Just last week, the highly anticipated 2018 XXL Freshman Class roster was released. If you aren’t familiar with the tradition, hip-hop publication XXL has been annually releasing lists of what they consider to be the hottest talent on the hip-hop scene ever since 2007 (except when they took a year off in 2008).
Along with a spot on the cover of a special edition of XXL, winners of the contest also participate in freestyles, cyphers, interviews, and discussions that are featured in XXL’s online videos and the magazine itself. In years past, the XXL Freshman Class has been regarded as an accolade that often grants up-and-coming artists some of their first tastes of mainstream media spotlight.
2018 had a lot of talent in contention for a spot on the list, making this year’s Freshman Class one of the most controversial rosters yet. In fact, 2018 is the first year that the Freshman Class has less than ten members. The winner of the fan-voted 10th Spot, Lil Skies, declined to be included on the roster after originally accepting the nomination. Here is the list of the nine other artists that did make the list:
Ski Mask the Slump God
Lil Skies explained his reasoning for staying off of the XXL Freshman list back in late April on an Instagram Live video. In the video, Skies says that XXL reached out to him months earlier with an invitation to be on the list. So, when Lil Skies was dubbed the winner of the fan-voted 10th Spot on the roster later on, it didn’t sit right with him. Skies makes the claim that the list is rigged, something that 6ix9ine suggested about a month before Lil Skies went on Instagram Live.
6ix9ine believed that his status in the rap game merited a spot on the 2018 Freshman Class. At the time, 6ix9ine had several back-to-back platinum records that charted on the Billboard Hot 100 and a tremendous buzz around his name that would lead most sensible hip-hop aficionados to believe he would be included on the list. 6ix9ine’s XXL Freshman pitch is the most viewed pitch on XXL’s YouTube channel by a large margin, even after a 12-hour period of the video being taken down, according to 6ix9ine. See him speak on the issue in the video below.
Some may have no issues with the Freshman Class line-up as it stands, but many others have taken to social media to express their discontent. On the day that the roster was announced, 2 Chainz made an Instagram post decrying the omission of a few stand-out artists that were snubbed by the publication, specifically Lil Baby, Tee Grizzley, Moneybagg Yo and NBA YoungBoy. Toronto’s Nav went off on XXL too, throwing shots at the publication over a few tweets. Seeing the tweets, Quavo chimed in to back up Nav, noting that XXL never included the Migos in their Freshman lists.
— Nav (@beatsbynav) March 19, 2018
— QuavoYRN (@QuavoStuntin) March 20, 2018
Still, all the controversy surrounding this year’s list shouldn’t outshine the hard work put in by many of this year’s freshman class. Here’s a little bit about each artist that made the cut:
Lil Pump is definitely the biggest name to have made this year’s list. Born Gazzy Garcia, the now-17-year-old rapper is from Miami, Florida and has an alleged net worth of about $10 million (according to himself). Lil Pump got his career started back at the age of 13 when one of his cousins introduced him to Omar Pineiro, who’s better known now as Smokepurpp. Before then, Lil Pump had been expelled from multiple schools, and eventually dropped out altogether once his music started popping. Smokepurpp produced some of Lil Pump’s early tracks like “Lil Pump”, “Elementary”, and “Ignorant”, all of which became somewhat of a viral sensation on SoundCloud.
In fact, Lil Pump is the poster child of the new generation in hip-hop known as “SoundCloud rappers”, with much of his meteoric rise taking place on the music platform. His biggest hit to date is “Gucci Gang”: a track that’s been remixed by stars like Gucci Mane, went 2x Platinum, peaked at #3 on the Billboard Hot 100, and has over 714M views on YouTube.
Lil Pump’s debut studio album, titled “Lil Pump”, was released in 2017 and peaked at #3 on the Billboard 200 chart. Since its release, Pump has been teasing the release of his first official mixtape, which is to be titled Harvard Dropout (or “Harverd Dropout”, but we’ll see).
Born Omar Piniero, Smokepurpp was born in Chicago, Illinois, but moved to Miami at the age of three. Smokepurpp started his music career making beats in high school, allegedly out of boredom. After seeing the public’s lack of interest in buying his beats, he started to rap over them himself.
