There's a few experiences in a rising hip-hop artist's career that likely appears on their bucket list of goals, with XXL Freshman being one of them. The celebration of the game's next promising superstars to take the genre to new levels has always been a coveted position since the annual cover launched in 2007. Becoming a XXL Freshman has put a fresh set of eyes on countless artists over the last 15 years. Whether it's a rapper who rose to fame quickly or an artist who had a slower start to discovery, there's been plenty of talent across the 159 XXL Freshmen inducted into the last 15 classes.
Once the class selections are made, the artists take part in the cover shoot, which has typically lasted for an entire day, but for the last three years has spanned across three days. Interviews, freestyles, cyphers and everything in between are part of the process. Showcasing their talents to support why they earned a spot on the cover in the first place is top priority. And while bringing their A-game to the freestyles and cyphers may bring on nerves for some, one of the lighter highlights that leads to memorable moments is the Freshmen meeting one another for the first time.
2009 XXL Freshman Blu recalls being "starstruck by Curren$y" because Spitta was on a Lil Wayne song Blu would play religiously. 2010 XXL Freshman Fashawn's fondest memory of his Freshman experience "bumping into a future Pulitzer Prize winner." Rap fans know that was Kendrick Lamar.
Asher Roth, CyHi, Kid Ink, Charles Hamilton, Jack Harlow, Kamaiyah, Blxst, Cordae, Lil Pump and many more take a trip down memory lane to share their experience of being a XXL Freshman. Check out what sticks with each of them from that special day below.
2009 XXL Freshman Class
"It was definitely memorable being a part of the 2009 XXL Freshman list. I even remember the face I made, it was inspired by The Rock. I used to watch him a lot as a kid. I remember Wale, Asher Roth, Kid Cudi and I walked to the gas station and talked about doing a reality show, similar to MTV’s Real World, but XXL edition. It was really the beginning of The ‘All City Chess Club,’ a project that never came to life. Being a part of the Freshman list definitely helped the early stages of my career; it was the first time we had all met, and from that cover stemmed The Great Hang Over Tour, with me, Asher Roth and Cudi."
"I remember going to the corner store to grab beer for our ‘class.’ Ended up with Coronas. A lot of our class was considered the ‘blog era’ so it was fun hearing how we had more in common than not.
XXL Freshmen classes provide a unique opportunity for rap artists to spend time and introduce themselves to their contemporaries. A collaborative experiment in what’s typically a competitive world. The cover shoot provided the prelude to how ‘Change Gon’ Come’ with B.o.B and Charles Hamilton came about.
I’ll forever be tied to artist friends like Cudi, Curren$y and Blu because of our XXL cover."
"I was just thinking about how grossly unprepared I was for that shoot. Regardless, I feel I’ve stood the test of time and deserve more acclaim than shame. Shouts to Factz, Roth, Curren$y, Gunz and those I’ve been in touch with over the years. Love is love."
"I remember I would cop every issue of XXL. So, when they reached out for me to be a part of their Freshman Class, I was honored beyond belief. I did not know what to expect, but I was down. When I got there, I thought it was epic that all the Freshman of the class were in attendance. I didn't know everyone there and everyone didn't know me. Asher Roth was the coolest. I was most starstruck by Curren$y because he was on a Lil Wayne song I would play religiously. It was such a competitive yet chill environment XXL put together. My favorite part was the photography. It came out dope as hell. After the issue came out, I got so much love and would always look forward to the day I would be featured in that magazine again."
"The XXL Freshman cover is a mainstay in Hip Hop. Highlighting new talent is always essential for the growth of the culture. It's what my legacy was built on. I am proud to have been apart of one of the greatest Freshman covers ever assembled. They say it's a curse, I say its a blessing. Being a part of that first cohort will always be attached to my brand as I move into the hip-hop education space with my school Pendulum Ink, a school for lyricism. Keep up the great work XXL, you make stars shine bright even still."
