Each year, before the XXL Freshman get a chance to brandish their bars side by side in the Cypher, they are each tasked with handling business on a brief (written) Freestyle. The Freestyles are always a-capella, giving us a chance to see the Freshmen vulnerable, without any instrumental, crew, or well-cut video to hide behind. They say a man is only as good as his word; let’s see how these MCs stacked up. Here are the 2013 XXL Freshman Freestyles, ranked from worst to best.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely of the writer and not necessarily those of RESPECT. or its staff.
10. Trinidad Jame$
It’s worth noting that Jame$ is not known or loved as a lyricist–that’s simply not his draw–so placing him dead last is a little bit like calling out a QB for being a shitty fry cook. With that in mind though, the Jame$ could have spit more than nine and a half bars and tried to pace them out so he didn’t sound so much the last guy at the bar trying to overcompensate. Still, as Trinidad rambles, mumbles, pauses, and repeats, he’s fun to watch: he’s got personality. It’s a good sign for the 2013 Freshmen that even #10 on this list isn’t all bad.
Best Line: “These gold chains got you bitter? / These gold chains got me bitches!”
Logic does not have the same excuse as Trinidad James–he’s supposed to bring it lyrically. Instead, the Maryland MC gets his flippity-dippity on and just speaks on how lyrical he is using a bunch of trite, multi-syllabic flows, all of which sound like he’s a subpar guest on Def Poetry rather than a rapper. If he didn’t have a couple punchlines and a sort of noteworthy double time, Logic would have rode the ten spot. That being said, the line below is hot, and comes as a clever surprise after he almost devolves into the average end-of-video shout-out barrage.
Best Line: “Conceal the image behind the flow like a murder weapon.”
8. Kirko Bangz
Bangz doesn’t do badly. He also doesn’t do well. He keeps a steady flow throughout, and his voice sounds good and smooth all by itself. He also happens to rhyme “Lamborghini” and “Lamborghini.” He loses points for being bland, he gains them for not fucking up. He loses points for only rhyming for about thirty seconds–barely longer than Jame$–and he gains them for a little Southern wordplay: “holding it down” and “young don” don’t always rhyme. He loses points for “All this fucking gold on, what the fuck you mean,” because there’s no way to know who or why he’s asking that. His best line is pretty cool though.
Best Line: “Fuck around and put a flounder on the corner / with a niner that’ll hit you faster than a 49er / wearing number seven.”
7. Travi$ Scott
While this isn’t in the top tier, there isn’t much to hold against this Freestyle. Scott brings a variety of interesting flows that feel like a song in the making. The clip lacks any true quotables or *wow* moments, and both Scott’s bandana and his rigid devotion to sounding poised rob us of the vulnerability almost every other Freestyle reveals. Scott brings a solid verse but he could have added some more flash and let us further into his world.
Best Line: “Left jelly all over her biscuits.”
6. Action Bronson
Bronsoliño brought most of his go-to ingredients: an unmatched reference game, (“The Beamer color of Danny Glover’s neck”) vulgar humor, (“Now you stick drugs inside your poop shoot,”) gourmet descriptions, (“Capers on the veal piccata,”) and hyperbolic tales of his imaginary grace/strength/good looks (“Pull the limo on the lawn, jump out, I’m just hallucinating,” and “All year–tan.”) These hilarious bits of unmistakable Bronson zaniness are dragged way down, however, by an asleep-or-too-baked-at-the-wheel flow and a few lines that fall flat (“Had to grow up fast because I had to feed my daughter right” and “Damn Bronson, why you gotta be that way?”) He seems somehow winded and pulls the energy out of his mostly well crafted bars.
Best Line: “Capers on the veal piccata. / Lost paper ’cause Prince Fielder couldn’t field a fucking pop up.”
5. Angel Haze
Some will disagree that Angel Haze should be in the top five over Bronson, but her energy is undeniable. For sixty seconds, she pummels the listener with boasts and quotables packaged in rapid, captivating flows–what else could you ask for? One thing: no more corny punchlines. When Haze raps “Perfected my craft–Nabisco, Cool Whip,” I wince. Further, using the “#hashtag” style only gives repetitive critics who compare every female rapper to Nicki Minaj some legitimate ammo to dismiss her. However, if she sticks to that smoother, more understated style–like when she pauses between “Whipping niggas’ asses, they finna call me ‘massa’,” and “Yo, my flow so massive”–and sharper punches like the line below, she’ll be set.
