Freshman Orientation, 2011
Popular rap magazine XXL made a list of rappers again this year. They’re supposed to be famous by next year. A few of them will be, but mostly because they’re already famous today.
They really busted out the demographic dart board for this one. White people! Teenybop kiddies! Lyrically lyrical fast rappers! Generic Southerners! Half the Def Jam roster! Two people from Compton! Based God! Surely making a list like this is damn near impossible given how fractured hip hop has become, but this seems like a particularly slapdash selection. At the peak of this list – Yela, B, Kendrick, Meek – there’s more talent, creativity and promise than the previous two years combined, but the lows are far lower than they’ve ever been.
You’ll also notice that the average # of Twitter followers is way up from last year. I’m sure part of that has to do with an increased ubiquity of Twitter, but it does feel like, on the whole, these guys are a lot better known than they were in the past. Which is good and bad. It certainly lowers XXL’s risk of being proven wrong, but it also makes it far less interesting. The rise of Twitter plays another factor here – a few months ago XXL’s editors took to the Tweets, asking users for suggestions. Which could account for the wider variety. Now they’re not just drawing from the Nah Right/Dope Boyz axis, but the big wide world of computer rap. Meek and Fred are more or less the only artists on this list with anything even resembling an old fashioned street rep. There also seems to be more unsigned and indie artists here than in past years but it’s hard to say if a lot of these dudes aren’t just secretly signed. Anyway, on with the knee jerking (no YG):
Bio: Like Pimp C but with none of the anger.
Hometown: Meridian, MS
Label: Def Jam
Past Year’s Parallel: Freddie Gibbs
# of Twitter followers: 40,108
Skills: 6/10 A talented producer but a fair to middling rapper on a technical level.
Creativity: 6/10 Way ahead of the curve in terms of song concepts and execution but he has yet to break out of his influences in terms of delivery.
Marketability: 3/10 I mean dude had to wear a jacket with his name on it to the photo shoot just so he wouldn’t forget which rapper he is.
Sustainability: 4/10 He’s fallen into that Intelligent Trunk Music trap of making nostalgic country rap for people who were never that into country rap tunes to begin with and don’t actually own a drop top. That’s a low investment level if there ever was one. I think his highest likelihood for survival in the industry would be behind the boards.
CyHi Da Prynce
Bio: From Georgia, knows Kanye.
Hometown: Stone Mountain, GA
Label: GOOD/Konvict/Def Jam
Past Year’s Parallel: Big Sean
# of Twitter followers:19,497
Skills: 6/10 Aight to slightly better than aight.
Creativity: 7/10 Dude does interesting things from time to time but it’s ultimately hard to care for some reason.
Marketability: 4/10 As we mentioned with Big Sean, Kanye has never successfully broken an artist on his own (Common came to the label with a legacy, Cudi with a certified hit in tow) and even if he was able to it seems like the current focus is on Pusha, who’s equally unmarketable. On the other hand, Cyhi’s signed to every label on earth, so that might help.
Sustainability: 3/10 I’ve already forgotten about dude. Who am I writing about again?
Bio: He is the son of an old person.
Hometown: Run’s House, VH1
Past Year’s Parallel: Corey Gunz
# of Twitter followers: 447,970
Skills: 2/10 No. Just no.
Creativity: 2/10 No.
Marketability: 8/10 He’s a cute kid.
Sustainability: 4/10 He’ll be an ugly grown up. But his Dad will always have Russell on speed dial.
Fred the Godson
Bio: He’s fat and he’s skinny at the same time.
Hometown: Bronx, NYC
Past Year’s Parallel: Ace Hood
# of Twitter followers: 8,375
Skills: 5/10 Functional New York rapper #3489.
Creativity: 6/10 He has a great humorous streak.
Marketability: 2/10 Looking like a giant baby makes both the heartthrob and hardcore marketing angles unlikely. And he’s way too fat to skateboard or wear skinny jeans.
Sustainability: 4/10 He’s a promising New York rapper, which means Flex will drop bombs to whatever boring ass record he records over Swizz Beat coke bottles, circa 2002 “Grindin’” drums or indian chick yodeling until the day one of them dies.
Bio: The unknowing heir to the Project Blowed throne.
Hometown: Compton, CA
Past Year’s Parallel: Fashawn.
# of Twitter followers: 21,276
Skills: 8/10 Dude can spit.
Creativity: 7/10 Dude can spit with weird flows.
Marketability: 5/10 Kendrick’s charisma is there but it’s beneath the surface. Just look at the cover – he’s directly in the middle of the photo but probably the last rapper you’re going to notice here. As a songwriter though, he has a strong knack for balancing backpacky and pop instincts and in this market that’ll work to his advantage.
