As the folks at XXL prepare for the unveiling of their 2014 Freshman class with pitch videos from some of this year’s candidates, the anticipation builds, and fans begin to pull for their favorite artists to get the coveted spot. Here at RESPECT., we figured it was time to toss in our votes. Knowing that a spot on the Freshman cover is a nod reserved for artists with star power and promise of full, fruitful careers, we’ve selected ten stellar freshmen.
Chance The Rapper
It’s best to start with the obvious. No “rookie” in the last year has made as distinct of a mark, as good of a project (#3 on or year-end list) or ascended as drastically as Chance. The Chicago representer (a theme here) has hip-hop heads, hipsters, and pop fans flocking to his brand of stylized, substantial sing-rap that stays both goofy and grounded. With a mind for the minimal and the maximal, it’s clear that Chance‘s and his polished, speed-ball execution have heaps of projects just waiting to recalibrate the hip-hop world.
Portland’s breakout star of the moment is the other most distinctive act on this list. Twisting auto-tune into a squeaking, mumble-prone balloon animal, Young Thug has made an undeniable imprint on hip-hop, musically and culturally. The unabashed weirdo looks to be an innovator in his craft as well, pushing the sad/drunk robot brand of R&B to abstract new heights. This man is a serious hit maker, and the second he gets a big collab under his belt (beyond Nicki‘s adoption of “Danny Glover”), he’s going to skyrocket.
Rich Homie Quan
He’s the man who’s out-Futuring Future. Quan‘s distinct, brash approach and crackling voice have him absolutely dominating the hook game. For 2013, Quan could have been radio rap’s MVP, let alone Rookie of the Year. “Type of Way” deserves every bit of its inescapable status–the Atlanta, Georgia native packed the song full of slick reasons to remember it. The chorus is bold and, of course, catchy, but it’s the bridge that deceptively grabs, if only for it being the best display of Quan‘s range on the track, as he starts choppy (“Sh!t,” anyone?) and finishes like velvet. Combine that with his show-stealing appearance on YG‘s “My Nigga” and you have a man who’s sliding off with the game. That’s a smooth operator.
How could the latest kid that TDE put their chips on not be a star? It’s a serious testament to Isaiah Rashad‘s immense talent and heart that he seems to be exceeding expectations. Though Rashad hasn’t had his breakout hit yet, the pre-Cilvia “Shot Me Down” coming closest, he has still proven himself as a formidable new voice. Rashad boasts dense though accessible songwriting, a cold flow from somewhere between Kendrick, Pac, and the South, an ear and voice for hooks, and refined taste for beats and aesthetic. He not only has a story worth telling, but he tells it with measured grace, letting his audience in with well-timed tugs at the curtain. Assuming he grows into the kind of performer that demands to be heard as much as his music deserves, Isaiah Rashad has a long career ahead of him.
The most emotive of this year’s Drill scene crop, Lil Herb sounds frighteningly grown in addition to being just plain frightening. More lyrically dextrous than most of his adjacent peers, while still every bit as authentic and immediate, Lil Herb stands above the somewhat monotonous though entirely compelling scene from which he rises. Last month’s Welcome To Fazoland finds Lil Herb beating dramatic, monstrous beats over the head with a baseball bat, but also displays some of his thematic range, as he gets a bit more upbeat on “Fight Or Flight.” Elsewhere, his distinctive growl comes off as an invigorating battle cry, and if Lil Herb continues his trajectory, the squad behind him is only going to keep growing
To get it out of the way: yes, Rapsody has transcended the categorization of being a mere “female MC,” both via her abilities and opting out of a sexual aesthetic. To be, perhaps, redundant: she transcends that transcendence. Rapsody put out one of the best tapes of the last year in She Got Game, a showcase for her profoundly satisfying tightrope walk between the sentimental and inspiring, the revivalist and the classicist, the head and the heart. Choosing foundation over flash, Rapsody‘s built a winning formula, now all she has to do is roar louder.
Vince is a slow burner. He gained a lot of exposure in 2013 from show-stopping spots on Earl‘s Doris (most admit he won “Hive,” but for our money, “Centurion” was even better) and from linking with Mac Miller for the cold, harrowing Stolen Youth. Now, having established a base and presence, he’s poised to step it up to the next level. The Long Beach rapper’s stinging, drooly flow takes a few listens to get used to, but once you cross the threshold, Vince is one of the most promising, developed acts there is. Take the brilliant “Nate,”–his next tape’s first single–for example. “As a kid, all I wanted was to kill a man” is only the song’s first line, and from there, the statements only get more pained, brash, and, most of all, captivating.
Even in Chance‘s considerable shadow, Vic creates a sunlight all his own. With a flow so bursting with ideas that he has to fly off of the margin to deliver them all, Vic has left his print on hip-hop’s current climate. A listen to “Time Is Money” will show that Vic is both a born entertainer–innovating his own sound so quickly that even his mouth can barely keep up–and a thinker, letting off stellar, heartfelt line after line in dedication to his shredded home city, Chicago. “It’s like a solar eclipse in my city in the middle of a gunfight / Stray shots hit kids in the dark / That’s the way it is like Walter Cronkite,” he raps, his life seemingly depending on it. Vic has all the tools to be a force in our culture.
Sporting a slick flow and quintessential NY bravado, Troy Ave has made it his personal mission to put his aesthetic on the map. Troy is a purist to the bone–the kind of guy who calls Kendrick and Kanye weirdos and puts Raekwon and N.O.R.E. on a track called “New York City,” because that’s just how gritty he wants hip-hop to be. As Troy‘s hero B.I.G. once said, “We can’t change the world unless we change ourselves.” Troy certainly practices what he preaches: his latest LP, New York City is tough as hell and demands that the competition live up to its standard. Troy Ave is going to be a mainstay for the ’90s heads for a while.
The A$AP goofball/bridge troll surprised all (well, most) with the solid Trap Lord. Ferg has a knack for comedy and sticky hooks, and he fits snugly into the second-in-command role for the A$AP crew. With such a solid reputation building for hilarious hit-making, Ferg‘s paws are prime to hold the 2Chainz torch once Tity Boi hangs it up.
Mr. mFn eXquire
Ty Dolla $ign
YC The Cynic
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