Best Line: “The point is that I’m on point and appointed / to flex on you bitches like I’m fucking double jointed.”
4. Joey Bada$$
Joey has been criticized for lacking originality in the past, so it’s a treat to see his Freestyle is one of the stranger entries. This is one of the trickiest, most unorthodox flows he’s ever produced, and the rasta breakdown about halfway through is a welcome left turn. The scene that the verse opens with is only half-painted but still gripping to the extent that I hoped he would keep going in that direction. The only criticism I can muster is that the verse almost entirely lacks hard-hitting quotables, but for the most part, Joey compensates stylistically and with an entertaining personality. This is clearly among the best Freestyles, but it would have been ranked higher if Joey were to provide a water-cooler moment. (Side note: this verse sounds dope over a beat.)
Best Line: “I hisses at your misses. / Slid it down her throat, spit it up–mm delicious.”
Soulo rips it. From the lines where he near-seamlessly name drops Section.80, Habits & Contradictions, and Control System to the ultra-cool of “Soulo ho / well known from Del Amo to SoHo ho/ don’t stop, roll mo’ dro ’till you comatose” to his Best Line below, which is also the best line of the entire cypher. In it, Soul wards off voices he and his Black Hippy brethren hear boxing them in as “conscious rap” and shows he’s far more multi-faceted, provocative, and clever than those voices could ever be. Soul came prepared and comfortable, but perhaps too much so. He’s so damn sure of his lines that he doesn’t give much thought to his presentation–this isn’t the “Terrorist Threats” video, move! Also, the last lines are pretty whack. “What’s the difference between a person and a human?” Come on, Soul, get off the stoned 10th grader tip and get back to the fire, which there is plenty of in this clip, but you’ll miss it if you can’t get past Soul’s catatonic vibe.
Best Line: “Top Dawg Entertainment / They’re saying we saviors like this ain’t dope we’re slanging.”
2. Dizzy Wright
Surprised? You shouldn’t be. Dizzy Wright has steez and he shows it off well here. The great Kansan hope has possibly the most clearly defined, catchy, and exciting flows out of all ten Freestyle videos. I’ve had the first eight bars of this verse on a loop for a good while now. It’s infectious, it’s smooth, it shows potential, not only as an underground force but for star power–getting up close and personal we get to see how genuine and genuinely calm Dizzy Wright is. It’s a sight to see. Balancing the tight flows from the first half are some slowed down, more blatant lines in the second half. It’s a clear choice that pays off and shows Dizzy came prepared to win. This Freestyle just missed out on the top spot because Dizzy’s writing, while 100% rhythmically on point, sometimes approaches generic on the content and phrasing fronts.
Best Line: “You ain’t a Nigga With a Attitude, nigga you just ignorant.”
1. ScHoolboy Q
ScHoolboy Q has been called the fists of Black Hippy, so it’s appropriate he powered his way to the number one spot. Q took it by force. He comes equipped with a plethora of tricky flows and inflections that aren’t just intriguing and suspenseful to listen to, but are unlike any flow in recent memory. Q has stated in interviews that he is always looking for strange new ways to change up his formula–be it changing verse lengths to, say, twelve or twenty-six bars, or messing with his cadence–and this Freestyle definitely brings something new to the table. Also, props for the hilarious admission that he is “kinda chubby and fat” at the end. The only detractor from Q’s victorious Freestyle is that it is, like those of Travi$ Scott, and Joey Bada$$, too heavily focused on style instead of making time for the occasional crowd-pleasing punchline. But the flows are golden, Quincy. Wear that bucket hat like a crown, and carry this dominance over into the Cypher.
Best Line: “Your sign language fuck up your voice / in tune to your throat and your boys / and amigos I seek and destroy.”
Who do you think came hardest? Let us know in the comment section below.
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