Another year, another XXL Freshman hip hop list. The XXL freshman list has become one of the most anticipated ranking systems in hip hop music, holding more weight with a lot of fans than the Grammys do. It has become a sort of right of passage within the hip hop community; it is sort of like a “who’s who” for rising rap stars. Being selected as an XXL Freshman gives rappers a few cool opportunities to show off their talents. The most important of these opportunities is the cypher performances uploaded to XXL’S YouTube Channel. For those who do not know, a cypher is like a mini rap battle; a DJ will play an instrumental, and three to five rapper will all have an opportunity to spit, typically expected to try to somewhat bounce off of each other. This year’s XXL Freshman list is one of my favorites in recent memory. The artists that have been selected this year are Gunna, Rico Nasty, Tierra Whack, Lil Mosey, Roddy Ricch, Megan Thee Stallion, Dababy, Comethazine, YK Osiris, Blueface, and YBN Cordae. Like there have been in years past, this year did have a few duds, but for the most part, I liked every freshman cypher performance this year. Here is my opinion on the quality of these performances, ranking from worst to best.
Unlike a lot of hip hop fans in my generation, I am not actually a huge fan of Gunna. To me his music has always sounded a little bland; he honestly just sounds like a Young Thug Lite to me. That being said, I think it is pretty lame when artists don’t participate in the cypher performances. This is a great opportunity for these artists to get some national exposure to audiences they may not normally reach, and it does not make a ton of sense to me to pass on this opportunity. I do not know how much I would have liked his performance anyway because his style of music probably would not sound good in a cypher setting, but I still think he should have at least tried. You can’t score if you do not shoot.
10) LIL MOSEY
Although I said previously that I think it is super lame to not even try to participate in the cypher, I think that maybe Lil Mosey should have pulled a Gunna and not performed at all. I did not even know that a cypher performance could be this bad; I am not even joking I think that I could have had a better cypher performance than the garbage Lil Mosey blessed us with. I actually dig Lil Mosey’s sound; I think he has an interesting pop-trap sensibility that is unique and sounds pretty good. I saw him post on twitter that he knows he can not freestyle and he just tried for fun, which I respect, but yikes, bro. I hope Lil Mosey sticks to writing.
9) YK Osiris
I honestly did not know that an XXL Freshman cypher performance could be as bad at Lil Mosey’s, and I have to say YK Osiris impressed me by being almost equally as bad. This dude could not seem to hold a tune at all, which seems to be pretty necessary if you are going to try to sing-rap live. I have zero problems with artists using autotune to make their music sound good, but if you know you can not sing at all without autotune, please just rap when performing live instead so we do not have to suffer through crap like this. Once again, I have heard a few songs by YK Osiris that I like, so I do not really know what was going on here. At least we probably will have to never see him try to freestyle live again.
8) RODDY RICCH
Roddy Ricch’s performance was definitely a step up from the first couple duds we had to deal with, but he really was not that much better. Roddy could not seem to hold a consistent flow during his performance; it is obvious he is not used to freestyle rapping live in this matter. His rapping was very choppy and not fluid; it just did not sound consistent. Lyrically, this verse was pretty bland as well. Roddy raps about a lot of substances without a lot of substance in his cypher. I would not say that this performance was bad, but I am not going to say it was good either. At least he didn’t do what the other rappers he’s ahead of on this list did.
We have finally made it into the section of this list were the performances start to get pretty good. Comethazine’s music has always been so hit or miss for me; I can not decide if I like him as an artist or not. Some of his songs are great, and some of them are just ass to me. His cypher performance was honestly solid, though. He was able to keep a pretty consistent flow, and I dug the emotion he was rapping with. Dude sounds like he just got out of a damn insane asylum or something. Lyrically, this verse was not anything too special in my opinion, but his chaotic flow and energy made up for this. This performance definitely made me pumped to hear what he brings with his music in the future.
Although I do not think that Dababy’s cypher performance was bad by any means, I have to admit that I am a little bit disappointed with it. Dababy’s performance was by far the longest one, and it was very one dimensional, to be honest. He did have quite a few witty and humorous lines in his cypher verse which is pretty typical of him, but the flow was pretty bland and he did not rap with the typical intensity or energy that he typically brings to the table. This performance was definitely pretty good, but considering Dababy is one of my favorite hip hop artists to blow up in the last year, I think he could have done a lot better of a job.
I felt bad for Blueface when I saw that he had to do his cypher with Rico Nasty and YBN Cordae. It is a pretty tall order to be asked to try to go toe to toe with both of these up and coming stars. Blueface honestly really held his own with his cypher performance, though. Lyrically, his verse was not about anything more impressive or substantial than what he normally spits about. His flow was actually semi on /semi offbeat in a weird way that really worked, and his personality oozed out of him on this performance. Especially considering who he had to go up against, I think that Blueface did a very good job.
4) TIERRA WHACK
Tierra Whack is the first performance of this list that I thought was legitimately great. The other three performances honestly were not much better than this one, because they couldn’t be; the top four cypher performances of this list are pretty subjective when choosing which one is actually the best. Tierra Whack is one of three phenomenal women rappers in this list that took the world by storm in the last year. Her performance was especially unique because she asked the DJ to cut the beat so she could just freestyle; this is especially tough in this setting because listeners will be more focused on her words than usual because there is no instrumental to pick her up if she stumbled. And she did not stumble at all. This verse is full of awesome and witty bars about how great she is. What Tierra was able to do with this verse, from the cool lyricism to the interesting and complicated flows, was super great and impressive
3) MEGAN THEE STALLION
The top three artists in this list were definitely my most anticipated, and I have to say none of these artists disappointed. Megan really showed off why she is one of the top rising rap stars in the game right now, or as my friend Grant says, budding “hip hop royalty.” Everyone’s favorite Hot Girl kept her verse short and sweet, giving listeners a multitude of flows and quite a few dope bars in a very tight performance. Her rapping style on this one was very gruff; she sounds a lot harder and tougher than most of the other artists on this list. I do not think we could have asked much more of Meg on this one because she really killed it.
2) RICO NASTY
“I got a bad temper, don’t make me mad.” The last line of Rico’s verse explains the feeling of this verse for sure. Rico raps with such intensity and energy and speed that it is tough to hear what she is saying at times, but this performance was so emotive and awesome that it really does not matter. Rico really showed why she is one of the best new rappers in the world right now, seamlessly moving through flows at will and giving us quite a few funny and tongue in cheek lines as well. Rico raps about what it has taken to get to this point so far, and some of the hardships she has gone through to get here. I love how expressive she was in this performance as well; her facial expressions and movements make every verse she delivers look like a super well put together a show. Overall, this was just an awesome performance.
1) YBN CORDAE
After Rico delivered her incredible performance to start off her cypher consisting of herself, Blueface, and YBN Cordae, I really did not know how any other rappers on this list would be able to out-perform her. Don’t get me wrong, the Megan and Tierra verses were awesome, but Rico killed it that much. The only rapper that was able to give a better performance than Rico in any of the cyphers this year was the rapper who immediately followed her in her own cypher, YBN Cordae. The rising YBN star was easily able to prove why he is probably considered best rapper in this list and garnered himself even more hype for his album that dropped on 7/25, which is called The Lost Boy. Cordae’s flow in this verse was so smooth and tight, and his lyricism was the most complex of this group. He told stories of his childhood and what has gotten him to this point, using crispy metaphors and alliteration to explain his situation. All in all, this was just an excellent performance, and it made me even more excited to hear The Lost Boy than I already had been.