XXL Freshman season is in full swing. The longtime hip-hop staple is once again celebrating the artists the esteemed publication views as the future of the game. From fun party-starters like Lil Pump to melodically gifted artists like JID and Trippie Redd, the list does a solid job of celebrating the young artists making moves in the modern hip-hop scene.
Per usual, there’s much hubbub about who didn’t make it on the list, but there are several artists capable of making a mark on the game. That may not necessarily be reflected in the rankings of their freestyles here, but check them out nonetheless:
9. Lil Pump
Lil Pump is many things as a hip-hop artist — but a rapper likely to shut down a stage with a freestyle is not one of them. The freestyle verse he delivered sounded tailor-made for a beat — probably because it was. Pump previously spit this verse on his “Esskeetit” hit, which means he basically phoned in this freestyle. Freshman mistake.
8. Blocboy JB
XXL editor-in-chief Vanessa Satten has praised Blocboy JB’s fun-loving nature and amenable personality. That charisma is probably what drew Drake to him for their “Look Alive” smash. Blocboy’s good energy was present during his XXL freestyle, which shows off his gritty lyrical MO through a gruff Memphis twang and effervescent bounce — though we would have loved to see him throw in the shoot dance for good measure.
Like his compadre Lil Pump, Smokepurrp isn’t an artist who flourishes well off a beat. His go-to production typically augments his nihilistic musings with charging — or spacey — soundscapes that hammer home the “throwed” vibe he’s looking to project. There’s no beat for the solo freshman freestyle, which leaves his rhymes on bare display. The rhymes are cogent, but he, Pump, and Blocboy are still the latest examples that XXL may want to look into other means of showing off freshman talent beyond freestyles as they don’t always properly exemplify why certain artists were chosen for the list.
6. YBN Nahmir
YBN Nahmir manages to subvert the freestyle conundrum that’s plagued some of his beat-dependent Generation Z peers by simply keeping the story on himself. Delivering bars about “hard nights” where “it was cold, we ain’t have no heat,” Nahmir uses the freestyle to present a grim picture of his Alabama upbringing which precipitated a grand come up in the rap game. Nahmir dropped a freestyle that future rhymers could take cues from. Turning a verse inward makes it harder to deny.
5. Stefflon Don
Stefflon Don is XXL’s lone representative from the burgeoning UK hip-hop scene and the only female freshman. She represents for both groups with a swaggering verse highlighted by a rude-but-hilarious “I could care less where your hair’s from cause your lace front’s kinda showin’ boo” line calling out bad weaves. “I speak my mind, say how I feel, sometimes I feel like I’m too real,” she rhymes. Stefflon wasn’t too real to jump into the top 5 on our list.
4. Ski Mask The Slump God
Ski Mask is a multi-talented artist from Florida with myriad flows, which he shows off in a dizzying array with his freestyle. Slump delivers a freestyle with replay value — a rarity on this frontier — by virtue of the number of pockets he hits in such a short time. Though his content doesn’t stray far outside of his romantic and sexual prowess, he shows off a commendable vocal virtuoso.
Like some of the previous artists, Wifisfuneral’s verse may be best tailored for a song — as evidenced by the “ay” at the end of every bar for a stretch — but it still works impressively as an acapella. “I can walk to hell and back and know I’ll be alright,” he rhymes, before he rips off into a fiery verse that’s introspective and menacing, as well as braggadocious. Wifisfuneral is one of the most well-rounded artists on the list, and his freestyle shows why.
2. Trippie Redd
Trippie Redd has long named Lil Wayne as an idol, and he even namechecks him in his freestyle. Trippie does his best to channel Tunechi’s assonant gifts in a ranging freestyle that will help him shed the dreaded “mumble rapper” pejorative. Yes, Trippie is A1 with the melodies, but he can also drop off bars on top of bars when needed, such as here, where he goes on a diaristic stretch about his dark thoughts toward the end of the freestyle. Trippie has said that he didn’t want to rhyme in the freshman cyphers after dropping his solo freestyle, which may have been a questionable decision, but this verse alone does speak well for his ability.
If you saw anyone talking about the XXL Freshman freestyle, they were probably talking about JID somewhere in the conversation. The Dreamville rapper showed why he was one of J. Cole’s draft picks, with a verse that manages to radiate a soulful vibe even via acapella, which speaks to his artistry. He tears through a range of flows with a veteran’s command, showing a level of craftsmanship that lends well to fan sentiment that he has the strongest chance to be relevant into his senior year and beyond.