XXL’s 2016 Freshman Class cover is here!
This year’s Freshmen include Oxnard, California’s Anderson .Paak; Atlanta’s 21 Savage; Pompano Beach, Florida’s Kodak Black; Philadelphia’s Lil Uzi Vert; Cheltenham Township, Pennsylvania’s Lil Dicky; Harlem’s Dave East; Carol City, Florida’s Denzel Curry; Brooklyn’s Desiigner; Chicago’s G Herbo and the 10th Spot winner, ATL’s Lil Yachty.
XXL Editor-In-Chief Vanessa Stratten talked to The Boombox about the Freshman Cover and how much has changed over the nine years since the first Freshman issue hit shelves.
“We went through a time period when it used to be about your body of work that was successful. So it’s a little bit different because it’s just harder. What’s the barometer for success these days? It used to be how many records you sold. Now it’s very hard–what’s that success marker? Instagram followers? Twitter followers? Those can be bought. Is it shows? Is it festivals?”
“Last year and the year before, it was more about one song. Now it might not even be that one song that can carry you across the board.”
“Freshmen is about predicting the future. You’re trying to predict who is going to blow up. But you’re working with less before they get really big. You don’t have much to look at and say ‘Look at what their track record is.’ Desiigner really doesn’t have a lot of music, but that song was so large–the platform that he has and the setup, you’d have to think he can make steps that he wouldn’t make without that song. So he’s in a place where a lot of other artists aren’t.”
“It’s not getting someone who put out a whole bunch of tapes and a whole bunch of music that everyone knew and was fiending over.”
And the logistics of putting together a shoot full of young and ambitious rappers can make for some interesting dynamics. Stratten acknowledges that the Freshmen shoot is usually swayed by how good or bad the mood of the participants happens to be that day.
“You’re getting ten people together who are competitors with one another and who might not be cool with each other,” she explains. “No beef–but they might not be comfortable. [They’re] all also usually very young and not as confident. They may be confident on the outside, but when it comes to the day-to-day moment, when they walk into that room, you have no idea what their behavior is going to be like.”
It’s futile to predict what kind of class you have until you put them all together.
“You never know the camaraderie that they’re going to create that day. You might get a group like last year’s class, I can’t say it was a fun day where there was synergy. But I’d say the year before, when we had Vic Mensa and Kevin Gates and all of them, that felt like more of a camaraderie with the class through and through. That will affect the energy of the whole day. Are they f—ing with each other? Are they trying? Are they just posted up to the side and giving you attitude? You don’t know what the synergy of the day is going to be. But that plays a huge role in how good the cipher is gonna be. How good the shoot is gonna be.”
“You’re not picking it for how well they get along during the day,” she reiterates. “A lot of different things–either being separatist or taking advantage of the day and saying ‘I don’t know you, but I want to collaborate with you.’ There’s nothing we can do to make it better or worse.”
Even with all of the variables that can make the XXL Freshmen issue a herculean task, Stratten and the XXL staff love being able to present something that “makes the culture larger.”
“In a day and age when advertisers have more control than ever and content is controlled in ways that it used to not be and the line is blurred in journalism–not just hip-hop journalism–where you knew what you could get away with and what you do vs what you don’t do. I think over time…those areas have gotten grayer. I think the important thing for XXL and for Freshmen is that it’s not bought. It’s not paid for. When I look at all the covers we’ve ever done, there’ snot one person who was there that didn’t vote for.
“It comes from a pure place of loving hip-hop and wanting it to be the best that it can be. I think the Freshmen cover is a reflection of the XXL staff staying true to that.”