XXL Magazine’s annual Freshman Class has become one of the most highly anticipated events in the rap game, shining a spotlight on emerging talent and predicting (or at least trying to) the future stars of hip hop.
Starting from 2007 and continuing each year, these Freshman Classes have introduced rap fans to a remarkable array of hip hop artists who have gone on to shape the culture in their own stylistic ways. From the breakthrough class of 2010, which featured J. Cole, Big Sean, and Wiz Khalifa, to the game-changing class of 2016, which brought us Lil Uzi Vert, Anderson .Paak, and Denzel Curry, these rappers have left an enduring impact on the rap landscape — some more than others.
Whether we’re talking about the dynamic 2011 class, which showcased the endless potential of Kendrick Lamar and Mac Miller, or the diverse and boundary-pushing 2013 class, featuring Schoolboy Q, Joey Bada$$, and Chief Keef, each year’s class brings its own unique flavor and contribution to the rap ecosystem.
So let’s get into it. From 2010’s J. Cole, Jay Rock, Nipsey Hussle and Freddie Gibbs to 2020’s Polo G, NLE Choppa, Lil Tjay and Jack Harlow, we rank the top 10 best XXL Freshman Classes of all time.
10. 2020: Polo G, Chika, NLE Choppa, Jack Harlow, Lil Keed, Lil Tjay, Fivio Foreign, Calboy, Rod Wave, Baby Keem, 24kGoldn and Latto.
Best rapper in the class: Baby Keem
The 2020 XXL Freshman Class brought together a dynamic roster of emerging rap artists, each leaving their distinct mark on the music scene. Polo G’s introspective lyricism and poignant storytelling resonated with rap fans from all spectrums, while NLE Choppa’s infectious energy and catchy hooks, along with Jack Harlow’s confident wordplay and infectious melodies, propelled them into the spotlight. Lil Keed’s melodic trap style, Lil Tjay’s emotive vocals, and Fivio Foreign’s gritty drill sound added further layers of depth to the class. Other rappers like Rod Wave, Baby Keem, and Latto each brought their unique styles and perspectives, making the 2020 XXL Freshman Class a vibrant showcase of rap’s diversity heading into the 2020s.
9. 2017: Kamaiyah, A Boogie wit da Hoodie, PnB Rock, Playboi Carti, Aminé, Kap G, Kyle, Ugly God, MadeinTYO, and XXXTentacion.
Best rapper in the class: A Boogie wit da Hoodie
On the 2017 XXL Freshman Class, we find a striking mix of styles and backgrounds. Kamaiyah’s West Coast flavor, A Boogie wit da Hoodie’s Bronx-inspired narratives, and Aminé’s genre-defying approach showcase the diversity of the year. Playboi Carti’s cloud rap aesthetics and XXXTentacion’s emo-rap style have also left undeniable imprints on the music landscape. This blend of new wave hip-hop artists was crucial in stretching the boundaries of the genre.
8. 2015: Fetty Wap, Dej Loaf, Raury, Kidd Kidd, OG Maco, Shy Glizzy, K Camp, Vince Staples, Tink, and GoldLink.
Best rapper in the class: Vince Staples
The 2015 Freshman Class was notable for its balance of mainstream hits and underground respect. Fetty Wap and Dej Loaf had the charts buzzing, while artists like Vince Staples and GoldLink kept the lyrical aficionados entertained. Raury’s genre-bending music and Shy Glizzy’s unfiltered storytelling demonstrated the evolving soundscape of rap in the mid-2010s.
7. 2014: Chance the Rapper, Rich Homie Quan, Isaiah Rashad, Ty Dolla Sign, Lil Durk, Kevin Gates, Troy Ave, Vic Mensa, Jon Connor, Lil Bibby, Jarren Benton and August Alsina.
Best rapper in the class: Kevin Gates
Turning the clock back to 2014, the year brought us artists who would soon shape the industry. Chance the Rapper’s poetic lyricism, Isaiah Rashad’s Southern-influenced storytelling, and Ty Dolla Sign’s knack for crafting radio-friendly tracks are clear examples. On the flip side, Jon Connor, Lil Bibby, and Jarren Benton held it down for the hardcore lyricists. The class of 2014, more than anything, exemplified the power of diversity and innovation in the hip-hop scene.
6. 2012: Future, Kid Ink, Danny Brown, French Montana, Macklemore, Don Trip, Machine Gun Kelly, Hopsin, Iggy Azalea, and Roscoe Dash.
