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XXL Freshman 2014 Class: Here's What You Need to Know About the Dirty Dozen

From uber-acclaimed MCs like Chance the Rapper to rising stars like Kevin Gates, here are the 10 rappers and 2 R&B singers XXL is spotlighting this year

XXL's Freshman Class of 2014 list is here! Whether you agree with the venerable rap mag's picks for up-and-coming talent or are pissed at who got snubbed (Casey Veggies), one thing is for certain: This is no small endorsement. 

Two years ago, XXL named Future, Danny Brown and Iggy Azalea that year's freshman. And in 2010, J. Cole, Wiz Khalifa and Big Sean made the list. Obviously, XXL has an ear for the next big thing, so you better pay attention to this year's "Dirty Dozen" (yeah, they slipped two R&B singers into the mix this year). 

Click ahead to get the rundown on the artists who just might dominate the game in the next two years.

1
1 / 12

Rich Homie Quan

Hometown: Decatur, Georgia

What He Sounds Like: Coming out the budding, lo-fi Atlanta rap scene that includes Future and Young Thug, Rich Homie Quan won fans over with his third mixtape, Still Goin’ Strong (Reloaded), released early last year.

Standout Track: “Type of Way” is a dark, mid-tempo joint that was adopted by the Michigan State Spartans football team as they’re unofficial 2013 anthem. Rich Homie Quan performed it with them in the locker room after the 2014 Rose Bowl.

2
2 / 12

Vic Mensa

Hometown: Chicago, Illinois

What He Sounds Like: A frequent collaborator with Chance the Rapper (they're both in the SAVE MONEY collective and he was on Acid Rap's "Cocoa Butter Kisses"), 20-year-old Vic Mensa is a Chicago rapper with a penchant for weird, trippy beats. Lyrically, he's just as likely to brag about his talents as he is to meditate on hometown violence and lost friends.

Sample Track: Listen to the trippy, wordplay-laden "YNSP" ft. Eliza Doolittle above from his INNANETAPE mixtape.

3
3 / 12

Isaiah Rashad

Hometown: Chattanooga, Tennessee

What He Sounds Like: Like Tennessee's Kendrick Lamar! The resemblance is uncanny. Both embrace their own youthful exuberance and do so with the utmost precision. Rashad has developed his own personality, however, touring with big wigs like Juicy J, Joey Bada$$ and Smoke DZA. All at the age of 22.

Standout Track: Check out the emotive “I Shot You Down.”

4
4 / 12

Troy Ave

Hometown: Brooklyn, New York

What He Sounds Like: Hailing from the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, Troy Ave is dead-set on creating New York hip hop that isn't indebted to the ubiquitous sounds of the South. His appropriately-named studio debut, New York City: The Album, is filled with hard-hitting '90s beats and G-Unit inspired flow.

Standout Track: His Pusha T collaboration "Everything" proves that even if he's looking back on NYC's hip-hop golden era, his style isn't purely throwback.

5
5 / 12

August Alsina

Hometown: New Orleans, Louisiana 

What He Sounds Like: For one, the dude sings—one of the few R&B personalities on this list. Alsina exists in a space between Chris Brown and Trey Songz, and with good reason: his tracks are heartbreaking and sexy. Not a bad combination!

Sample Track: Listen to “Make It Home,” his latest single featuring Jeezy.

6
6 / 12

Lil Bibby

Hometown: Chicago, Illinois 

What He Sounds Like: His husky, intimidating flow recalls Rick Ross, but the young MC (born in 1994) has a youthfulness in his voice that evokes the likes of Drake, whom Lil Bibby can list as a fan. His debut mixtape Free Crack is characterized by hard-hitting beats and loads of bass, helping him rack up press interest from outlets like Vibe and BET to Billboard and Complex.

Standout Track: His Free Crack cut "If You Knew" combines soul samples and boom-bap drums. Just try not nodding your head to this one.

7
7 / 12

Chance the Rapper

Hometown: Chicago, Illinois 

What He Sounds Like: Chance wears his Chicago identity on his sleeve, embracing elements of soul, juke and gospel. He’s Drake when he sings and early Kanye in his use of old soul samples. He’s all of these things simultaneously but manages to control them with incredible accuracy… all this coming from a guy best known for a mixtape titled Acid Rap.

Standout Track: Check out the druggy single “Chain Smoker.”

8
8 / 12

Ty Dolla $ign

Hometown: Los Angeles, California

What He Sounds Like: The 29-year-old croons like Future—but with less Auto-Tune—and utilizes trendy, forward-thinking beats, most of them crafted by DJ Mustard of "Turn Down for What" fame. A frequent collaborator with heavy-hitters (he's already linked up with French Montana, Trey Songz and Too $hort this year), his subject matter jumps from detailing his player ways to asking his girl to commit to him for life.

Standout Track: His mainstream breakthrough hit "Paranoid," featuring B.o.B., peaked at No. 29 on the Billboard Hot 100 so far.

9
9 / 12

Lil Durk

Hometown: Chicago, Illinois

What He Sounds Like: After a stint in prison, the 21-year-old rapper said he's more focused on storytelling and making every word—which he raps over bone-chilling beats—count.

Standout Track: "More Bars," a recently released freestyle that basically says, "Don't f-ck with me."

10
10 / 12

Kevin Gates

Hometown: Baton Rouge, Louisiana 

What He Sounds Like: This deep-voiced Lil Boosie collaborator can switch between hoarse, frenetic spitting and contemplative singing within the space of three minutes (see 4:30am). His By Any Means mixtape debuted at No. 17 on the Billboard 200 earlier this year, and you can listen to the whole thing above.

Standout Track: Skip to 26:31 to hear Gates' musically menacing, lyrically playful track with fellow Southern rapper 2 Chainz.

11
11 / 12

Jarren Benton

Hometown: Decatur, Georgia

What He Sounds Like: Take the shenanigans of Odd Future and throw in some Parliament and Southern trap influences and you got Benton’s number. His tongue is lighting quick, as is his wit.

Standout Track: “Razor Blades and Steak Knives” is a great example of Benton’s hip-hop style: Sly wordplay and some deep funk.

12
12 / 12

Jon Connor

Hometown: Flint, Michigan

What He Sounds Like: At this point, Connor has released 10 mixtapes in the last 10 years and one studio album, 2013’s Unconscious State. Like his Midwestern counterpoint Freddie Gibbs, he spits gritty rhymes but also has a playful side—many of his mixtapes feature him rapping over classic hip-hop instrumentals from Eminem, Biggie and Kanye. And he’s now got the ultimate co-sign: Dr. Dre signed him last year to Aftermath Records.

Standout Track: “Judge and Jury” is a stuttery track that demonstrates how Connor's not afraid to show his personal side and conflicting emotions.

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