March 6, 2012 24 comments
For the past five years, XXL has been releasing its series of progressively inconsistent “Freshman” lists. A collection of 10 artists who are deemed poised to have a breakthrough year in hip-hop — based on criteria so arbitrary and unreasonable it might as well be written in finger-paints. This year was no exception and, regarding some disrespectfully head-scratching inclusions, (the fuck is an Iggy Azalea and how do I keep it from infesting my mp3 garden?) we here at MJF decided to commune upon the round table and bring you a list that represents not only our tastes, but also the folks who’ve got best taste in music blogs today: You.
Before we begin, common courtesy demands that some Honorable Mentions be in order. Check these artists out if you really wanna stay up on who’s next:
The Jealous Guys
So, without any further ceremony, Mostly Junk Food presents the MJF Freshman class of 2012.
City: College Park, Georgia
Get Familiar: 2 Chainz – T.R.U. REALIGION
You know that classic Consequence line (stop laughing!) from Kanye West’s “Spaceship” where he says “Yo you look just like this kid I seen in a[n] old Busta Rhymes video the other night?” I had one of those moments a couple weeks ago while watching an old episode of Chappelle’s Show – the infamous Rick James episode – that featured Ludacris as the musical guest. And who was providing hype and supporting vocals for Luda during this performance? The former Tity Boi, the currently hot-in-the-streets 2 Chainz.
Considering that was eight years ago, 2 Chainz has paid considerable dues. There was the MTV Jams mainstay “Duffle Bag Boy” with Playaz Circle, but not much exposure beyond that. He seemed destined to be just some guy who had some nice features on a couple Ludacris albums.
Then came the name change – Trapavelli, Codeine Cowboy, T.R.U REALigion, outrapping his old boss in the BET cypher, and numerous guest verses, all culminating in a coveted Def Jam deal. He’s a model of perseverance that you just can’t help but root for. Somebody pass me the double cup, Sprite, syrup, and Dum-Dums. - Fred
City: Flushing-Queens, New York
Get Familiar: Action Bronson – Hookers At The Point
From zero to marquee rapper in 2.5 years, Action Bronson is the ECPI of the rap game. It speaks volumes to be able to come into the game, drop a debut album, Dr. Lecter, then be asked to collaborate with some of hip hop’s most respected names: Statik Selektah, The Alchemist, and, the very person who people compare you to, Ghostface Killah. I think what’s even better than Bronson’s food references is the fact that he was a respected gourmet chef, and one day said, “I think I’m gonna be a rapper now,” then succeeded. Bronsolino effortlessly juxtaposes wrestling references, recipes and absurd imagery using a gritty, smooth flow. I’ve never not been entertained by one of his verses. Moreover, out of all the rappers on this list, I would most want to hang out with him, a testament to his personality and charisma. I mean… have you heard Contemporary Man or his remix of Justin Bieber’s Mistletoe?
Also, I don’t think there is anyone other rapper out there with better opening lines. Examples:
- “You drop your pants to your ankles at the urinal at the ballgame/I’m on the stool getting brain from a tall dame”
- “I’m on the third floor, your class was in the basement/You know what that means: you got a hint of retardation”
He dropped two mixtapes and a studio album in 2011, and has announced three albums and a mixtape for 2012: Rare Chandeliers (with The Alchemist), Mr. Wonderful (with Tommy Mas [who produced Dr. Lecter]), Saab Stories (with Harry Fraud) and Blue Chips with Party Supplies. As busy and as successful as 2011 was for Bronson, 2012 looks to be exponentially more so. Let’s just hope he never runs out of cuisines to rhyme about. - Bauce Sauce
City: Harlem, New York
Get Familiar: A$AP Rocky – LiveLoveA$AP
Going over the XXL Freshmen List, aside from Danny Brown, few of those names put fear into my heart. They were kind of so-so, whoever put that list together was loco (fine I’ll stop).
