Who would we put on the XXL Freshman cover? Let's find out.

We’re about to enter the best time of year for music. 

Dreamville’s Revenge of The Dreamers III is looming, as is Freddie Gibbs’ and Madlib’s Bandana, and we’re perpetually awaiting Lil Uzi Vert’s Eternal Atake. Besides a plethora of exciting new albums, June will also bring the latest XXL Freshman Class: an annual collective of 10 of the most notable and prolific “newcomers” to the hip-hop industry. Unfortunately, with artist selections, name-brand popularity and major-label influence have taken great precedence over the past few years.

Before XXL releases their list, we thought it would be fun (and not at all controversial) to publish our own. Let’s get pseudoscientific and figure this shit out.

First, it’s important to set some parameters. In late March, XXL released a list of 79 freshmen candidates eligible for the tenth spot on their cover. Since 79 is an unwieldy number, we set an arbitrary cutoff—one million monthly listeners on Spotify. That left us with 33 artists.

In cutting this list down from 33 to our final 10 freshmen, we had to make two notable omissions: Boogie and Juice WRLD. Compton’s Boogie delivered one of the best albums of 2019 in Everything’s For Sale, but prior to releasing his Shady debut, the 29-year-old crafted three “mixtapes,” all of which are available on streaming services. Given his age and his back catalog, Boogie is closer to graduation than freshman status.

On the flip side is Chicago’s supreme sadboi, Juice WRLD. Juice is simply too popular for a freshman list after his second major label album, Death Race For Love, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. Juice WRLD is young (20), but his versatility and prowess have made waves in the world of hip-hop that would dwarf the rest of our list by comparison.

With that preamble out of the way, let’s get to our DJBooth Freshman Class roster, in alphabetical order.

Blueface, 22

From: Los Angeles, CA
Instagram/Twitter: @bluefacebleedem
Most Recent Release: Famous Cryp
Spotify Monthly Listeners: 9M

You can thank Blueface for the rap song of the summer (and the 17 million remixes that have accompanied it), that is, until Lil Nas X and his “Old Town Road” stole the show. While “Thotiana” broke the internet, Blueface has become emblematic of a bigger West Coast trend, turning offbeat raps into creative tales of gang life and stealing your girl. Sure, he’s somewhat of a meme, but with features from YG and Cardi B, and a song that will play at every single party for the rest of the year, memedom appears to be working in his favor.

DaBaby, 27

From: Charlotte, NC
Instagram/Twitter: @dababy/@dababydababy
Most Recent Release: Baby On Baby
Spotify Monthly Listeners: 14M

Given our exclusion of Juice WRLD, DaBaby just might be the most popular rapper on this list. The 27-year-old has exploded since releasing his debut album, Baby On Baby, this past March, putting Charlotte on the map with his cache of in-your-face, uptempo-bass bangers. DaBaby’s not just blowing up on DSPs, either; over the past 30 days, DaBaby is averaging nearly 10,000 new daily YouTube subscribers. To satisfy their yearning for content, the artist has released a steady stream of music videos from Baby On Baby, each more ridiculous than the last. All this is a long way of saying that every listen to DaBaby makes you feel like Boosie.

Gunna, 26

From: Atlanta, GA
Instagram/Twitter: @gunna/@1gunnagunna
Most Recent Release: Drip or Drown 2
Spotify Monthly Listeners: 11.8M

The most well-known name on our list—at least so far—300 Entertainment’s Gunna has turned his Thugga-offspring act into legitimate stardom. While his bar skills are nothing to write home about—“Speed it Up,” a single from 2019’s Drip or Drown 2, has roughly 10 unique words—the artist born Sergio Giavanni Kitchens is a master hook artist and a solid teammate, as evidenced by the success of his Drip Harder collaboration with his partner in rap Lil Baby. Gunna’s entrenched skillset will keep him floating over trap beats with other established stars for years.

Megan Thee Stallion, 24

From: Houston, TX
Instagram/Twitter: @theestallion
Most Recent Release: Fever
Spotify Monthly Listeners: 4M

Alongside DaBaby, Megan is the fastest-rising rapper in the industry. She’s an unparalleled shit-talker and her pacing makes you hang onto every thunderous bar. Her formal 300 Entertainment debut, Fever, which Megan says is just a “mixtape,” is 40 straight minutes of controlled chaos replete with the badass sexual energy of an artist snatching her due. Hot Girl Meg has been making waves since 2017, but her output and rise over the past 18 months have been an unmitigated tour de force.

