Let’s start at the beginning. The whole Freshman grades thing started innocently enough: I saw XXL‘s freshman concept for their 2009 class and thought it’d be good to treat them like an actual class with grades as the year progressed. When it was first published, I asked TC if he thought any of the rappers listed would read it. Clearly, I had no idea what kind of monster the grades would become.
Yesterday, I understood just how important the grades were. As soon as this year’s crop of “newcomers” got featured, my inbox, Twitter and comments on this site immediately turned to the grades. Not to overstate things, but they’ve become almost as important as the announcement of the class itself. When Wale took to Twitter because he was pissed over his final grade, he literally thought XXL had given him his score. The grades and the class announcement have become inextricably linked over the last two years. While the grades became a hugely popular feature for us, it also added to the class’ prestige, extended its buzz and was a major look for the magazine regardless of if they’ll admit it or not.
I had originally intended for the grades to end with the original class, but the call for the 2010 class’ grades let me to oblige. Just last week, we decided not to do final grades for them because, really, all but about Wiz, Freddie, Sean, Cole and Pill would probably receive D’s or F’s. I just have no clue how anybody thought it would be possible for 10 guys that essentially fill similar lanes would blow up at the same time, but that’s besides the point. And, not wanting to just make it rain failing grades, we decided it be best to not do any for that class.
Yesterday’s announcement of this year’s Freshmen sealed the deal: no more grades.
For the last two years, the guys on the covers fell into two categories: guys with a few extra bucks to donate to a Hip-Hop magazine or rappers that we’d been covering forever already anyway. For example, Yelawolf has been on our radar since before A3C in 2009 and we were scratching our heads wondering why he wasn’t on last year’s cover. Gotty™ already ranted to the rest of the Internet that they were behind on CyHi in February of 2010, I’ve been big on K.R.I.T. since SXSW last year and our crew was canny enough to recognize his project as an album. And Lord knows we’ve done enough Lil B coverage already.
Essentially, the Freshman Class isn’t necessarily that relevant anymore. While these new cats are getting largely ignored by the mainstream mags with the exception of a few “Show & Proves” here and there, we’re working every day to bring them to your consciousnesses. We and countless other outlets create new “freshmen” every single day and pretending like this list is a definitive marker on who’s next is a disservice to the hard work we all put in.
XXL essentially reads what Hip-Hop blogs are saying about new acts and plucks them for their cover, leaving a few slots open for anyone with a healthy revenue stream they want to slide under the table *cough*AceHoodYGFredTheGodson*cough*. While we’re doing the groundwork, they can sit back and listen to the buzz that we and the artists themselves create. We’re sticking out our necks writing about no-names; XXL just throws the already-established musicians on the cover. So, we’re going to continue doing what we’re doing and we’ll let the Freshman Class speak for itself from now on, for better or worse.
However, if you really want to know who’s next up, keep us on your dial and take a look at who rocks our shows at SXSW and across the country, our “We Got Now” category, the mixtapes we co-sign, artists we interview and continue to support regardless of who else is giving the endorsement.
That’s where the real future of Hip-Hop lives.