Hip-hop puts a premium on the fresh and unique, and ASAP Rocky has balanced these qualities with giving nods to sounds that have come before him: little spurts of Bizzy Bone’s flow, the Diplomats-inspired “Brand New Guys,” and the UGK descendant “Trilla.” He’s Harlem to the bone, his style just screams “I grew up on Dipset.” He knows his aesthetic: thanks to Clams Casino and Spaceghost Purp, LiveLoveASAP is great car music, or something you listen to when you have some friends over for a small kick-it (not a party. There’s no ass-shaking at a kick-it. You need ass-shaking music at a party, and ASAP is not that). If That Pretty Muthafucka can replicate the success of LiveLoveASAP, more people will recognize that name. - Fred
City: Detroit, Michigan
Get Familiar: Danny Brown – XXX
“Keeping it original, something that’s overlooked”. These rhymes come from the first song on “XXX,” the latest solo release from Danny Brown, the Detroit born MC and poster child for self expression. In this copycat age of music, where everything sounds like everything else, Danny Brown is one refreshing reminder of a time when each artist was trying to carve out an individual niche.
The appeal in Danny’s music comes from his cartoonish-outlandish punchlines coupled with heart-wrenching tales of crime and drug-abuse that are multiplied in Detroit. He has a natural rapping voice and this comes across in his more serious songs but he also has this hyper falsetto type voice that accentuates his more animated songs. However, this never distracts from the listening experience as he has a knack for creating cohesive albums; something that’s becoming a rarity in today’s music industry.
After dropping “The Hybrid” and a scene-stealing verse on Black Milk’s “Black & Brown” track, Danny followed up with “XXX.” This “XXX” album is where he began to gain nationwide recognition, as it was named a top 5 rap release on many blogs. Danny doesn’t have music that would translate over to the radio audience, but I don’t think that’s in his plans to do that. He just wants to make great music, which is what it should be all about anyway. - Catfish
City: Queens, New York
Get Familiar: Heems – Nehru Jackets
First impressions are a motherfucker. The first time we heard Queens MC Himansu “Heems” Suri on the mic, it was on his group Das Racist’s half-insipid, half-hilarious electro-tinged “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell.” The goofy track quickly got the group pigeonholed as joke rap, a label that would haunt them even as their music became more ideologically knotty and race-conscious. But this ain’t no Lonely Island we’re talking about here. Heems and Kool AD are skilled lyricists, and if their songs are full of humor, it’s surely subterfuge, meant to make their real message more musically palatable. They’ve spent two mixtapes and a full length album perfecting a sneakily activist approach to rap lyricism that pulls no punches in the way it roasts the myth of post-racial America on a spit.
When the members of Das Racist each stepped out and dropped solo releases, Speakerboxx/The Love Below-style, Heems took the opportunity to release the stunning, autobiographical Nehru Jackets, which showcased his radically improved lyrical abilities. The MC who once jumped on Mr. Muthatuckin eXquire’s posse cut “Huzzah” and called himself the “worst rapper on the track” was now crucifying intrumentals with bars full of outrage and self-deprecating snark in equal measure. Between the bars, the activist web presence, the community outreach, and the label he runs (Greedhead!), Heems seems poised to restore socially conscious rap’s sense of humor and drag indie rock stragglers to rap fandom in one fell swoop. - Craig
City: Los Angeles, California
Get Familiar: Hodgy Beats – Untitled EP
It’s unbelievable how little of the conversation about Odd Future revolves around members of the collective not named Earl or Tyler. The group’s eleven members are plenty talented, but the whirlwind of press coverage that vaulted them into the national consciousness was so fixated on Earl and Tyler’s plentiful moments of foul-mouthed misogyny that no one else really got to shine. This is especially a shame because lurking in the background of most of Tyler’s best moments on record is his utility player, Odd Future lieutenant Hodgy Beats.
When Hodgy’s not damn near stealing Tyler’s tracks out from under him, the Pasadena, CA native can be found at the helm of producer/MC duo MellowHype spitting acid over Left Brain’s washed out production. MellowHype’s latest, the excellent BlackenedWhite, snuck under most people’s radars, but those in the know got a heap of Hodgy’s dexterous flow and lyrical versatility. Hodgy also made waves when he released his Untitled EP, which found him reaching outside of the clubhouse to kick rhymes over beats by ace producers like Alchemist, Flying Lotus, and Juicy J.
Hodgy’s come a long way from his modest beginnings on 2009’s Dena Tape, and his penchant for introspective and socially conscious lyricism makes him less of a hard sell on the hip hop community than his controversy-baiting peers. While everyone waits for Earl and Tyler to behave like traditional hip hop artists and try to cross over into the mainstream, they’re missing the Wolf Gang member that’s already doing it. - Craig
City: New Orleans, Louisiana
Get Familiar: Next On Deck: Joe Cool Interview
For music bloggers, there’s nothing worse than being asked, “Can you listen to my mixtape?” Nothing. It’s like trying to get kids to eat vegetables. First we’ll give you the screw face, followed by telling you how much we hate it. If you make good music and put it on the Internet, someone will find it. Joe Cool is the perfect example of this.
