Few lists are more analyzed, dissected, criticized, lauded and argued over in music than hip hop magazine XXL's annual Freshman Class issue, a compendium of 10 rappers the mag thinks will blow up in the new year. Lupe Fiasco, B.o.B and J. Cole have been knighted in past years, and this year's list includes Detroit madman Danny Brown, Cleveland tongue twister Machine Gun Kelly and poignant Seattle rapper Macklemore.
Keeping in line with the freshman theme, we took the liberty of ranking the list in order of Most Likely to Succeed. And if you can't wait to hear the future of hip hop, check out our Freshman Class Playlist on Spotify.
Why You Should Care: His Scarface homage “Tony Montana” was hot enough to interest Drake in throwing a verse on a remix. He’s been consistently rubbing elbows with ATL hip hop royalty and recently signed to Epic.
Notable Track: "Magic" (featuring T.I.)
9. Don Trip
Why You Should Care: He got Cee Lo to sing the hook on his polarizing “Letter to My Son,” which finds him lamenting about being kept out of his son’s life. Is it an honest confessional or a callous, even violent, creed?
Notable Track: "Letter to My Son" (featuring Cee Lo)
8. Kid Ink
Hometown: Los Angeles
Why You Should Care: One of the least known rappers on this list of up-and-comers is certainly the poppiest, with a silky smooth flow and a hunger to “get more greens than a pack of Life Savers.”
Notable Track: "Take Over the World" (featuring Ty$)
Hometown: Los Angeles
Why You Should Care: Formerly signed to Ruthless Records—the label founded by N.W.A’s Eazy E—26-year-old Hopsin released his debut album, Gazing at the Moonlight, in 2009. “Sag My Pants,” the standout track off his second album RAW, calls out Lil Wayne, Drake and Rick Ross among others and boosted the rapper from regional to national star. Knock Madness, Hopsin’s third album, is set for release later this year.
Notable Track: "Sag My Pants"
6. Roscoe Dash
Why You Should Care: Most people first heard the 21-year-old rapper on “All the Way Turnt Up,” the breakout track off 2010’s Ready Set Go!. Since then, Dash dropped his second album J.U.I.C.E. and upped his profile with a guest appearance on Big Sean’s “Marvin Gaye & Chardonnay.”
Notable Track: "All the Way Turnt Up" (with Soulja Boy)
5. Iggy Azalea
Why You Should Care: Rapping white females are contentious enough, but when you’re an Aussie rapper promoted by Perez Hilton, plenty of people are going to tell you to stay in the Outback. She used controversy and sex appeal to conquer YouTube nation, but whether she has what it takes to dominate radio remains to be seen.
Notable Track: "D.R.U.G.S." (featuring YG 400)
4. French Montana
Hometown: New York
Why You Should Care: The Moroccan/Somali spitter from the South Bronx has been through a lot: he was shot in the head as he was leaving a studio in what he called an “assassination attempt,” he was involved in a murder trial, he created the massively popular Cocaine City DVD series and he’s put out a series of incredible mixtapes and singles. But he still hasn’t put out an album! That’ll change on July 17 when he releases Excuse My French, executive produced by Rick Ross.
Notable Track: "Shot Caller"
Why You Should Care: This Seattle rapper isn’t afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve or confront his turbulent past, as exemplified by poignant tracks like “Otherside.” But alongside producer Ryan Lewis, the rapper born Ben Haggerty espouses a mindset that trumps individualism over consumerist agendas. But dude’s tracks can still rock a party.
Notable Track: "Wings"
2. Machine Gun Kelly
Why You Should Care: The gangly, heavily inked 21-year-old was the first white rapper to win Apollo Theater’s infamous Amateur Night before releasing a string of mixtapes solidifying his buzz. After inciting a riot at a Cleveland mall, the rapper’s first single, “Wild Boy,” featuring Waka Flocka Flame, has racked up nearly 13 million YouTube views. Lace Up, his debut album, is set for release later this year.
Notable Track: "Wild Boy"
1. Danny Brown
Why You Should Care: When Spin featured their 40 best hip hop albums of the year, it was 30-year-old Brown’s XXX mixtape that topped the list, thanks to the rapper’s unique, abrasive flow and bugged out, singular mind. His delivery is equal parts hysterical and frightening; a debauched mix of real world experience and fantastical imagery. Look for an upcoming tour with Childish Gambino beginning next month.
Notable Track: "Die like a Rock Star"
We know you have an opinion on this one. Who should've made the list? Who shouldn't be anywhere near here? Sound off in the comments below.