The annual tradition of unveiling XXL’s Freshmen List is the hip-hop fan’s equivalent to Christmas Day: some will be incredibly enthused by their selections, others will feel dejected over neglected nominees. But without fail, the buzz surrounding the XXL Freshmen List generates a large discussion amongst the hip-hop community at-large. Historically, XXL selected a crew of up-and-coming artists that are featured on their highly-touted Freshmen edition cover.
With the recent uptick of the strong presence of social media, XXL quickly adapted to the times by reserving the 10th spot on this list for the winner of a fan vote that is chosen from the official list of candidates. In a similar format to last year’s post, the contributing Writers here at EVRYDY each pick our own 7 favorites from the entries of XXL 10th spot for 2017, (see the whole list of 10th spot nominees right here).
I became completely enamored with Smino after listening to his 2017 project, blkswn. Prior to this album, I was not aware of any of the previous work by the St. Louis native. I pressed the play button on a whim after hearing what seemed to be universal buzz from music publications earlier this year. The hyperactive energy, paired with a plethora of music stylings made the beginning of blkswn intriguing upon initial listen.
Then “Antia” came on.
I can gloss over and sugarcoat my deep infatuation for this song but that would be artificial. Listening to “Anita” became a full-blown addiction because of the delightful nature of the song. The harsh and powerful vocals of the chorus, paired with the off-kiltered, organized confusion during each verse over a soulful, mellow production leads to a great and unique sound. blkswn, one of 2017’s best projects so far, and Smino‘s novel approach to music is a breath of fresh air amid a multitude of carbon copies in the hip-hop industry.
The renaissance of positive Chicago hip hop is a beautiful thing pic.twitter.com/JY3Gup1h48
— Eyeless 🇬🇭 (@EyelessSilas) December 28, 2016
One of the leaders of the anti-Drill / anti-violence movement coming out of the recent Chicago is the 25-year old emcee, Noname. The success of last year’s highly lauded project, Telefone, should come as no surprise to anyone who even tangentially followed her progression. Formerly known as Noname Gyspsy, Noname has been a veteran staple in the Chi-Town hip-hop scene over the years, collaborating with local contemporaries such as Saba (see below), Mick Jenkins, and most notably with Chance the Rapper on “Lost” back in 2013.
The sharp lyricism she exhibits on every track is truly a work of art. Noname‘s background as a poet before she officially became an emcee gives her a distinct advantage against her counterparts. We have to eliminate the phrase Femcee from our vernacular; she is simply a highly talented emcee. One who can rhyme destructive circles around her male counterparts with an effortless delivery. Think of it as spoken word on steroids over soulful instrumentation.
Another disciple under the Chance the Rapper tutelage is 22-year old Saba. The slick rhyme-sayer packs many syllables into each bar with a minimal amount of filler. Laden with double-entendres, clever metaphors, and positive subject matter, Saba sounds incredibly mature despite his age.
Over the years, I’ve seen his name pop up sporadically on various guest features where he put a solid contribution each time. However, Bucket List Project, independently released in October 2016 by Saba himself, was the first complete project that I heard from him. It was a mistake to wait that long before giving him a legitimate look. Standout tracks such as “Church / Liquor Store,” featuring the aforementioned Noname, “The Billy Williams Story,” and “Westside Bound 3” clearly display his lyrical talent and his ability to paint a picture with words of Chicago from the eyes of a young Black male. I won’t make the mistake of sleeping on a full project from Saba again.
Out of nowhere (to the general public, including myself), Dreamville Records announced a brand-new signee: J.I.D, an East Atlanta rapper that does not sound like any of his peers coming out of this region. Hilarity will ensue upon bumping the young Southern rapper’s latest album The Never Story, but he’s not one to take lightly. His clever one-liners are so laid back and delivered with such easy, you may not notice right away that he’s attacking the competition in a smooth, slick, and confident manner for sport. The Never Story was my first exposure J.I.D who reminds me of a hybrid between Anderson .Paak vocally and Kendrick Lamar in terms of quick lyricism.
As I wrote in my lengthy album review of Bas‘ Too High To Riot, associates, primarily in business but more specifically in the realm of hip-hop, don’t always live up to the bar set by the managing partner (s) or owner (s). Similar to THTR, J.I.D‘s stellar project featuring production by J. Cole, and guest features from 6LACK and EarthGang, erased any doubts of nepotism under the Dreamville faction.