2010 XXL Freshman Class
"It was an absolutely phenomenal experience that I won’t ever forget! Instant gratification to the hard work me and my manager at the time, White Boy D, had put in. It was almost surreal during the actual day of the shoot. I remember being in New York and kicking it with everybody, smoking and drinking and being like, ‘We them ones.’ All of us were performing at the same shows and just grinding and killing the festivals and the blogs.
R.I.P Nipsey [Hussle]. That was my dog. We linked in Los Angeles and he took me through Crenshaw and shi. He was a real nigga. I want to say thank you to everybody at XXL, Vanessa Satten and everybody involved. That Freshman cover elevated me to the next level. I signed with Warner Bros. Records after that. It was just an all around great experience and I'm thankful for it. We made history! The Greatest Freshman cover of ALL TIME!! I said what I said."
"One of my fondest memories of Freshman year was bumping into a future Pulitzer Prize winner before the world recognized him. That man was Kendrick Lamar."
2011 XXL Freshman Class
"I’m grateful for the experience. To be recognized among guys that went on to become some of the biggest artists in the world—YG, Kendrick Lamar, Meek Mill, the list goes on—the major. We even lost a couple. R.I.P. to Mac Miller and Fred The Godson. 2011 was a good year."
"Really, it’s been a honor to be a Freshman, to be on the same cover and cypher with Kendrick Lamar, Mac Miller, YG, Meek Mill, Big K.R.I.T., Yelawolf, Fred The Godson, CyHi The Prynce, Diggy Simmons and Lil Twist. It’s definitely been a honor! We all deserve it and as I look back, I ask myself did I deserve to be on that cover? Yes! XXL made history in being the first hip-hop magazine to champion unsigned indie artist! I will forever be XXL."
"Being featured on the XXL Freshman cover was a pivotal moment in my career as a musician. I’d already signed with Young Money, one of the most successful labels in entertainment, and making the cover of XXL was confirmation that I was solidifying my place amongst hip-hop royalty and putting on for my city, and I’ve been making headlines ever since."
2012 XXL Freshman Class
"The experience was exciting overall just because of the fact it was my first magazine cover. Being a part of the XXL Freshman was definitely at the time one of the biggest goals for an independent artist. Getting that stamp gave that extra boost of confidence and motivation. It felt like everybody had never linked up before. Only person I was really cool with at the time was MGK from doing early shows together, but everybody else was the first time running into them for the most part. So, it was still some competitive energy in the room, but overall a great vibe."
"Being a part of the XXL Freshman class was definitely a milestone in my career. I met a lot of cool people in the industry. I formed a few lasting relationships during the Freshman campaign. For me, it was the perfect opportunity for me to start my independence."
"The XXL cover validated me. I looked at it like a badge of honor. It showed me and the rest of the world that I was not just another one of these regular rappers you find on the internet. It was like my bachelors degree, but for rap music. It let people know that I had real potential. My favorite memory was the XXL cypher. I rehearsed every day for one week straight to make sure I had my verse memorized perfectly. I was so nervous, but so joyful to have been there amongst all the other up-and-coming MCs."
2013 XXL Freshman Class
"Many moons ago, but it feels like just the other day, I was in that locker room with the squad. Getting ready to start the game of our lives. That cover will always mean a lot to me because it gives me a standard to live by. Every artist on that cover is important to the culture, whether mainstream or independent to this day. My cover outfit will always be ‘One of Them Ones.’ Thank you, Vanessa. Thank you, XXL."
"Getting on the cover showed me that you can do things your way and cool shit can still happen. I’m definitely thankful to be a part of the XXL family. Back in 2013, you couldn’t convince me that there was a better look for an independent artist. This was where you wanted to be in my eyes to be considered one of the best of your class. Although my fans voted for me to be the 10th Freshman on the cover, it really helped me solidify my career. One of my favorite memories from back then is linking up with the other artists that inspired me at that time. I was able to build a real brotherhood with a lot of different people and I appreciate XXL for shining a light on my talent. I’m forever grateful. #StillMovin."
