In its ninth year of existence XXL‘s Freshman issue continues to be a hot topic of discussion in hip-hop circles. Each year, 10 to 13 burgeoning artists are chosen as the next up when it comes to stardom and success in the rap world. Previous issues boast alumni like Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, Iggy Azalea and Chief Keef. This issue speaks to the community in its own way and represents a level of bragging rights to an artist who is chosen. Desiigner, who currently has one of the hottest songs out “Panda,” and is also one of the 2016 class was asked how he felt on his way to the photo/video shoot. “It was crazy because there was just so much going on, but I had to make the shoot because it’s XXL. I was heading to London that night for the first time, but we pushed everything back so we can make it to the shoot.” he said
Every year this list causes controversy, and this year is no different. The great thing about this controversy is that it sparks conversation and keeps the culture front of mind. We had the privilege of speaking with the editor-in-chief of XXL, Vanessa Satten, about the cover and her thoughts on hip-hop. It was an amazing conversation and she provides good insight as to how up-and-coming artists can be noticed.
What is it about the Freshman cover that is so compelling?
I think everyone wants to be a celebrity and in the culture the idea of being first or commenting first means something. You may have someone who says “I was on to Anderson Paak back in the day.” I think people like to be first when it comes to new artists and when Freshman comes out it gives them that co-sign that they were right. The cover also creates conversation. People love to debate. We are in a society where people like [to be] negative a lot. I think the Freshman cover gives people [the] opportunity to hate. We are in a very negative time, so it gives people the opportunity for them to be right and prove us wrong.
Looking back on all the past covers what artist surprised you and who did you expect to succeed and why?
You are always happy with the Macklemore success. Early on we would hear “What’s a Macklemore” before people connected with him. We were early with Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole and Big Sean, so many people didn’t know who they were. They started to bubble early on. I’m not going to say that it was Freshman that did it, but we were following them early on. Then you have a guy like Troy Ave, we love Troy, he’s a good guy but fast forward and in a million years and I would have never thought he would be in the situation he is in right now. Our goal is to get the people who will blow up based on the buzz they have right now. You never know what’s going to come down the pike.
Could there ever be a 40-year-old Freshman?
Sure, Anderson Paak is on the older side. We’ve had older freshman like Yelawolf and a few others over the years. If you are 39 and you are buzzing like crazy and you don’t really get into the hip-hop scene until 40, it could work.
What do you think has kept XXL around for so long?
Our job is to document hip-hop, not to dictate it. We are on the pulse of what’s going on with it and we document the day to day. You can’t buy your way onto Freshman. Freshman is us running around like crazy, going to shows, meeting with artists, listening to music, sitting at home going through soundcloud and YouTube every which way. We are not trying to get rich off of people’s backsides, we are trying to figure out how we can treat hip-hop with respect and document it in the way it deserves.
What do you say to the kid in the home studio creating a masterpiece who has the dream of being the next Freshman?
I would say I understand you are making a masterpiece, but you are not the only person in the world that raps and makes music, so keep learning, keep taking stuff in. Understand that everybody you meet may be an opportunity, so talk to them a certain way. Figure out how to present yourself. If this is something that you are hungry for, let us know, show us — don’t just say it. There is a lot more people can do to prove their skill and why they deserve to be there.