I promise that there’s no hometown bias in my XXL Freshman List for this year, even though the amount of Chicago rappers on said List suggests otherwise. One-half of Leather Corduroys and SAVEMONEY member Joey Purp quietly dropped one of the best mixtapes of 2016, iiiDrops. There was much positive chatter about this mixtape and me being
the dumbass that I am completely overwhelmed by the tsunami-esq waves of new music dropped on a weekly basis didn’t get the chance to give iiiDrops a full and proper listen.
I listened to a handful of tracks in passing last Summer but a full digestion of the tape didn’t occur until a couple weeks ago. Why the f**k was I asleep for this long? The horn-filled triumphant opening track “Morning Sex” dives straight into the madness of the inner-city of Chicago from the view of Joey Purp‘s eyes. You can hear the passion and pain in his voice as he, without any warning, recalls stark memories of his past where he became a product of the violent environment:
Uh, I done been on both sides of the burner
I done witness both sides of the murder
I done seen a n***a killed, and seen a n***a kill a n***a
Tell me how you feel, I’ll show how it feel to see a homicide
Look in the mirror see myself in my mama’s eyes
If you knew what I’d seen you’d be traumatized
A descriptive and haunting narrative on the opening track does not set the overall theme of the project, but the 11-track mixtape featuring Chance (of course), Vic Mensah, and Saba gives the outside listener a more accurate portrayal of life in Chicago. The vivid lyricism from Joey Purp paints an illustrative picture of the highs and lows of his region in an honest way. Being born and raised on the East Coast, I can appreciate his gritty and bruising delivery that’s reminiscent of 90’s Boom Bap. When Quarter Thing drops later this year, I won’t make the same egregious error of overlooking another tape by Joey Purp. Regardless of the decided fate of his placement on the XXL Freshman List, he’s destined to blow. Excuse me, I need to give iiiDrops a spin real quick.
It’s called Quarter Thing it’s still coming https://t.co/p3cXfWLxM5
— Indigo Purple (@JoeyPurps) March 23, 2017
Last year, I wrote about Kevin Abstract in EVRYDY’s XXL post, citing MTV1987 as a bona fide reason as to why the 20-year musician from Corpus Christi, Texas was deserving on a spot amongst the finalists in 2016. He did not make the final cut, which is not an indictment of his talent. Several months later, the BROCKHAMPTON band leader released his excellent alternative hip-hop/rock album, American Boyfriend: A Suburban Love Story, one of my favorite projects from a fully-loaded slate of 2016 drops. There were hints to the identity of his sexuality in the preceding years but on American Boyfriend, any remaining doubts can be definitely quashed.
On his Sophomore album, Kevin Abstract, perhaps semi-autobiographically, takes the listener on a journey by detailing an unrequited high school love through an awkward, yet confident narrative. A conglomeration of different genres are interwoven throughout the 18-track CD: rap, rock/punk, and pop influences are prominently heard on American Boyfriend. I don’t think I’ve ever heard, or will ever hear again, a combination of Rap/RnB/Punk Rock and Gospel ever sound as good as “Miserable America,” one of the standouts from this album. Fans of Kid Cudi are sure to gravitate towards this ambitious artist’s music without a second guess.
In addition to the wave of UK music flooding the US including soulful singers like Sampha and Grime artists (new and old) like Skepta and Stormzy, Simbi Ajikawo, better known as Little Simz, is a name to pay attention to. Albeit, the sonic feel of her album Stillness in Wonderland was not that of her Grime counterparts, the 23-year old rapper represents the UK to the fullest.
She has received high praise from Grime legend Dizzee Rascal and current Beats1 Radio host and former BBC Radio 1 music broadcaster Zane Lowe. Stillness in Wonderland was an interesting departure from the prevailing music scene in London. Described as a unique and experimental artist, Little Simz‘s progressive approach to creating music can be heard throughout her entire catalog. Songs such as “Dead Body,” “Picture Perfect,” and “Gratitude” show her unapologetic and raw side while rhyming over untraditional production. This is only just the beginning for Barz Simzson; her consistent versatility will elevate her to peak heights of entertainment of the United Kingdom.
For your convenience, I put together a sampling of all the artists mentioned in an hour-long SoundCloud set…enjoy!