Rap music is something I have a lot of love for, and something that I love delving into beyond the music. Whether it's the gay presence in rap, the relevancy of Eminem, or how trap music is finding a niche in America; I am always fascinated by how complex the rap game is behind the rhymes.
Yesterday, the powerhouse hip-hop magazine XXL released their annual "Freshman List", a list of 10 (or in this case 9) up-and-coming rappers that the magazine chooses to showcase. During the next month or so, the rappers chosen for the list will be interviewed by XXL, perform in cyphers set up by the magazine, and then have to perform individual freestyles that are set up by the magazine. Being on the list is a great honor, and it's a fantastic way to bring more attention to deserving underground artists. But sometimes the "Freshman List" results in being a curse on some of the featured rappers.
Looking at the history of the list, it's easy to find very successful and, now, mainstream acts. Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, Chance The Rapper, Lupe Fiasco, Vince Staples, and many more popular artists have come from the list. But there are also swaths of rappers, like Asher Roth or Fashawn, to name a few, that have fallen out of public view in modern times. I'm not saying that in all of these cases it was because of XXL that these rappers faded away, but there are a few good instances where it was a direct correlation to them being on the list.
There are actually many factors that can cause the list to be a curse; and I'll use the 2017 and current (2018) list to show how this can happen. Each year the "Freshman List" has an unofficial poster boy who is basically used as the head of the group. In 2017 the poster boy was XXXTentacion, and this year it appears to be Lil Pump. This unofficial leader is normally given the last verses of the cypher and is normally the final freestyle that XXL chooses to release; this unofficial leader is also typically the most well known of the group.
In XXXTentacions run on the list, he was obviously the worst of the whole pack. He was the last person to perform in his cypher and it was awful. The dj stopped the beat and let him talk (not rap, talk). This was also exactly how his freestyle went. After the whole thing was said and done, it was obvious that XXXTentacion wasn't delivering like everyone thought her should. He then released the critically panned album "17", and was caught in a storm of abuse charges. XXXTentacion didn't exactly "go away", but he had more fans before the list than he does now.
I see something similar happening with Lil Pump in this coming list, but in a different degree. Where XXXTentacion consciously chose to have a low key cypher and freestyle, I think Lil Pump will accidentally show how untalented he really is.
Lil Pump has mass success already, so there is no real reason for him to be on the list. Even more, Lil Pump has proven time and again that he isn't lyrically competent. Lil Pump is successful because he has great production, great beats, and a team behind him that makes his sound palatable. Other rappers that are on this current list, like Ski Mask and Smokepurpp, actually have the chops to carry on without having to plan out beats or spend countless hours in a studio trying to make themselves sound better. When the cyphers come out I predict that Lil Pump will do okay but he'll probably be towards the bottom of the pack. When Lil Pump is made to do a freestyle I think he will really show how much he doesn't belong next to the other rappers. And then I predict that he will come out on the other side with a lot less fans than he had when "Gucci Gang" dropped.
I don't say any of this to try and hate on Lil Pump, or XXL, or any other rappers that will be or have been on the list. I only say this because I think XXL needs to adjust the way they approach their "Freshman List". I think it's a little unfair to make everything be about the cyphers and freestyles, because some people just aren't creative enough to be put on the spot like that. Maybe in the future they can see ways to improve the function of the list, but as of right now I'm just excited to see how the 2018 list plays out.