Best rapper in the class: Danny Brown
The 2012 XXL Freshman Class showcased a diverse array of emerging talents. At the forefront was Future, whose melodious yet gritty sound would soon become emblematic of a new wave in trap rap. French Montana, with his catchy hooks and undeniable charisma, offered a flavor that would soon become central to the genre. Danny Brown, an outlier in style and substance, brought an unorthodox yet captivating edge. Meanwhile, the fiery presence of Machine Gun Kelly and Hopsin contributed to the diversity of the lineup. Pop-crossover successes like Macklemore and the international sensation Iggy Azalea were also part of the crew, underlining the culture’s increasing global appeal and its ability to permeate into various music markets.
5. 2009: Wale, B.o.B, Charles Hamilton, Asher Roth, Cory Gunz, Blu, Mickey Factz, Ace Hood, Currensy, and Kid Cudi.
Best rapper in the class: Blu
In 2009, XXL’s picks reflected an adventurous time in hip-hop. Wale and B.o.B combined catchy hooks with lyrical substance, and Asher Roth brought a college-kid vibe to the mainstream. The year also honored lyrically-gifted artists like Blu and Mickey Factz, while Kid Cudi’s introspective style would become immensely influential over the coming decade. Moreover, the mixtape king Currensy’s inclusion in this year showcased the power of underground persistence. The 2009 class was a true testament to the rap game’s ability to accommodate and celebrate a wide spectrum of sounds and styles.
4. 2011: Meek Mill, Big K.R.I.T., Cyhi the Prynce, Lil Twist, Yelawolf, Fred the Godson, Mac Miller, YG, Lil B, Kendrick Lamar, and Diggy Simmons.
Best rapper in the class: Kendrick Lamar
The 2011 XXL Freshman Class heralded a year of potential heavy hitters. Philly MC Meek Mill was one to watch with his ferocious lyrical prowess and indomitable spirit. The southern charm of Big K.R.I.T. and Cyhi the Prynce brought a refreshing element of soulful hip-hop. Eccentric and unpredictable artists like Lil B and Yelawolf broke the mold, while Mac Miller’s easygoing demeanor made him an instant fan-favorite. It was also the year Kendrick Lamar stepped into the limelight, foreshadowing his ascendancy as one of hip hop’s defining voices of the 2010s.
3. 2013: Schoolboy Q, Trinidad James, Joey Bada$$, Ab-Soul, Logic, Action Bronson, Kirko Bangz, Travis Scott, Dizzy Wright, Angel Haze, and Chief Keef.
Best rapper in the class: Ab-Soul
In 2013, the hip hop landscape welcomed an eclectic mix of talents. Schoolboy Q and Ab-Soul carried the TDE banner with an undeniable west coast flair. Joey Bada$$ and Action Bronson repped New York to the fullest with their respective throwback and offbeat styles. Trinidad James brought his unique Atlanta sound, while Logic’s rapid-fire lyricism showcased his wordplay skills. Travis Scott’s dark, autotuned anthems and Chief Keef’s raw drill style underscored the class’ diversity. Adding to the list were Angel Haze’s gritty verses and Dizzy Wright’s smooth flows, solidifying 2013’s position as a year of undeniable variety and talent.
2. 2016: Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Yachty, Kodak Black, Denzel Curry, G Herbo, Dave East, Lil Dicky, Anderson .Paak, Desiigner, and 21 Savage.
Best rapper in the class: Denzel Curry
The class of 2016 signaled a significant shift in the hip-hop soundscape. The cadre of Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Yachty, and Kodak Black embodied a new wave of rap, blending elements of trap, emo, and pop. G Herbo and Dave East kept the tradition of street-oriented lyricism alive, while Denzel Curry’s experimental style drew attention. In contrast, Lil Dicky’s comedic take on rap was refreshing, and Anderson .Paak’s soulful hip-hop showcased an unrivaled musicality. Desiigner and 21 Savage further stamped their brand of trap music, making 2016 one of the more influential years in XXL Freshman history.
1. 2010: J. Cole, Pill, Nipsey Hussle, Freddie Gibbs, Big Sean, Wiz Khalifa, OJ da Juiceman, Jay Rock, Fashawn, and Donnis.
Best rapper in the class: J. Cole
Regarded by many as the best class in the history of XXL Freshman, the class of 2010 was full of artists who have since become household names. J. Cole’s thoughtful lyricism, Nipsey Hussle’s vivid street tales, and Wiz Khalifa’s stoner anthems offered different flavors of hip-hop. Freddie Gibbs’ gritty narratives, Big Sean’s clever wordplay, and Jay Rock’s West Coast flows further diversified the lineup. With the likes of Pill, OJ da Juiceman, Fashawn, and Donnis, the class of 2010 served as a testament to hip hop’s expansive and evolving nature, and a number of these artists have gone down as the best rappers of all time.