goes to Portland rapper, Aminé. Known primarily for his breakout hit “Caroline”, Aminé is being regarded by some as a one-hit wonder. He takes the 4th spot on my list because I believe that will not be the case. With other great singles such as “Heebiejeebies” and “REDMERCEDES”, Aminé is likely to release a worthwhile debut album in the near future. Taking influence from Michael Jackson, Quentin Tarantino, Missy Elliott and André 3000, Aminé is one of the most unique rappers to come out of the internet age and I think we will be hearing a lot more from him in the years to come.
Body of work: 1 EP, 2 Mixtapes
Top Tracks: Caroline, Heebiejeebies, REDMERCEDES
Taking spot number 5 on my Freshman list is Brooklyn rapper, Young M.A. Known primarily for her breakout hit “OOOUUU”, Young M.A. is one of the top rappers emerging from New York City at the moment. With an undeniable city vibe, Young M.A. is the throwback artist that New Yorkers have been waiting for. M.A. has also gained success as an outspoken member of the LGBTQ, speaking candidly about her sexuality in interviews and in her music. “OOOUUU” peaked at number 19 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was named the 11th best song of 2016 by Rolling Stone. Though “OOOUUU” is her biggest hit, there are several songs from her recent EP “Herstory” that stand out and many, including me, are looking forward to her debut album.
Body of work: 1 EP, 2 Mixtapes
Top Tracks: OOOUUU, Bonnie, Hot Sauce
Taking spot number 6 on my Freshman list is California rapper, KYLE. The 24 year-old rapper broke out in late 2016 with his hit single “iSpy” which featured polarizing rapper, Lil Yachty. The song went 3x Multi-Platinum and peaked at number 11 on the Billboard Hot 100. While the success of “iSpy” is undeniable, KYLE has more than just one song. With two studio albums to date, KYLE has a number of great songs and was featured on the Nico Segal & The Social Experiment album, Surf in 2015. He was also named “one of the ten artists you need to know” by Rolling Stone in 2015. Regardless of his other accolades, “iSpy” alone will keep him in the conversation for at least another year.
Body of work: 2 Studio Albums
Top Tracks: iSpy, Really? Yeah!, Doubt It
(artists who are bubbling under the radar)
Taking spot number 7 on my Freshman list is Oakland rapper, Kamaiyah. If Young M.A. is New York’s poster girl, Kamaiyah is California’s. With a throwback West Coast sound and lyrics to match, Kamaiyah has been making waves over the last year. Her debut mixtape, A Good Night in the Ghetto, was met with her critical acclaim from Pitchfork and NPR and her collaboration with YG and Drake was certified Gold by the RIAA. Kamaiyah recently performed at SXSW and appeared on the XXL Freshman Cover for 2017.
Body of work: 1 Mixtape
Top Tracks: Out the Bottle, Ni**as, How Does It Feel
The 8th spot on my Freshman list goes to Chicago rapper, Noname. A frequent collaborator of Chance the Rapper, the 25 year-old rapper was primarily known for her show-stopping verse on Chance’s 2014 mixtape, Acid Rap. Since then, many have been awaiting the release of her debut mixtape, Telefone. Finally released in 2016, Telefone lived up to everyone’s expectations. Noname’s background in slam poetry is clear and she is possible the best lyricist on this list. Since its release, the mixtape has garnered critical acclaim, including Best New Album from Pitchfork.
Body of work: 1 Mixtape
Top Tracks: Yesterday, All I Need, Casket Pretty
The 9th spot on my Freshman list goes to New Jersey rapper/singer, Topaz Jones. Influenced by everyone from Kid Cudi to Prince, Jones’ music is undeniably funky. The Montclair native released his debut studio album, Arcade, in 2016 to some acclaim. Though it didn’t make too many waves in the industry, songs “Powerball” and “Tropicana” received praise from Pitchfork. As it turns out, the entire album is amazing, so check it out if you haven’t heard it yet.
Body of work: 1 Mixtape, 1 Studio Album
Top Tracks: Motion Sickness, Powerball, Tropicana (Bonus)
The 10th and final spot on my Freshman list goes to Oakland singer/songwriter/producer, Francis and the Lights. Let me justify this. Francis is not a hip-hop artist, but he deserves a spot on the list as much as any MC. Aside from releasing his incredible debut studio album, 2016 saw Francis collaborating with a slew of popular artists including Frank Ocean (“Close to You”) and The Weeknd (“Wild Love” by Cashmere Cat). He has also worked with artists such as Lizzo, Das Racist, Ed Sheeran, and Drake. Kanye West, who has a tiny feature on Francis’ single “Friends”, called the song his favorite of 2016. Francis has been making the festival rounds in 2017, often performing synchronized dance numbers with Chance the Rapper, who collaborates with Francis on multiple occasions (“Summer Friends”, “May I Have This Dance (Remix)”, “Dear Theodosia”, and more). The most recent news of Francis comes from Chance, who told Hot97 that he would be heavily involved in Kanye’s next project. This information came just days after the news hit that Pusha T had signed Francis to GOOD Music, the record label that Kanye West founded in 2004.
Body of work: 4 EPs, 1 Film Score, 1 Studio Album
Top Tracks: Friends, May I Have This Dance, Comeback
My Freshman Class of 2017
- Swet Shop Boys
- Taylor Bennett
- Aminé (XXL Freshman)
- Young M.A.
- Kyle (XXL Freshman)
- Kamaiyah (XXL Freshman)
- Topaz Jones
- Francis and the Lights
- Xxxtentacion (XXL Freshman)
- Joey Purp
- Little Simz
- Kevin Abstract/BROCKHAMPTON
Who would YOU put in the Freshman Class of 2017? LMK.