In 2012, it only takes one song to cultivate a serious buzz. For Joey, “I Wanna Sell Drugs” was that song. Prior to the song’s September release, the Louisiana rapper had been rapping for six years with minimal recognition. But since IWSD, not only has his music been featured on every marquee Hip-Hop blog on the web, but its also caught the attention of MTV, who recently invited him to their studios for an interview. In January he released Cooley Hi, a stellar 15-song opus that has received positive reviews from critics and has the young emcee poised for a major breakthrough. On top of his ability to rhyme words, he also produces almost all of his own music—putting him in the same vein as Southern peers Big K.R.I.T. and J. Cole.
With YMCMB currently giving everyone and their mom record deals, how ironic is it that they haven’t discovered this treasure sitting in their own backyard? - The Black Kevin Arnold
City: Houston, Texas
Get Familiar: Kirko Bangz – Progression 2: A Young Texas Playa (Mixtape)
In this age where everyone wants to reference “trill” and “sipping lean,” Kirko Bangz is one of a few artists garnering mainstream attention that is actually from Texas. Born and raised in Houston, TX, Kirko began bubbling to the top with his marginal hit “What Yo Name Is” and then he followed it up with singing a record deal and releasing the bubbling song “Drank In My Cup.” It’s only a matter of time before people start to recognize the hit-making ability that Kirko possesses, which is so important in terms of maintaining longevity and relevance.
Kirko is able to combine actual rapping ability with the knack for creating great melodies. I like to call his music “Drake songs without the estrogen” as he has a very sing-songy flow but without the softness/tenderness of songs like “Trust Issues.” Kirko knows how to talk to the women without sounding like he goes to sleep holding a Build-A-Bear.
After listening to “Progression 2” I was most impressed with Kirko’s rapping ability. Songs like “That’s Not Right” and “Say Hello” show him being able to keep up lyrically with the majority of rappers today, while also covering topics dealing social commentary. The ability to combine the two should help him position himself as one of the most complete artists coming out of Texas today. - Catfish
City: Los Angeles, CA
Get Familiar: ScHoolboy Q – Habits & Contradictions
ScHoolboy Q scares the shit out of me, which is one of the biggest reasons why he deserves to be on this list. In a day and age where rappers like Drake and Wale are more passive than aggressive, Q brings a much needed DMX-esque hostility to this new generation of Hip-Hop.
The TDE representer dropped two stellar 2011 projects in Setbacks and Habits & Contradictions, spawning bangers such as “Druggys wit Hoes,” “Situations,” “Hands on the Wheel,” and “NigHtmare on Figg St.” And while Q has always showed off his lyrical prowess on his own records, it’s been his recent string of spotlight-stealing guest verses (Namely his performance on A$AP Rocky’s “Brand New Guy”) that now has rap fans looking at him as more than just the Scottie Pippen to Kendrick Lamar’s Michael Jordan. Besides, even if he is only the second best rapper in his own crew, that’s saying a lot when you consider that his labelmate is arguably the best emcee in the world. - The Black Kevin Arnold
City: Brooklyn, NY
Get Familiar: Skyzoo – The Great Debater
Skyzoo has come a long way since he lost on 106 & Park’s Freestyle Friday to the Asian wünderkid Jin. Since that defeat, Skyzoo only went back to making quality music, working with 9th Wonder, and releasing critically acclaimed projects. I don’t remember the last time I heard about Jin’s music.
Skyzoo calls his rhymes and his songs “Frisbees” as his music contains such a high level of wordplay and lyricism that it’s easy to miss metaphors and punchlines embedded into his songs. This Canibus-influenced style of rhyming definitely lends to the replay value of his music, which is what every artist attempts to achieve. This throwback style, which is more about lyricism than making radio songs, endears Skyzoo to a forgotten age in hip hop and the fanbase that comes along with that.
This is not to say that Skyzoo is just a freestyle battle rapper or thesaurus rapper. His songs flow well and he puts together great bodies of work such as “The Great Debater.” He mentions his AP English background and it’s obvious from that Skyzoo spends a lot of time crafting his verses. In this day and age where people brag about freestyling songs, maybe more should take Skyzoo’s approach. - Catfish
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