I remember XXL’s very first Freshman Class. This year is the first time I don't know every single newcomer. Although, it turns out, I knew a lot of their music and just didn't know the names.
If this is the future of hip-hop, I'm not mad. Although, it's just not meant for me. I turned off my Illmatic album just long enough to give all of these artists a one-song listen.
Here's how I grade them.
First Impressions: I thought The Weeknd was a ridiculous name. I got used to it and I’ve now accepted it. I will never accept the name A Boogie With Da Hoodie. As someone who has interviewed hundreds of celebs, my first thought is: What in the fresh hell am I supposed to call you? Also, he looks like Dave Chappelle. In a good way. And I can't find a picture of him where he is not wearing a hoodie. He's not playing with his brand.
God I’m Old: He keeps talking about dipping a cigar in a “fountain.” My non-old friend tells me this means he's dipping it in a liquid form of angel dust. I HAD NO IDEA PEOPLE WERE STILL DOING ANGEL DUST.
Makes Me Think Of: Boogie talks about having a watch worth $100,000. He is either inordinately rich for the freshman class or he is incredibly dumb for pouring six figures into a watch. At least start your own hoodie line first! Then I remember Special Ed’s song “I Got It Made.” He talks about having everything from an island in Tahiti to a dog with a solid-gold bone. Hip-hop has always been about bragging about things we really don't have.
I Had No Idea: He goes by A-Boogie, which makes sense. And his first name is Artist, which is so dope.
Win, Lose or Draw: A-Boogie doesn't stand out to me. It sounds like a lot of what I'm hearing right now. Then again, my playlist today includes Luther Vandross, Whitney Houston and Patti LaBelle…
Song: "How Does It Feel"
First Impressions: As the only woman on the list, Kamaiyah is under enormous pressure to be all things to all people. Knowing how hard that is, I'm doubtful before I hit play on her video. It's wrong to feel that way but it is what it is.
God I’m Old: Oh, Kamiayah, this video. Is this retro or something? If this is what’s up these days, I’m not old. I’m ancient. A low-budget video in a poorly designed townhouse? A bottle of champagne is a prop and there are close-up shots of her playing video games. iCant. A video needs to tell me who you are Kamiayah. This did not do it.
Makes Me Think Of: Nothing. I haven't seen anything like this in a long while. I’m old enough to remember when all videos were low budget. I don’t watch videos much these days so maybe this is the wave. (Did I use that right?)
I Had No Idea: She wrote the song in 15 minutes.
Win Lose or Draw: It is ridiculously difficult to break a female rapper. Like, real difficult. An A&R manager once told me it was because of hair and makeup. Seriously. A woman rapper has to go to every event — from an interview to an awards show — with a fully beat face and a sharp ‘fit. That means a clothes and hair stylist and a makeup artist. So, you add that into the fact that Kamiayah doesn't blow me away lyrically....
First Impressions: He’s got something I’ve noticed in most rappers these days. There's quite a bit of faux accents happening. It's either the reggae thing that Drake and others use or it's the slightest British tint I hear from Playboi Carti.
God I’m Old: I knew this guy already. His song comes on all the time when I’m taking my kid to school. I need to rethink my choices when I turn on the radio around my 10-year-old.
Makes Me Think Of: Again, it's a braggadocio song. He’s bragging about keeping crack rocks in his song while doing The Milly Rock
I Had No Idea: That bragging about hiding crack in your sock was a thing.
Win Lose or Draw: Again, not standing out. I can't imagine listening to a full album. That doesn't make it good or bad. Just meh.
First Impressions: This name is just ridiculous. What the hell do I call him?
God I’m Old: This name is just ridiculous. What the hell do I call him?
Makes Me Think Of: A-Boogie With Da Hoodie, who also has a name I don't understand.
I Had No Idea: That there was someone out there with such a ridiculous name.
Win Lose or Draw: Definitive win. I almost forgot what a rapper’s voice sounds like with no effects on it. His direction is dark but it's also honest and emotive, which I don't hear too often from the young ones. The only track I listened to more than once.
First Impressions: Is he rapping or singing? I really hate having to ask that. I know it doesn't matter…
God I’m Old: ...But it does matter! Is he rapping or singing!?