2014 XXL Freshman Class
"At that time, the XXL Freshman cover was a goal of mine. You know, to be on that Freshman cover was like hip-hop giving you your just due for all the work that you had put in. And when I finally got on the Freshman cover, it was an amazing feeling. It felt like hip-hop was recognizing me for the work I had put in up until that point. I think that the Freshman cover is a great launching pad for new artists. And I also think it’s a great way for them to take the ball and run with it. It’s all on the artist to take that and run with it.
I loved everything about that day. I remember we went to the 40/40 club to celebrate the cover and it made you feel like you had truly arrived. I love XXL for that opportunity. It was one of the most memorable days that I’ve ever had in the music business. It was the first time I felt like, Oh shit, this is really happening."
"First and foremost, I wanna say it’s an honor to be a part of the XXL Freshman class. The experience is surreal and exhausting at the same time. I honestly didn’t think I was gonna get picked so when my manager called me with the news, I was excited and shocked at the same time. I think I was on tour with Tech N9ne and Freddie Gibbs. So, I left after my show to fly to New York for the shoot.
I’m not gonna lie, that whole day I was nervous as fuck. I think I wrote my raps for the cypher the day before the shoot. I was concentrating so hard on not fucking up my lyrics that I honestly forgot to just enjoy the moment. If anything I wish I would’ve done more networking. But overall, it’s an experience that I’ll never forget and will always be appreciative of.
It definitely can bring some great opportunities that can help propel your career. But like anything, if you don’t have your shit together when those opportunities come you’re only shooting yourself in the foot. My advice to all future XXL Freshmen is to take full advantage of this opportunity, hit the ground running and don’t take your foot off of the gas."
2015 XXL Freshman Class
Rich Homie Quan
"I think that was the first time I had ever been around that many artists at that time. When me and [Lil] Durk did the cypher, I think that was one of the craziest things, just to see where Durk is today. Because I’m really not a freestyle rapper on the spot. I hate doing that. And that was a real freestyle. Niggas be up there doing written.
To be honest, ever since the 11th grade that was a dream of mine [to be a XXL Freshman]. That’s when I started taking rap seriously. So, for me to have made that, that shit was better than winning a Grammy. Straight up. And for me to be in the middle of the picture? I got that shit all in my house. It was a good day.
All of the photographers were there. We were smoking good. They had stylists and everything there. It was set up the right way. And at that time in my life, I had never experienced anything in that way. And after that, look at me now. That cover was in 2014. So that was eight years ago. I’m still on a roll, baby. I thank Vanessa and the whole XXL. That helped my career tremendously. It made the world notice me. It took me from just being a down South rapper to worldwide."
"The XXL cover helped my career out fa sho. It put a lot of people on my motion, but I study all the covers and I plan to be the biggest off the 2015 cover. Respectfully."
"My favorite memory and experience of that day was just being in the same room with all the artists and networking. XXL was and still is one of the biggest inspiration in hip-hop to me the fact I made the cover was feeling like a dream. Shout-out to all the other artists that was there and doing their thing. It was a pleasure and honor being up there with them."
2017 XXL Freshman Class
"The 2017 XXL Freshman cover helped my career out by giving me an opportunity to expand nationally and by being the first female rapper from Oakland to be put on that scale. My favorite memory of that day was Playboi [Carti] trying to be on the cover eating Hot Cheetos and Vanessa being [like], ‘Give me those fucking [chips]. You’re trying to have us in a branding lawsuit.’ Lol. Being on that cover meant everything to me and it’s helped my career in many ways, and I’ve made some life-long playa partners from that cover.