Sustainability: 5/10 LA rap curse. If he gets down with Dre he might be able to extend his shelf life but Dre is really not the guy to be down with right now.
Bio: The princess that fucked your bitch.
Hometown: Berkeley, CA
Past Year’s Parallel: You shall have no other Based Gods before him.
# of Twitter followers: 139,4789
Skills: 5/10 It’s hard to say. B spends most of his time being a sloppy rapper, but certain instances suggest that this is a creative choice, not a flaw.
Creativity: 10/10 He is the most creative rapper breathing right now. I made this extra creativity category this year just so I could say that and bump his average.
Marketability: 8/10 For all his eccentricities, B has a strong hitmaking sense. “Wonton Soup” was the biggest underground hit to not formally crossover in a long time. At the same time there’s a reason he’s still unsigned. The industry is scared as fuck and has no clue what to do with him. In the right hands he’s hugely marketable, but it’s hard to tell if those hands exist.
Sustainability: 9/10 He’s already changed lives. B will have a fanbase for as long as he decides to make music, even if it’s on an under-underground level. Unless he goes Charles Hamilton crazy, but that seems unlikely. His is a more sustained low level hum of madness.
Hometown: Dallas, TX
Label: Young Money
Past Year’s Parallel: MC IDGAF
# of Twitter followers: 555,052
Skills: 1/10 No.
Creativity: 0/10 Twist is quite possibly the most derivative rapper on the planet right now. There is even another rapper on his label who is exactly the same as him.
Marketability: 9/10 He’s a cute kid and he’s friends with Lil Wayne.
Sustainability: 1/10 He’ll be an ugly grown up and his ugly grown up friends aren’t going to want to hang around him at that point.
Bio: Wiz Khalifa’s white friend.
Hometown: Pittsburgh, PA
Past Year’s Parallel: Asher Rothstein
# of Twitter followers: 142,341
Skills: 3/10 The competent pinnacle of mediocrity. Mac, like Asher before him, is the white guy at every Frat Party who just insists on rapping. But those guys rapped to get laid. These guys rap for a career. And XXL has just enabled them. Fuck white privilege.
Creativity: 3/10 I guess rapping over an old Lord Finesse instrumental was a cool idea. You know what would be a cooler idea though? Actually putting on a Lord Finesse record.
Marketability: 9/10 He’s a white person.
Sustainability: 9/10 He’s a white person.
Bio: The only rapper on this list who had fans before he had a computer.
Hometown: Philadelphia, PA
Label: Maybach Music/Warner
Past Year’s Parallel: Pill, but only because their names rhyme and I’m getting tired of this category.
# of Twitter followers: 70,214
Skills: 8/10 Meek, Yela and Kendrick are the technical monsters in this battle. They are head and shoulders above the rest.
Creativity: 5/10 He tends to get trapped in thug cliches here and there.
Marketability: 5/10 Rick Ross connect is a serious plus one in this category, but the involvement of Wale knocks it back down a point. He cut his dreads and made a white friend, so it’s obvious that he has pop aspirations but that’s probably the worst way for him to go about going pop.
Sustainability: 6/10 If Ross stops caring he’s basically fucked (See also: his fate with T.I.) but even in that worst case scenario he’ll always have his city behind him.
Bio: When I first read the list I got excited and thought it was YG Hootie but it’s not. It’s the “Toot It & Boot It” kid.
Hometown: Compton, CA
Label: Def Jam
Past Year’s Parallel: OJ The Juiceman
# of Twitter followers: 30,644
Creativity: 7/10 “Toot It” is a fun pop song. Not sure if YG is directly responsible for that or if we should thank his producer TY$ for that.
Marketability: 9/10 Like Juiceman last year, putting YG on here is a cop out because he already has a major hit, bigger even than whatever the hell Juiceman’s hit that I already forgot was.
Sustainability: 2/10 Like Juiceman last year XXL neglected to realize the obvious one hitterness of YG. I can’t even find another song by him on Youtube (but admittedly that might be related to his poor SEO decisions when picking a rap name). YG is but a fraction of the personality that OJ was too.
Bio: You already know Yelawolf because you read blogs. And if not he’s on this month’s XXL cover too.
Hometown: Gadsden, AL
Past Year’s Parallel: N/A
# of Twitter followers: 71,213
Skills: 9/10 Probably the best technical rapper I’ve seen grace a stage in the past five years.
Creativity: 8/10 He has a unique personality and a knack for very affecting storytelling.
Marketability: 7/10 He’s a white person. But he’s also a hillbilly, which means this could go either way. Kid Rock or Bubba Sparxx. Sadly his success is probably dependent on his willingness to make the shitty and insufferable music that Jimmy Iovine wants him to.
Sustainability: 6/10 His schtick could wear thin quickly. Or if he abandons his schtick and goes pop then he’ll be gone even quicker.