Makes Me Think Of: Debarge, one of my favorite ‘80s R&B groups. I had to rewind this song ten times to catch the sample. Pretty sure it's Debarge’s “I Like It.”
I Had No Idea: His name stands for Real N***a Bangaz. I mean, we had N.W.A so…
Win Lose or Draw: The song is about him being all in his feelings over a woman he used to smash. (Did I use that right?) I’m all about emoting. But something feels overly tapioca. Is there any depth here?
Song: "Uber Everywhere"
First Impressions: Are you kidding me with these names?!
God I’m Old: Are you kidding me with these names?! I’m gonna guess he goes by T-YO
Makes Me Think Of: Any one-off novelty act in the history of hip-hop.
I Had No Idea: Taking an Uber everywhere was a thing.
Win Lose or Draw: I know he probably has other songs. But this right here ain't it. And to add insult to injury, he has video girls smoking cigarettes on a tennis court. It looked so weird to see those girls smoking cigs. Are cigs cool?
First Impressions: I'm noticing that a lot of these folks have millions of views on YouTube. Kyle’s "iSpy" has 80,000,000 views. Should he really be considered a “freshman”? Clearly he's been discovered already. Another impression: I finally understand all the whack names. It's a way to stand out in the Google-era. Back in my day, you could easily find someone like Nas or Rakim. But this guy Kyle? It took me 10 minutes of Googling to find him. His name needs to be K T WHY.
God I’m Old: He has this one line in the chorus that makes me sad. He says there's a girl he can get cause she don't get too many likes. There's a whole semester of woman's studies needed to deal with that line. As the mother of two daughters, the idea of either of them being so insecure because of social media that they are targets…Damn, Kyle.
Makes Me Think Of: His name makes me think of Kyle from Living Single. (It was the best show ever dammit! Go stream and binge it somewhere.)
I Had No Idea: I already knew this song too. Hear it all the time but never really paid attention. (And clearly never listened to the chorus. See above)
Win Lose or Draw: He's got a shot. He's got that fun and trippy carefree vibe, like Lil Yachty, who also appears on the song. I was sure Yachty would be a passing fad but now I’m not so sure. This is a movement. These youngsters have more disposable income, political freedoms and social currency than my generation ever had. They can be goofy.
First Impressions: This song opens with Ugly God spitting the word "bitch" 32 times.
God I’m Old: This song opens with Ugly God spitting the word "bitch" 32 times.
Makes Me Think Of: Just when I think I’m gonna stop listening to this track, the dude compares himself to the Hash-Slinging Slasher. A SpongeBob reference gets you every time.
I Had No Idea: He’s one of those self-deprecating artists who insists that their music isn't any good. He said in an interview that his music is trash. I've come across a few of those in my years. *eyeroll*
Win Lose or Draw: He’s buzzy out there on the internets. All of these kids are. But does that translate to sales? Although, it translates to streaming, so I guess a lot of these artists may do well because it's much easier to click and stream as opposed to fork over cold hard cash.
First Impressions: I keep typing Anime instead of Amine. Y’all and these names. Damn.
God I’m Old: Why are there so many name brands in this music video? Is this product placement? Back in MY day? Well. We did the same thing.
Makes Me Think Of: De La Soul. I think De La would not appreciate this but that's what I’m getting here. Reminds me of the video for "B.U.D.D.Y." Just a bunch of kids speaking their own language and their own inside jokes.
I Had No Idea: This single has just been certified three-times platinum. And why is he on the freshman list again?
Win Lose or Draw: Win. I suspect this guy has more fans crushing on him than checking his rap style. He’s super cute with a devil-may-care swagger.
First Impressions: Does everyone sound like Future? If so, who does Future sound like?
God I’m Old: In this video, he's riding around in a Jeep that has no doors. And he's, like, right at the edge of the door!! That is not safe! My heart is pounding on behalf of his mother.
Makes Me Think Of: Every rapper with blonde tips
I Had No Idea: He’s Mexican-American and rhymes in English and Spanish.
Win Lose or Draw: I see a win here. Quirky origin story. Passable skills. Seems like he could score pin-up status.
(Photo: XXL Magazine, July 2017)