XXL‘s annually anticipated list of hip-hop Freshmen has hit the ‘net and as usual, garnered a tremendous response as those in the know celebrated their emerging faves and everyone else groused about being out of the loop. Of course, along with those reactions, the list also brought an inevitable third response: Fans expressing disappointment that their own favorite artists didn’t quite make the cut.
Of course, with only 12 spots to go around — a number that has fluctuated throughout the years but hasn’t strayed too much in either direction — someone you like is bound to get left off the final list. This year’s list, consisting of 24kGoldn, Baby Keem, Calboy, Chika, Fivio Foreign, Jack Harlow, Lil Keed, Lil TJay, Mulatto, NLE Choppa, Polo G, and Rod Wave, has the distinction of being about as close to perfect as these things have ever been, with no evidence of the “political” addition.
All of these artists definitely deserve to be here, and as we find out over the next few weeks which artists turned down spots or missed the availability window, it’s important to congratulate everyone who did make it for their accomplishment and acknowledge the hard work and luck it takes to get this far. Sometimes it’s just a matter of timing, as some artists big moments came just after the list was finalized.
That said, it’s always fun to play “What If?” with the list, especially because so many artists could qualify for a spot. However, let’s call the below seven artists something like a shortlist of names to watch for next year’s installment of the Freshman Class. Just because they missed out this year doesn’t mean they don’t deserve your attention now — and who knows? Maybe next year, you’ll be seeing these names on the big stage and thinking, “Hey, I know them!”
The inaugural winner of Netflix’s Rhythm + Flow, D Smoke is much more than just a reality competition TV star. The Inglewood-bred teacher-turned-rapper comes from a musical family that includes TDE singer SiR and put out two projects since the show aired that proved his win was no fluke and he has plenty of soul. Since then, he’s appeared on NPR’s Tiny Desk and performed at the BET Awards, so it’s only a matter of time until he’s as widely known as the judges whose respect he earned.
Following in the footsteps of fellow ATLiens like Gunna, JID, Lil Yachty, and now Mulatto, Deanté definitely deserves a place on the list after breaking the surface with his standout major label debut Better earlier this year. Hitchcock was one of 100 or so artists invited to the Atlanta recording sessions for Dreamville’s Revenge Of The Dreamers III. He’s also closely associated with Spillage Village, the crew consisting of Dreamville Peach State locals like JID and Earthgang, and Better proved that he can carry a full-length project with poetry and poignancy.
It looks like it takes a tad bit more than a Travis Scott co-sign to make the Freshman Class. After appearing on Travis’ fan-favorite third studio album Astroworld in 2018, Toliver followed up with his Donny Womack mixtape in 2018 and debut studio album, Heaven Or Hell, this year. Maybe putting out his mixtape on the same day as his label boss’ monster hit album caused him to get overshadowed a bit, but with “No Idea” and “After Party” gaining popularity on TikTok, this Cactus Jack signee can probably expect way more attention by this time next year.
The Bitcoin Batman was one of the standout artists to guest on Revenge Of The Dreamers III, stealing the show on songs like “Don’t Hit Me Right Now”, “Wells Fargo”, and “Costa Rica.” Toward the end of 2019, he released his debut studio album Dior Deposits, holding his own alongside the likes of 6lack on “Prada Process” and Chance The Rapper on “Gucci Pajamas.” Over the course of 2020, he displayed his unparalleled work ethic with the RonaRaps series and Falcon Fridays, and he’s constantly teasing new music with features from everybody’s favorite rappers. There’s no doubt he’ll be able to finnam his way onto next year’s Freshman list.
In a case of bad timing, Flo Milli’s debut album Ho, Why Is You Here? landed at the end of July, long after the Freshman Class issue was being written up and edited. Of course, there’s no way the editors had any clue that she would parlay the TikTok success of her viral singles “Beef FloMix” and “In The Party” into such a massive reception that saw her being quoted by everyone from City Girls to Janelle Monae. Her quirky relatability and ferocious sense of humor have made her the heir apparent to the “next big female rap star” seat formerly occupied by Cardi B, Megan Thee Stallion, Mulatto, and Rico Nasty.
As another Memphis product, Jucee Froot‘s in good company in vying for a Freshman roster slot. The difference between her and Key Glock or NLE Choppa is that she’s received even higher profile looks than they have, securing a spot on the Insecure soundtrack and sounding off on the Birds Of Prey album. With women emerging so powerfully in hip-hop these days, Jucee’s going to have a lot of very powerful voices rooting for her. Along with co-signs from her city’s godfather, Juicy J, and everyone’s favorite punk-rap rabble rouser, Rico Nasty, Jucee’s also got the bars to stick for a good long while.
Don’t count Key Glock out. While he may have fallen short this time around, he’s also built a back catalog of fan-favorites to call on when the time comes, dropping the joint mixtape Dum And Dummer with his mentor Young Dolph last year, then following up with not one, but two mixtapes in 2020: Yellow Tape and Son Of A Gun. With each project, his buzz grows louder and at the rate he’s releasing them, it won’t be too long before that buzz is an undeniable cacophony of fans demanding placement in the next Freshman Class — or that he outright bypass it altogether.
Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.