From the world of rap journalism comes inevitable news for Baltimore rap fans: XXL did not offer local mic-fiends Los and Mullyman spots in this year’s "Freshman 10" issue. After closer examination of the just-released cover(and I really mean “closer” because I could not identify a majority of these rappers by their faces), two things became rather clear: 1) Mully and Los never had a shot and 2) that’s perfectly OK.
Sure, getting your face on a magazine cover puts you in newsstands across the world, but it doesn’t make your career, not even close. There are plenty examples of “buzzing” rappers making the "Freshman" list and then quickly fading into obscurity: Charles Hamilton, Mickey Factz, Fashawn, OJ Da Juiceman, Donnis, YG — all rappers (Google their names if you don’t believe me) who failed to capitalize on their new-found (but short-lived) notoriety.
And the "Freshman" alumni who’ve done well since their covers — Wiz Khalifa, J. Cole, Big Sean, Mac Miller, Kendrick Lamar, Lupe Fiasco — were growing their fanbases without the help of XXL or print-media in general. These rappers were booking lengthy tours on the strength of free mixtapes, word-of-mouth, love from influential blogs and A-list co-signs. Before gracing the front of XXL, their major label deals were either in place, secretly in place or a showcase away from an offer.
The truth is XXL needs these rappers just as badly as the rappers need XXL. And in some cases, even more so: notable up-and-coming rappers turned down the "Freshman" cover — Drake, Nicki Minaj, A$AP Rocky to name a few — because they presumably didn’t want to dilute their already-rising brands by posing next to lesser, hot-today-gone-tomorrow acts. These artists flipped the script: they were the ones doing the snubbing (or just demanding their own covers at a later date). This highlights the dull "impact" of the list: it's merely a feather in a fitted cap from a once culturally important magazine looking to generate discussion (and in turn, page views and print sales) as it catches up to the 24/7 hype-cycle of the Internet. Sure, the list generated enough discussion to become trending topics, but next month, there won't be 1/10th of the hype surrounding the magazine's next cover choice.
So should we be surprised Mullyman or Los got snubbed? There’s no other way to say it: No. Mullyman, a solid workhorse of an MC, had a city-specific song on MTV Jams but lacks a hip “movement” for listeners to latch onto. He seems to operate in a vacuum. Los, who had a better shot than Mully, was not a known member of Bad Boy Records until just recently, presumably after the cover stars were chosen. As Andrew Noz hilariously pointed out, a large majority of the artists on this year’s cover are signed to Interscope Records, which a cynic (or maybe realist) would say is a glaring clue as to how editorial decisions are influenced.
I’m getting close to rambling ("already there," mumbled some of you), but the goal of this post is to highlight the insignificance of XXL’s list. As usual, the newest edition is a random collection of no-brainers (French Montana, of all people, was the recent subject of a major label bidding war; Danny Brown is on the current cover of the Fader, an arguably more significant look), provocative choices (Iggy Azalea is a white Australian rapper with fews songs but is rumored to be dating A$AP Rocky and who wrote a lyric as ugly as “When the relay starts / I’m a runaway slave master”) and people I’ve never heard of (Macklemore? Hopsin?).
If Los is going to make a dent in rap, it’ll be because he can rap very well, he has the swag kids want nowadays (cool clothes, will brag about stealing your girlfriend) and, oh yeah, he has the Diddy machine behind him. Mully’s brand of battering-ram street rap will have a harder time crossing over, but maybe there’s an impending backlash to the swag rap and he’ll be able to carve out a lane. If not, he will, at the very least, have “I Go Harder” and Baltimore will always love him for it. That doesn’t sound so bad.
(And in case anyone cares about my personal feelings on this year’s list, here’s a quick take: I regularly listen to Danny Brown (the best of the bunch), French Montana and Future. They’re all weird, compelling MCs. Same goes for the earnest, sandpaper-voiced Don Trip, whose "Stepbrothers" mixtape with Starlito was one of the last year's no-nonsense free gems. Roscoe Dash writes killer hooks but I’d rather listen to Travis Porter. Machine Gun Kelly isn’t for me but I like his “Wild Boy” song with Waka Flocka. I had never heard a song from Macklemore, Hopsin or Kid Ink before the cover’s announcement. I don’t plan on listening to them again after this. Iggy Azalea is getting T.I. to executive produce her upcoming debut album, which says plenty about hip-hop’s climate these days. My knee-jerk reaction overall? Indifference.)Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun