Every year, a large influx of artists visit the XXL Magazine offices to pitch themselves to be on the annual Freshman cover before fan voting for the 10th spot begins. In short clips, each rapper tells the viewers why they deserve to be included, listing qualities like their career accomplishments so far, how their music is connecting with their fans and why now is their time. Some actually showcase their talent – like YK Osiris, who sang “Worth It” acapella in his pitch – while others simply let their personality do the talking.
No one did this better than Tierra Whack, who, instead of rapping or rehashing why Whack World was one of the best visual experiences of 2018… ate a bag of Lay’s potato chips for an entire minute. “All done,” she said, leaving with a smirk.
Returning to New York City since the 2019 XXL Freshman list was formally announced in late June, members of the class – YK Osiris, Tierra Whack, Comethazine, YBN Cordae, Rico Nasty, Lil Mosey, Roddy Ricch, BlueFace, Megan Thee Stallion, DaBaby, and Gunna – performed at PlayStation Theater on Monday night (July 22). It was there that Whack opened her set with a large bag of Lay’s, exclaiming, “This is the only reason I made this list. I ate some Lay’s!” She then threw smaller-sized bags of Lay’s to her fans.
Coming off her appearance on “MY POWER” on Beyoncé’s The Lion King: The Gift soundtrack, Whack could have easily performed as one of the evening’s headliners. But following YK Osiris, who brought out Ann Marie for their duet “Secret” and closed by singing “Worth It” in the crowd, she used the 20-minute slot to spit nonstop. Her set was mostly her full-length tracks, keeping the energy high with “Only Child, “CLONES,” “Wasteland,” and “Unemployed.” “Watch your elbows, sir!” she warned a fan before ending her time with a pair of Whack World cuts, “Hookers” and “Hungry Hippo.”
In New York, heavy rain showers and flash food warnings could have canceled this sold-out show. Fortunately for fans, almost every Freshman member made it to celebrate gracing the cover and to try to put on an unforgettable experience. It was clear that the crowd had come to see Rico Nasty and Megan Thee Stallion, breaking out loud “Rico!” and “Megan!” chants throughout the night. Megan, who was the only Freshman that didn’t make the show due to inclement weather, shared several updates of being stuck in North Carolina on her Instagram story. Thus, it was up to Rico to hold it down for the ladies.
If you haven’t been to a Rico Nasty show yet, it feels a lot like a punk show: She kicked things off with “Cold,” off her Anger Management project with Kenny Beats, that set the tempo for the rest of the night. Rico’s ability to stretch her voice on her songs and deliver a hardcore sound at the same time is what makes her so dynamic. Fans were bestowed with banger after banger, running through mosh pit starters “Guap (LaLaLa)” and “Smack a Bitch.” Clear beach balls were thrown into the crowd, and she even teased a special surprise—a pillow fight. Throwing a few feather pillows into the crowd only made her performance of “Rage” that much crazier.
When XXL does its Freshman cover mid-year reveal, it always causes a debate within the rap community on whether XXL got it right or not. In today’s hip-hop marketplace, there’s such an abundance of artists that choosing 11 or 12 to be indicted into the Freshman class is not an easy task, setting up inevitable criticism for overlooking certain artists. Yet the class of 2019 is a very accurate representation of hip-hop today — never mind the specific streaming numbers, social followings and other metrics that determine who makes it on here. This list works when it captures the genre’s expansive sound from both ends of the spectrum.
Every Freshman that performed shifted the aesthetic: If you wanted to “pipe the fuck up,” Comethazine’s got you with “Blicky.” If you wanted lyrics, YBN Cordae has bars for days, showing off with his remix of Eminem’s “My Name Is” and amping up the crowd with “Kung Fu.” If you wanted melody and vibey hooks, Lil Mosey and Roddy Ricch delivered on that.
A show of this magnitude couldn’t exist without surprises. Cordae previewed “Thousand Words,” off his upcoming debut The Lost Boy; Comethazine promised Bawskee 3.5 is coming July 26; and Roddy Ricch says he’s got an album coming later this year. Even Shiggy entertained the crowd by doing his dance to Drake’s “In My Feelings,” and hung around after to conduct a rap-along to Meek Mill’s “Dreams and Nightmares.”
The rest of the evening was saved for the list’s proven stars: BlueFace, DaBaby, and Gunna. All three have seen rapid growth in popularity through their respective hit songs (“Thotiana,” “Suge,” “Drip Too Hard”), consistent releases, and major co-signs from the likes of Birdman, J. Cole, and Young Thug, so to see them on this year’s cover looks like a missed opportunity to make an early prediction in 2018. Still, not everyone is as plugged-in within the hip-hop world, and many in attendance were experiencing these artists for the first time. You can imagine how entertaining it must be to see BlueFace perform “Bleed It,” taking a nearby mop on stage and using it as a prop, or hit his dance for “Thotiana,” which hasn’t gotten old yet.
Meanwhile, DaBaby tried to create a viral moment in real time by maneuvering through the crowd to perform in a mosh pit. But when that didn’t work, he went to the railing across the stage to be surrounded by his fans, going baby on baby, as a nearby camera guy from his entourage recorded it all.
While it felt like the crowd could party all night, Gunna was the final act, performing a polished set of his best songs. He had a guitarist rock out with him for “Richard Millie Plain” and “Sold Out Dates.” He took it to Astroworld with “Yosemite,” and then brought it home with one last turn-up, “Drip Too Hard,” breaking down his drip before letting the Turbo instrumental fly.
Based on the DJ sets throughout the night, you can make a prediction of who will be here next year, judging by the crowd reactions from their songs. Polo G. Pop Smoke. LouGotCash. Stunna 4 Vegas. Lil Nas X. All names that could qualify as the artists to watch, and considered the next wave of superstars.