After linking up with Lil Pump and fellow Florida rapper XXXTentacion, Smokepurpp’s name started to buzz heavy in the hip-hop scene. In 2017, Purpp inked a deal with Interscope and Alamo Records. A few months later, Smokepurpp released his first commercial mixtape (which was actually his fourth mixtape overall) titled Deadstar, which peaked at #42 on the Billboard 200 chart and features artists like Lil Pump, Chief Keef, Yo Gotti, Juicy J, and Travis Scott. After the release of the tape, Purpp signed to Travis Scott’s Cactus Jack record label and released a collab tape with Murda Beatz titled Bless Yo Trap. Now, Smokepurpp fans can look forward to two mixtapes he has in the works: Deadstar 2 and Sounds of Space.
Michael Lamar White IV, better known as Trippie Redd, is a rapper out of Canton, Ohio. Allegedly involved in gang activity from a young age, Trippie started to focus on rap instead after the death of his older brother, who had been rapping under the name Dirty Redd before he passed away in a car accident. After graduating high school, Trippie moved to Atlanta to pursue music, where he linked up with Lil Wop, Kodie Shane and other artists.
Trippie went on to sign a deal with Elliot Grainge Entertainment and relocated to Los Angeles, where he released his debut mixtape, titled A Love Letter To You in 2017. The tape included the single “Love Scars”, which currently has over 45M views on YouTube and over 56M plays on SoundCloud. Other successful hits from Trippie include “Dark Knight Dummo”, “Poles1469”, and “Bust Down”. Although Trippie has yet to release a studio album, he has two mixtapes and six EPs available altogether.
Ski Mask the Slump God
Born Stokeley Clevon Goulborne, Ski Mask the Slump God is a rapper from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He attributes the “Ski Mask” part of his name to his disposition towards getting the bag: either the fast way, or the slow way, but by any means necessary. The “Slump God” part refers to a period in his life in which he did Xanax, which he says he doesn’t take anymore.
His rap career gained traction after he met fellow Florida rapper and former Freshman XXXTentacion in juvenile detention. While they were detained, X and Ski Mask would rap together and help each other progress in their craft. Ski Mask considers that period to be an evolutionary stage in his career as a rapper. After they were released, they had planned to do robberies together, but ended up getting into music more seriously instead.
X and Ski first started recording on a cheap Snowball microphone and the free audio software Audacity, which actually attributed to the distorted aesthetics that can be heard in their music today. In 2015, Ski and X dropped a collaborative mixtape titled Members Only, Vol. 1. Since then, the second volume has been released, along with 2 other mixtapes by Ski Mask: his You Will Regret mixtape from 2017, and his most recent mixtape, titled Beware the Book of Eli.
YBN Nahmir is a rapper from Birmingham, Alabama. Born Nick Simmons, Nahmir grew up around a lot of street activity, but managed to keep his hands relatively clean until his rap career took off. One way he kept himself out of trouble was by spending time playing on Xbox Live with his friends, who turned out to be the original members of his YBN crew (Young Boss N**gas).
Nahmir actually generated his initial online following from posting Grand Theft Auto V gameplay videos online. After he received the game Rock Band, he used the mic it came with to record his first few songs. While some of his earlier tracks did minor numbers, YBN Nahmir’s first breakout hit was “Rubbin’ Off the Paint”, which peaked at #46 on the Billboard Hot 100 and currently has over 119M views on YouTube. After the track blew up, Nahmir was pulled from his high school, started taking online classes, and moved out to Los Angeles.
As of now, YBN Nahmir has several singles and two mixtapes, #YBN and Believe in the Glo. Another prominent member of the YBN collective is Nahmir’s frequent collaborator YBN Almighty Jay.
James Baker, better known as BlocBoy JB, is a rapper from Memphis, Tennessee. As a young teenager, JB was allegedly involved in the Memphis gang Grape Street Watts Crips. Before any rap money came in, one of his main hustles was rigging dice games in more affluent neighborhoods around Memphis. At fourteen, JB moved to Raleigh, where he met producer Tay Keith. As the two started to collaborate on music, JB honed his rap skills by sneaking in recording sessions with his older brother’s mic when he wasn’t around.