Vanessa is amazing and I just want to thank her for believing in me because we all know V don’t play that shit. So, if she fuck with you, she really fucks with you. When I left my deal, I came to see Vanessa right before the pandemic and she told me, ‘Don’t feel like you have to figure it all out right now because there’s still a place for you. Everyone says they want to see female rappers win, but they’re not supporting them because they’d be selling,’ and that has stuck with me for these past few years while we’ve been confined to our homes. Tell V I said I figured it out now and I’m on my way. Lol."
"I loved it, and they loved me. I came into contact with some of the strongest energies I’ve ever felt. It was a beautiful 10 hours of living in a dream, something I’d been manifesting my entire life. I’ll never forget it, and I had the best freestyle."
2018 XXL Freshman Class
"We had the best Freshman class. It was a great experience. Life-changing moment!"
"It made me really feel like a G.O.A.T., especially being so young. It affected my career in a spectacular way. Only a few artists get to feel how it feels to be on XXL. I still look back at it like, Damn this is really me."
2019 XXL Freshman Class
"My 2019 Freshman experience was fire. Being on the Freshman cover is on every artists’ ‘You made it moment.’ My favorite memory of the day would probably be the freestyle. Looking back, our class has some real superstars on it!"
"The XXL experience definitely gave a stamp. They let the world know who was next to blow. That’s something nobody’s gonna forget. The whole round table and cypher situation showed me I was in the right class. The whole class was supportive and genuine."
2020 XXL Freshman Class
"Making the XXL Freshman cover remains one of my proudest achievements. The cover is hanging in my living room. I wanted it my entire life. I used to buy copies of XXL and fantasize about making it when I was in middle school. To me, it’s the ultimate rite of passage that no one can ever take from me."
"My highlight of that whole experience was the cypher with me, Fivio [Foreign], Latto, and Calboy. I don’t care what anybody says, I still think we had the best one of our year."
"When I found out I was gonna be in the 2021 XXL Freshman Class, I was hype as hell. The whole experience was dope. I remember everybody’s energy and just being hella cool, like we already knew each other. It was cool to meet other rappers starting off like me and it’s even better seeing all us still thrive and go crazy till this day. I ain’t gonna lie, Freshmen Class really helped me spread my voice and get the attention I didn’t know I needed and wanted. The platform they provided helped me grow as an artist, not to mention that was my first live freestyle. So, I'll always remember that."
"Being a Freshman for XXL was monumental for me. First woman from my label and my city, Milwaukee, to be on the cover. And it helped me reach a broader audience! My favorite part of the day was definitely the cypher. I got to showcase my skill among other dope artists and it helped me gain a lot of opportunity afterwards!"
"Being a 2021 XXL Freshman was a career-defining milestone for me. It’s pretty obvious that the artists that have made the list over the 15-year history have had lots of success and are the top people in the game to this day. XXL Freshman is a rite of passage, and I’m happy to be a part of the fraternity."
"From Nipsey [Hussle], Jay Rock, Kendrick [Lamar], YG, ScHoolBoy Q, Ab-Soul, Ty Dolla $ign, Los Angeles has been making a mark on the Freshman class covers. To be acknowledged by a platform that had acknowledged the legends before they even became legends is a compliment in itself. I pride myself on representing my city with integrity, so this was reassurance that I'm setting that example."
"I thought the 2021 XXL Freshman experience was really exciting. When I arrived and saw the level of production and all the other artists who made the list, I was kind of nervous, but everyone was super cool, professional and supportive, so, it was definitely a good experience.
There's always so much anticipation around these covers and who's going to make it. So, when I found out I was on the list, it really affirmed that all my hard work was being noticed. I feel like it was also validating in a way because there've been so many greats who've blessed the cover in the past and who have gone on to find major success. So, it really inspired me to strive for that same level of greatness in my own career.”
"My favorite memory of the XXL Freshman Cover was being able to do it with Blxst. He is a very talented artist. It means a lot to be a XXL Freshman. It is a major milestone and achievement."