Since its inception in 2007, the XXL Freshman List has been considered by fans, hip-hop media and rappers themselves to be a major career milestone for emcees. 2019 XXL Freshman Lil Mosey put it best when he remarked, “When you a (XXL) Freshman and, shit, you either made it or you the next to go crazy.” His sentiment is the essence of the XXL Freshman List. It serves as an affirmation of talent, promise and star power from the hip-hop community to its rising prospects. While the list has featured many of rap’s current superstars, ranging from lyrical masters like Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole to autotune innovators like Future and Lil Uzi Vert, some of their misses are so egregious that it makes me wonder how much sway it should have on the hip-hop community in the first place. Here are the top five XXL Freshman List snubs.
#5: The Kid LAROI (2020)
It’s entirely possible that The Kid LAROI will be inducted into XXL’s 2021 freshman class. Even then, he would still be a clear snub from the 2020 list. By 2020, the then-16-year-old Australian rapper already had two music videos with renowned director, Cole Bennett. He’s amassed a solid following by using the heartbroken, emo rap style pioneered by artists like Trippie Redd, Lil Peep and, most predominantly, his mentor, Juice WRLD. Despite all the buzz, Laroi was not included on XXL’s 2020 Freshman List, most likely due to his lack of an official project at the time of its assembly. If XXL offers him the honor on this year’s list, it would be too late. Laroi currently has more monthly Spotify listeners than legends like Jay-Z and popular rappers of the day like Lil Durk.
#4: YoungBoy Never Broke Again (2018)
YoungBoy Never Broke Again is one of the most divisive rappers out there. It’s not unusual to head to the comment section of any hip-hop-related social media post and find YoungBoy’s most dedicated fans claiming him to be “the goat.” Meanwhile, his most fervent haters incessantly meme him for his abrasive music and personality. Regardless of anyone’s personal opinion about the 21-year-old Baton Rouge, La., rapper, one thing is for certain: He puts up serious numbers. YoungBoy has been on YouTube’s Top 100 US Artists list for 210 consecutive weeks. His first week at #1 on the list was the week of Jan. 5-11 in 2018, at the age of 18. Still, these impressive statistics, at an incredibly young age no less, were not impressive enough in the eyes of XXL’s management, as he was not offered a spot on their 2018 Freshman List. Since then, Youngboy has continued to rake in millions of views on YouTube per day and he consistently fluctuates within the list’s top five — earning the top spot more often than any other artist. Further, he has earned the respect and affirmation of some of hip-hop’s greatest legends, with both Lil Wayne and Snoop Dogg giving him rare features on his most recent studio album, Top.
#3: Migos (2014)
When discussing influential rappers of the 2010s, you can’t leave out Atlanta’s Migos. The trio of relatives — Quavo, Offset and Takeoff — almost single-handedly popularized the triplet flow, one of the most commonly used flows in rap today. They broke into the mainstream in 2013 with their single, “Versace,” which was included on numerous “Best Songs of 2013” lists. Imitation is the greatest compliment one can receive, and Drake — fresh off of his Grammy win for Best Rap Album — cosigned the group by hopping on the “Versace” remix with his own take on the triplet flow. As a result, Migos entered 2014 as some of the hottest up-and-comers in the game and kept the momentum going by releasing No Label II, featuring staples, “Fight Night,” “Handsome and Wealthy” and “Freak No More.” Even with this hype around them, XXL still didn’t admit Migos to the Freshman List.
#2: Lil Baby (2018)
Before Lil Baby even started taking rapping seriously, he had already made quite the name for himself in Atlanta. So much so that prior to the release of his first official mixtape, 2017’s Perfect Timing, Atlanta’s trap godfather, Young Thug, paid him to stay out of the streets and spend more time in the studio. Indeed, he had already begun to distinguish himself from his peers through his fusion of piercing lyrics with melodic drawl. Up to that point, Lil Baby had built some buzz through a slew of mixtapes, which included standout tracks such as “My Dawg” and “Freestyle.” He reached another level one month before the unveiling of the 2018 XXL Freshman List, when he achieved widespread acclaim through his collaborative single with Drake, “Yes Indeed,” which peaked at #6 on the Billboard Hot 100. Needless to say, fans were puzzled by Baby’s absence from the class, as exemplified in this very 2018 tweet. Since then, the 26-year-old rapper has gone on to validate his pitch and become one of the biggest names in hip-hop.
Honorable Mentions: Iann Dior (2020), NAV (2018), 6ix9ine (2018), Rae Sremmurd (2015)
#1: Drake and Nicki Minaj (2009)
Very few rappers arise every generation who permanently change the landscape of hip-hop. It’s even rarer for two of those rappers to ascend at the same time, on the same label. Young Money’s Drake and Nicki Minaj accomplished this feat. Hailing from Toronto, Drake first caught the attention of Young Money’s founder, Lil Wayne, with his 2007 single, “Replacement Girl.” Drake and Lil Wayne went on to release several tracks together in 2008, one notable example being Weezy’s feature on Drake’s breakout 2009 mixtape, So Far Gone. Simply by collaborating with Lil Wayne, the self-proclaimed and widely accepted “best rapper alive” at the time, Drake changed the rap game forever. He demonstrated that anyone, no matter what city — or even country — they’re from, could become a successful hip-hop artist.
Nicki Minaj was signed as one of two female rappers to Young Money in 2009. The Bronx MC first gained extensive recognition for her feature on Young Money’s collaborative track, “Bedrock,” released the same year. Although Drake and Nicki were not considered for the 2009 XXL Freshman List, they were both offered spots on 2010’s cover. By then, however, the two rising stars felt that they had outgrown the list.
In a 2010 interview, Nicki explained, “We felt that XXL missed the mark when they didn’t put us on the cover prior to (2010). They have to pay for that. They can’t say, ‘Hey, get on the next one.’ ”
Drake elaborated, “Technically, we were freshmen when they didn’t put us on.” The two rappers were correct, as they each began a decade’s reign of dominance beginning in 2010, with the releases of their debut studio albums.
Over the course of their careers, Drake and Nicki have since amassed countless accolades and revolutionized hip-hop in their own ways. Drake has innovated the genre and endeared himself among fans through his seamless fusion of relentless bars, with deeply personal lyrical content and melodies, while Nicki has become the most popular female rapper since Missy Elliott, while also paving the way for a new wave of artists.
Daily Arts Contributor Aidan Harris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.