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XXL Weighs In on the Freshman Cypher and Freestyle Controversy

todayJuly 9, 2024 7

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Over the last 17 years, XXL has proudly and confidently worked to predict the next rap stars to take over hip-hop. New artists burst onto the scene daily with the makings of the next J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar, Big Sean, Megan Thee Stallion, Jack Harlow, GloRilla, etc. Annually, a group of artists, whether 10, 11 or 12 (and one year, even nine), grace the cover after showcasing the qualities of a hitmaker and the possibility of becoming a star to XXL and hip-hop fans. No two artists are the same.

Since 2007, XXL has highlighted and provided a platform for these buzzing talents, who will become prominent hip-hop figures in their own right. It’s not a contest. It’s not about credibility and who the best lyricist is but more about reflecting on the landscape of what’s going on in hip-hop at that moment. XXL Freshman is about predicting future hip-hop superstars who might one day be on a solo cover of XXL, and those aren’t always the most lyrically inclined as it takes more than just skills to be a star, as we’ve all seen in the past and with some of the stars of today.

One of the main parts of being a Freshman has been the opportunity to show off one’s rap skills via a solo freestyle or as part of a group cypher. Both have been popular features of the Freshman Class over the years, with the cyphers gaining most of the attention. Of course, there is the celebrated 2016 Class cypher made up of Lil Yachty, 21 Savage, Lil Uzi Vert, Kodak Black and Denzel Curry, which came out eight years ago on July 6, 2016, and has over 222 million views, but there have many great XXL Freshmen cyphers besides that one.

In the early days, most Freshmen didn’t back out of rapping and looked forward to their solo freestyle or cypher moment. Artists were never told anything was required for those besides that they could rap as long or as short as they wanted. And if they backed out, so be it. Over the past few years, we’ve seen more artists pull out of performing either the freestyle, the cypher, or both. We are usually told about their choice not to rap after they are selected for the class, and although we are disappointed, we do not remove them from the class.

We don’t stop believing in their potential because they decided not to rap, and we’ve always been given a heads-up beforehand that they weren’t going to rap, whether a few hours or days in advance. This helps us prep the group of Freshmen we do have for a cypher and plan accordingly. And we’ve always offered a true version of events when a Freshman didn’t rap when asked. There have even been times when Freshmen have performed their solo freestyles and later asked us not to post them after they were already shot, edited, and seen by the public in the trailer, and we obliged.

Things went a little differently this year when a Freshman decided to ditch the whole Freshman shoot right after the cover photos were taken and five minutes before the cypher was filmed. We were under the impression he would be cyphering based on conversations from earlier in the day, and since he had performed his freestyle without a problem, we were shocked when he stepped out. The incident was discussed in Editor-in-Chief Vanessa Satten’s magazine editorial in the Freshman issue, which got picked up on social, and hints about who the offending Freshman was were deciphered.

This year was special because we had Southside as the DJ and beatmaker for the Class. He was excellent on set, his energy was terrific and he really added a lot to the Class. The shoots didn’t go off without a hitch, though. One Freshman got so shook over the cypher that he ditched the shoot literally five minutes before it was going to be filmed. He pretended to go to his car for clothing, hopped in and got outta there. He and his team then refused to an- swer our or their publicist’s calls. It would’ve been nice for them to return one call. I’ve never seen anything like that before. Some of you will probably laugh at what he did because you think he’s poppin’ anyway, so it ain’t nothin’, but I think it was a pathetic way to handle things. And it definitely caused some havoc and felt like a ruthless way to conduct business.

Over the next few days, we had to decide if we were going to re- move that artist from the Class altogether, which we were conflicted over, but we decided to keep him in. We did receive an apology from the Freshman’s manager a few days later, but never heard from the artist directly.

Ultimately, we hate to see a Freshman back out of a cypher because this is what they do for a living: they rap. There is no specific length the verse is supposed to be, but still, that’s too hard for some of them. It feels like they should be able to get through a verse, but as the years go on, more and more artists struggle with this part of Freshman. And we don’t find out they aren’t capable of it or are unwilling to do it until after they are asked to be part of the Class, which is disappointing. We don’t rescind the offer, though. Maybe we should. I don’t know. It is frustrating for all involved, including the artists who do the cypher. Many times, some Freshmen weren’t that good at cyphering, but they still thugged it out and got it done. This year, for the first time since 2016, we gave the beat to the Freshmen in advance, thinking that would make things easier, but apparently not.

Rich Amiri responded, accusing XXL of lying about how the incident went down, although exactly how XXL told it is what happened. His publicist first told us that Amiri was going to his car to get clothing. Then he told us that Amiri had a personal emergency, and then he told us that the team just bounced and that I should try calling them, all in five minutes. We didn’t remove Amiri from the class because we hadn’t previously removed other rappers for not rapping. He had earned the opportunity based on his rise up from the underground as a melodic rapper who earned millions of streams for his songs across several platforms. He had a real fan base and has been on track to be a real star one day.

We did, though, want to point out that his backing out while other Freshmen were standing on set ready to cypher and handling things like he did felt disrespectful in a way it hadn’t in the past. That could reflect the times, and maybe that’s the point of this conversation.

This whole event prompted a conversation in hip-hop about whether we are asking too much of the Freshmen by asking them to rap in a solo freestyle of cypher and if we are setting them up somehow by offering them the opportunity to rap. Artists Lucki and Father weighed in.

“So, the fact that you make these young artists go up there and like freestyle and then gotta have a freestyle on any beat, to something they don’t got already. ’Cause nobody even do that in the first place; it’s not no young f**kin’ Nasir from Queens gon’ pop up. There’s no lyrical geniuses. It is, but people don’t even care about the lyrics so the fact that they still got them doing that, you’re obviously setting them up for failure,” Lucki said.

XXL needs to grow a spine and pick a side, the popular young n***as list and rappers who rap well list do not have the same criteria,” Father added.

Readers were split, with many feeling that as a rapper, you should be able to drop a few bars or a verse. They cited examples of former Freshmen who didn’t offer the best verses in their XXL Freshmen freestyle or cypher but still did it, and their careers survived. Other readers felt that having the Freshmen rap was archaic and that they shouldn’t have to do that because that’s not how hip-hop works anymore. It does seem like if you rap for a living, you should be able to when it comes to Freshmen, but maybe that day is over, and that’s just a reflection of the times. What do the rest of you think?

timmythemaker/cashrushme/X (2)

timmythemaker/cashrushme/X (2)

Whatever the case, XXL is an outlet that allows a crop of new artists to amplify their careers in one of the most talked about and argued covers across any genre. It offers them a stepping stone. It doesn’t make or break them. We’ve seen rappers succeed without it. But it comes from a positive place of spotlighting new talent, showcasing them to an audience that might not know them and hopefully become fans after that. Maybe those freestyles and cyphers help that. Being a Freshman and dropping a verse or two never hurt anyone.

Check out the 2024 Freshmen freestyles, which are released daily now, and the cyphers on July 22 and 24.

Watch 2024 XXL Freshman Freestyles Trailer

2024 XXL Freshman Class cover

Travis Shinn/XXL

See Every XXL Freshman Class Over the Years





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Written by: jarvis

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