Essay, General Thoughts, Music Review

Weekly Column: The 2018 XXL Freshmen and the Mumble Rap’s Representation


When I get a dumb idea I never go, “Nah that’s going to take way too long I’m not going to bother.” I start and often times don’t finish. It’s the way my mind works. My most recent foray into pointlessness came about when the shortlist for the 2018 XXL Freshman list came out in the form of having the internet vote for the tenth spot.

The XXL Freshmen is a list of young or on the rise hip hop artists. XXL magazine compiles this list every year and these young artists all appear on the magazine cover and get write ups inside the magazine. Internet lists create controversy which gives these young artists a ton of publicity. This year nine of the freshmen have been secretly chosen and they are allowing fans on the internet to vote for the tenth spot. As far as I can remember this is the first time they’re holding an internet vote for the final spot. It’s a smart marketing move even if it’s not completely fair. For example your vote won’t really count if you happen to vote for one of the artists that already made the list.

The list is a long and I decided I was going to listen to a song from each artist and write a quick tweet blurb review. It turns out that I don’t want to listen to that much bad music. Or at least review it on twitter. I prefer not to write so many negative reviews, although it does happen, I would have ended rating a lot of stuff with C- and D grades. I still plan on listening to a song from each, it helps in staying current and allows me to get an eye on an area of hip hop I’m not a huge fan of (what people call mumble rap, unfortunately as far as I can tell the subgenre is only known with a pejorative) and also get a feel for good stuff I may have missed like Caleborate.

The XXL freshmen list has always been controversial, people take it personal when someone they like is omitted or a type of hip hop they don’t listen to, in the past it’s been the alternative rappers, get a spot over someone else. The mumble rappers have expanded this controversy to new levels. A thick line has to be drawn in the culture between everything that has been considered hip hop for decades and acts like Lil Yachty and Lil Xan who are artists that create a more hybrid form of urban music. This is the first generation that doesn’t show the a level of respect or knowledge for older hip hop acts. They also frequently fail at freestyles. There are far worse example that that link, for example Lil Yachty‘s worst moment. I think it’s fair to say that freestyle is not their game and that a lot of their strengths come in the production, beat making and their modern style. But it’s a new thing to older fans and one that older generation hasn’t responded to well.

More and more fans of mumble rap (we really need to think of a better name for these types of artists) are okay with not being called hip hop even though there’s a lot of crossover between fans and history of the music. From my point of view I’d prefer to call it a separate genre, it’s the first time in over two decades of listening to hip hop that I’ve found a form of it I don’t like. I have been tired of certain kinds of hip hop when they were at the height of their popularity but the XXXtension kind of music is one I can’t support with my ears. More power to you if you like this, my intention isn’t to cut it down even though I dislike the form, it’s more to call out the fact we need a clear division.

It is not a new idea to have divisions in the related forms of music. I’ve never been a huge R&B fan but I understand its place in hip hop and hip hop hooks and many classics include R&B parts. The same goes with electronic dance music, I’m not the biggest fan of that genre either. Every now an EDM producer will remix and produce a track for a good emcee and it will be a worthy song or project. I can do the same for the mumble rap crowd. There will obviously be a lot of crossover but I’ll start considering it something different, the same way I see R&B and EDM, related but different.

There is a large number of artists on the XXL list that I’ve not heard of and deserve at least a single listen. So far I’ve gotten up to Daye Jack and the list is in alphabetical order, but I’m not going to post or talk about genres I don’t have a positive outlook towards or ones that I don’t think needs more education or time to learn about. I have all the free and avante garde jazz I’m listening to and learning about taking up that area.