Written by Ryan Lizotte
With many upcoming rappers, only so many can make XXL’s Freshman List. Which of this year’s candidates performed the best freestyle? Be sure to check out XXL’s complete coverage of the Freshman list, with freestyle videos, group cyphers, and interviews.
1. Chance the Rapper
With little surprise, Chance the Rapper is at the top of his class, and delivered a highly original freestyle, showcasing his eccentric flows and rhymes. The creator of 2013’s surprise hit mixtape, Acid Rap, has only risen to more success since releasing the project. The Chicago MC is working on new material, and recently finished his “Social Experiment Tour.” Compared to the other XXL Freshman, Chance’s stock in hip-hop is high, especially considering his brief period in the spotlight.
2. Rich Homie Quan
Rich Homie Quan has been making his name as a feature artist these days, and his freestyle proves that he definitely has the rapping ability to back it up. Switching between rapping and singing, he shows an often-overlooked knack for complicated rhyme schemes. Rich Homie Quan’s freestyle provided the biggest surprise, as he switched up rhythms with ease and enjoyment.
3. Isaiah Rashad
Fresh off of ScHoolboy Q’s Oxymoron Tour, it’s clear that Isaiah Rashad is becoming more comfortable with rapping. The 23-year-old is a recent signee to TDE, the label that houses Kendrick Lamar, ScHoolboy Q and Ab-Soul. Isaiah released Cilvia Demo in January, and is already gaining valuable experience in the industry. His freestyle is a good example of the raw, emotional rapping that earned him a deal with TDE.
4. Jon Connor
Jon Connor is relatively unknown by a majority of hip-hop fans, and this freestyle will definitely wake them up. With nothing but rapid fire rapping and complicated rhyme schemes, Jon Connor proves, with his freestyle verse, that his appearance in the Freshman list is completely warranted. The 29-year-old also produces, and was signed to Dr. Dre’s Aftermath label back in 2013.
5. Lil Durk
Lil Durk’s freestyle verse is brief, honest and well constructed, perhaps opposite to what one would expect. In comparison to fellow Chicago-rap peer Chief Keef, Lil Durk is more lyrical, and offers alternative viewpoints to the crime and problems of the area through his music. Lil Durk is signed to Def Jam, and is readying his debut studio album, Remember My Name, for a 2014 release.
6. Lil Bibby
Without sounding completely original, Lil Bibby brought the most consistent freestyle. His ability to rhyme on the same syllable over nearly the whole verse is a glimpse into his laid-back manner of rapping. Although he was ultimately only picked for the XXL Freshman List after a Young Thug cancellation, his spot is earned with his abilities here alone. Lil Bibby is currently working on his debut EP.
7. Troy Ave
Few MC’s from New York City have risen to success recently, but Troy Ave. is a contender to break that cold streak. The young rapper turned in a confident freestyle, and even has a solid album under his belt, 2013’s New York City: The Album. If he can stay driven, and not conceited, he could gain even more exposure.
8. Vic Mensa
Although Vic is finally starting to gain mainstream attention, he continues to remain in the shadow of his friend, and frequent collaborator, Chance the Rapper. The styles of the two are similar, and the duo work well on tracks together, but Vic is still learning how to set himself apart from other rappers. His freestyle was short, and a fairly inaccurate depiction of his talents. Mensa is preparing his debut EP, Street Lights, and is riding off the success of the single, “Down on my Luck.”
9. Jarren Benton
Sounding more akin to an old-school Slim Shady than anyone else in recent memory, Jarren Benton’s freestyle was aggressive, and showed true sparks of talent. Benton surprised the hip-hop community with the release of My Grandma’s Basement, his debut studio album. Benton’s style of horrorcore is compared to the likes of Odd Future and Hopsin, and with pure lyricism, he will be able to go a long way.
10. Kevin Gates
One thing Kevin Gates’ freestyle verse proved was that he can definitely rap. The gangster rap vibe and subject matter may be a turn off to some listeners, but it’s clear that Gates has been working on his craft, and is capable of complex lyricism. Gates sounds too much like Freddie Gibbs in some moments for his style to come off as truly authentic.
11. Ty Dolla $ign
The R&B-influenced Ty Dolla Sign has been a go-to feature artist in 2014, and has shown an ability to create catchy hooks on hip-hop collaborations. His inclusion in the Freshman list is surely justified, but his freestyle was not anything special, and probably isn’t the best showcase of his creativity. Ty is signed to Wiz Khalifa’s Taylor Gang label, and also dabbles in producing, earning a beat placement on YG’s My Krazy Life with “Really Be.”
12. August Alsina
August Alsina is not a rapper per-say. The New Orleans native is a singer/songwriter, with an emotional singing style similar to The Weeknd and Frank Ocean. The hip-hop influence is apparent in Alsina’s music as well, and although he is beginning to buzz, the freestyle verse here wasn’t that exciting.