Everyone loves lists. Fact. Why do you think XXL, a magazine that fights for eyeballs with hip-hop blogs like NahRight and 2DopeBoyz and HipHopDX and WorldStarHipHop for most of every year, is on to their fourth annual Freshmen grouping of the annum’s best new rappers? Because people love lists.
Anyway, this year’s crop was increased from 10 rappers to 11 because, apparently, the recession is over. Hooray! But this year’s crop still has the same filler that last year’s did, along with the same few guys who you can really get excited about.
Flash back to last year. “A New Breed of Hustlers,” they called them, and a few hustled pretty hard. J. Cole’s star continues to rise, justly; Wiz Khalifa provided the Super Bowl’s theme song; and right now, there are few LPs more anticipated than Freddie Gibbs’. But guys like Donnis and OJ da Juiceman prove the specious nature of putting together rosters like this: Usually, you’re going to have to dig deep.
Part of the whole deal with making this year an 11-person crew was that supposedly, no deep digging proved necessary, and all these guys couldn’t be denied. Somehow, I doubt it. From the first two cyphers—8 out of the 11 have rapped so far, with Big K.R.I.T., Meek Mill and Fred the Godson still to come—and what else I’ve heard, at least half these guys have a long, long way to go.
YG (C+) has a syrupy, sneering flow that’s actually intriguing, but he’s got a one-trick pony thing going at the same time. Mac Miller (D) couldn’t be less exciting, and in the cypher, he tries to push the pace but just ends up tripping all over himself. Plus, he says nothing. Kendrick Lamar (D+) is similar, and he goes on for way way too long. Lil Twist (C-) and Diggy Simmons (C) are both equally undistinguished, and indistinguishable, but not without promise.
The good thing: This crop is top-heavy. Alabama native Yelawolf, who’s already dropped one strong mixtape and a couple blistering singles, leads the pack, and his cypher performance is straight-A fearsome. It’s kind of weird to see him listed as a freshman, actually—he’s so far beyond the others at this point. The same can be said for Big K.R.I.T., and the first two singles from his upcoming record are a promising continuation of his thick, stuttering Southern rap.
Friends fight friends all across the country over Lil B the Based God (B+), but I’m a believer; his maniac stream-of-consciousness rhymes bring something different, and he’s proven a level of consistency. And Cyhi’s got confidence, technique and enough style to hold his own on Kanye’s record, so naturally he’s fine here. I haven’t heard anything from Meek and Fred, which means I’ll reserve judgment. As a whole, the crop’s about on par with last year, which means we’ve got another 12 months of economic mediocrity to look forward to.
Speaking of rap, guess what’s not rap? The new Lupe Fiasco album. In Recess’ first-ever podcast, music editor Ross Green and I discuss Lasers. We’ve excerpted the discussion in the paper this week, but be sure to go to dukechronicle.com/recess to listen to the rest of our conversation in advance of the man himself performing at Duke March 31.
A brief teaser: I hope the concert is better than the album.
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