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A look at XXL Freshman Cyphers over the last 10 years

A look at XXL Freshman Cyphers over the last 10 years

A look at XXL Freshman Cyphers over the last 10 years
August 31
13:07 2021
XXL Magazine has had a major influence in the rap genre through its annual list, known as the XXL Freshman Class. For those who don’t know, the list is a pairing of 10 or more rappers who are unknown, underground and/or considered potential superstars. While some big names have made their mark by being featured on the list, others haven’t had their claim to fame and become forgotten shortly after its debut.
With 2021’s Freshman list release this summer, let’s take a look at the past 10 years’ worth of XXL Freshman Cyphers, where rappers put their skills to the test and freestyled along with fellow on-the-rise artists.

Starting off with the first XXL Cypher that was ever made, 2011 was a mixed bag. Don’t get me wrong — there was quality found among the MCs in this roster with Mac Miller (RIP), YG, Yelawolf, Kendrick Lamar, Meek Mill and Big K.R.I.T., as they proved themselves with their verses, especially lyrically. However, Diggy Simmons, Lil Twist, Lil B, CyHi the Prynce and Fred The Godson (RIP) were underwhelming with weak word play and rhymes. Though, to be fair, Lil Twist does answer the question of how Uriel would sound if he tried rapping.

Since this was the first cypher, I can look past some of the weaker verses and the beat that’s aged poorly (to me, it has always sounded like someone is just banging on an empty trashcan). But the freshman here provided a decent start and set the bar for the cyphers to come.


The 2012 cyphers were a major improvement when it came to its lineup and cyphers. While the 2011 cypher had some excellent verses with weaker ones sprinkled in, the majority of the class was excellent. The only rappers who majorly disappointed me were Kid Ink with a dated and weak verse, Don Trip’s boring, unimpressive lyricism, Iggy Azalea’s (someone I enjoy as an MC) weak verse and Future, who didn’t bring his A-game. The artists who were pretty awesome on this cypher were Danny Brown, Macklemore, Machine Gun Kelly, Hopsin and Roscoe Dash. The beats also were not the best, but considering 2011’s beats sounded like they were made at a landfill, the beats in 2012 did show improvement.


2013 was another excellent year for cyphers with the only underwhelming verse coming from Action Bronson. Kirko Bangz, ScHoolboy Q and Trinidad James were decent and the remaining freshmen did an excellent job. Travis Scott, Angel Haze, Dizzy Wright, Logic and Joey were especially good. Overall, this was another excellent year with some sweet beats to back the artists.


2014 might be one of the best years when it comes to the class and its cyphers. Kevin Gates, Chance The Rapper, Isaiah Rashad, August Alsina, Ty Dolla Sign, Lil Durk, Jon Connor and Jarren Benton had solid verses. On the other hand, Troy Ave was decent and Vic Mensa’s verse was mediocre, with a cool intro involving a phone call accompanied by an underwhelming verse. Lil Bibby’s verse was mostly filler and might be one of the dullest verses of all time. However, the beats used this year were definitely a redeeming quality for the track.


This year was one that did not age well. While GoldLink, OG Maco, Vince Staples, Raury and Tink had solid verses, K Camp, Kidd Kidd and DeJ Loaf were mediocre. Shy Glitzy’s verse was boring, and Fetty Wap’s verse (if one can even call it that) was pretty weak as well. To be fair, the beats from this year were good (for the most part) and the solid verses helped improve it. Seriously though, how did Tink and Raury’s careers never go anywhere despite them being some of the best of this year’s class?


This year is yet another one with both good and bad verses. Denzel Curry, Lil Yachty, Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Dicky, G Herbo and Dave East were pretty solid while 21 Savage and Kodak Black were subpar, but had the saving grace of ad libs in the background from the other artists. Anderson.Paak and Desiigner were also both disappointing with their contributions being a bunch of nonsense. I will say the beats from this year were pretty solid, saving the performance and making it one to remember.

2017 had its highlights among its performers, though it did have some squandered potential. While Kyle, A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, Aminé, Kap G and XXXTentacion (RIP) had solid verses, the rest of the rappers were underwhelming. PnB Rock was decent, Kamaiyah had the dullest cypher among the female MCs who’ve been on the XXL Freshman list over the years and the rest of the class had terrible verses. Playboi Carti, Madeintyo and Ugly God were definitely the weakest MCs this year. However, the beats were pretty solid and some of the Freshmen delivered.


2018 was a pretty solid year with most of the Freshmen proving themselves and bringing a lot of fun to the track, especially Stefflon Don, who was my favorite of the cyphers provided here. With excellent beats, entertaining performances and the MCs overall proving loads of fun, even if BlocBoy JB’s verse was the weakest, this year was one to remember.


2019 had its ups and downs when it comes to the cyphers, beats and MCs’ performances. The beats were fine and Megan Thee Stallion, DaBaby, Roddy Ricch, Rico Nasty, Cordae and BlueFace were pretty solid. On the other hand, YK Osiris was only decent, Comethazine had a passable verse, but his delivery made him sound like he had bronchitis, and Lil Mosey’s verse was absolute garbage. As for Tierra Whack’s verse, her flow was nice, but most of her lines were not great, and the part about beach towels was subpar and unneeded.


This is one that has definitely proven itself with a number of strong rappers. Jack Harlow, Polo G, NLE Choppa, Rod Wave, Chika, Latto and 24kGoldn were solid, while Fivio Foreign and Calboy were decent. Lil Tjay’s verse had its moments with solid lines, but his voice got annoying at some points. I enjoyed Lil Keed’s contributions since his delivery and flow reminded me of Young Thug. In 2020, none of the performers were absolute garbage, which definitely was not the case in previous years.

Featured Illustration by Robynn Aviles

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Grant Tittle

Grant Tittle

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