Rico Nasty, 22

From: DMV
Instagram/Twitter: @riconastyy
Most Recent Release: Anger Management
Spotify Monthly Listeners: 1.3M

“Kennyyyyyy!” is the best ad lib of 2019, do not @ me. If Megan Thee Stallion is controlled chaos, Rico is, well, just chaos. Rico isn’t party music so much as a party unto herself. On the Kenny Beats-produced Anger Management, released on April 25, Rico proved she can deliver bars over any kind of production, from soul samples to electronic loops to bass that would put most other emcees in a body bag. Rico’s lyrics hit listeners like an asteroid entering the atmosphere; when the bass drops, you’re suddenly 50 feet from where you stood when the track began. “I got bitches on my dick and I ain’t even got a dick.” Tell ’em, Rico.

Roddy Ricch, 20

From: Los Angeles, CA
Instagram/Twitter: @roddyricch
Most Recent Release: Feed Tha Streets II
Spotify Monthly Listeners: 8.4M

Roddy Ricch is like an uncut diamond: he might take some time to perfect, but soon he’ll be one of the most valuable commodities in the industry. Not to “Jayson Tatum” the Compton, California native, but at 20 years old, Roddy has already crafted some of the catchiest music in the game. “Die Young,” the lead single from 2018’s Feed Tha Streets 2, is one of the most memorable trap anthems of the year; the snare drums and emotional bars leave fans at shows screaming the chorus without the need of a backing track. Best of all, Roddy seems to be improving—his newly minted single, “Out Tha Mud,” pairs a haunting background flute with his signature magnetic, syrupy flow. Roddy can’t legally buy a drink but already he has an audience; now he needs a single (or project) to launch him into the stratosphere.

Tierra Whack, 23

From: Philadelphia, PA
Instagram/Twitter: @tierrawhack
Most Recent Release: Whack World
Spotify Monthly Listeners: 1.3M

Tierra Whack’s Whack World, released on May 30, 2018, changed how the recording industry views the album creation process. The seamless transitions found on the Philadelphia native’s 15-song, 15-minute, 15-microdose odyssey, coupled with an Instagram music video for each track, have popped up on albums from Earl Sweatshirt and Solange to Tyler, the Creator. Buddy straight-up admitted he jacked Whack’s Instagram video strategy during the rollout of his 2018 album, Harlan & Alondra. This is to say nothing of the five singles Whack has already unveiled since the top of 2019, each evincing her range and talent more than the last—she flips from wavy pop-rap (“Only Child”) to club bangers (“CLONES”) seamlessly. The sky’s the limit for Tierra—oh, and she can kill a freestyle like no other.

Valee, 30

From: Chicago, IL
Instagram/Twitter: @valee
Most Recent Release: GOOD Job, You Found Me
Spotify Monthly Listeners: 1.5M

If there’s a theme to this list beyond talent, it’s influence. GOOD Job, You Found Me, Valee’s first release with G.O.O.D. Music in 2018, is an unhurried 14 minutes of extravagance and coked-out boasts adorned in designer clothing. Valee’s saturating, lazy flows over spectral keys resonated to the extreme, his impact coursing through hip-hop like the juice and gin in his veins. “Miami,” the Chicago native’s seminal collaboration with his label boss, Pusha-T, is proof of his talent and staying power, and that’s without taking into account the number of big-name rappers who have jacked his flow.

YBN Cordae, 21

From: Raleigh, North Carolina
Instagram/Twitter: @ybncordae
Most Recent Release: YBN: The Mixtape
Spotify Monthly Listeners: 4.1M

YBN Cordae is the only artist on our list without a solo tape to their name, but the Atlantic Records signee has emerged as the YBN member with the most staying power. Singles “Kung Fu” and “Have Mercy” showcase Cordae’s lyrical gymnastics, a contrast to the earth-shattering bangers engineered by his fellow group member YBN Nahmir. His talent is obvious, too, attracting fellow artists like moths to a flame—Dr. Dre, Pusha-T, and Ty Dolla $ign have all worked with Cordae on his much-anticipated forthcoming debut—and helping the 21-year-old land an opening slot alongside Dreamville’s J.I.D on Logic’s Confessions of a Dangerous Mind Tour this fall. Cordae has superstar potential, and he might be the only emcee on this list with a flow as dense and varied as those tour-mates.

Young Nudy, 26

From: Atlanta, GA
Instagram/Twitter: @youngnudy/@pde_youngnudy
Most Recent Release: Sli’merre
Spotify Monthly Listeners: 2M

Young Nudy is Atlanta’s newest budding star. Fresh off Sli’merre, his buddy project with super-producer Pi’erre Bourne, Nudy graced the opening bars of the first Revenge of the Dreamers III single, “Down Bad.” He’s unstoppable in his clever weirdness, which also makes him the perfect sparring partner for other top talents—whether it’s Playboi Carti (“Kid Cudi”, “R.I.P. Fredo”), Lil Uzi Vert (“Extendo”), Megan Thee Stallion (“Shotta”), DaBaby (“Dispatch”), or his cousin, 21 Savage (“Mister”, “4L”). Nudy’s flow is slime personified: shapeless and adaptable, strange as hell, and often sticking with you long after your first listen. 

Words by Zach Miller

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