In 2016, BlocBoy JB released his first mixtape, titled Who Am I. The tape featured the song “No Chorus Pt. 6”, one of his first songs to experience viral popularity. The next year, JB dropped the song “Shoot”, which spawned one of the latest dance trends (the shoot dance) that has spread rampantly over social media. That track, along with another successful joint called “Rover”, attracted the attention of Drake, who linked up with BlocBoy JB to create the track “Look Alive”. The Tay Keith-produced track peaked at #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 and did numbers internationally as well. Other notable singles by BlocBoy JB include “Rover 2.0”, “None of Dat”, and “Hard”, which feature artists like 21 Savage and Lil Pump.
Since 2016, BlocBoy JB has released seven mixtapes, the most recent of which being Simi, which dropped in May 2018 under his Bloc Nation label.
Stefflon Don, also known as Steff London, was born Stephanie Victoria Allen in Birmingham, England. She says she grew up in a musical family, with her parents and six siblings all involved in music in some way. In the beginning, Steff was more interested in singing than rapping, but after encouragement from her sister, she began to take rap more seriously. She first broke out on to the scene with her first hit, “16 Shots”. The track, which draws influence from a real situation that went down in her mother’s church, has gained over 37M views on YouTube.
Before getting her rap career started, Steff had worked as a cake decorator as well as a hairdresser. She began recording at a community studio around the age of 21, and after developing her sound, dropped her first mixtape in 2016, titled Real Ting Mixtape. Even with her mixtape out, much of her exposure comes from singles she’s either featured on or released on her own. In 2017, two of her singles charted in the UK: “Hurtin’ Me” feat. French Montana, and “Ding-a-Ling” feat. Skepta, peaking at the #7 and #33 spots, respectively.
Aside from her debut mixtape, Steff released an EP titled Hurtin’ Me in January 2018. In the same year, she was nominated for Best International Act at the BET Awards. Stefflon Don is currently signed to Quality Control Music, alongside label-mates Lil Yachty and Migos.
Born Isaiah Riveria, Wifisfuneral is a rapper from Palm Beach, Florida by way of The Bronx. Wifisfuneral can also be considered a rap duo, with the other half being DJ Scheme, AKA Gabe Guerra, Isaiah’s DJ and creative collaborator. The “Wifi” part of his name refers to the fact that he wants to be recognized worldwide, and the “funeral” is a reference to DJ Scheme’s best friend committing suicide around the age of 14. It was around the time DJ Scheme and Wifi had started getting closer.
Wifi’s father had been a part of a rap group called IC Square back in the early 90s, so in an attempt to get closer to his estranged father, wrote his first 16 at the age of seven and rapped it to him over the phone. Even though his plan didn’t quite work out, it proved to be the genesis of a successful rap career. In high school, Wifi was dealing prescription drugs while rapping on the side as a pastime under the name Casper Winter Jacket. However, he ended up dropping out of high school in his junior year and started to take rapping seriously.
Although his 2014 project Light Skinned Trick Daddy gained him a bit of clout, his 2016 tape titled Black Heart Revenge helped him gain the status of “an artist to watch” by XXL. From 2017 to 2018, Wifisfuneral has released three mixtapes: When Hell Falls, Boy Who Cried Wolf, and Ethernet. Wifisfuneral is currently signed to Interscope and Alamo Records.
J.I.D., whose real name is Destin Route, is a rapper from East Atlanta, Georgia. His name draws influence from how his grandmother used to call him a jittery child. His rap career started to take shape in 2012, when he was kicked out of college and moved back to East Atlanta with his parents. After deciding to pursue music seriously, J.I.D. decided to get a neck tattoo, which led to him being kicked out of his parents’ home. He ended up moving in with EarthGang members Doctur Dot and Johnny Venus, whom he went to college with during his enrollment.
EarthGang had studio equipment at their place, which J.I.D. started using every day during his stay. He and EarthGang would go on to form the rap collective Spillage Village and release three albums as a group. He was eventually noticed by J. Cole after going on tour with EarthGang alongside Ab-Soul and Bas, which led him being signed to Cole’s Dreamville Records in 2017.
Aside from his work with EarthGang, J.I.D. has one EP, two mixtapes, and one studio album. His album, titled The Never Story, was released in 2017 through Dreamville and Interscope Records.