In what has become an annual tradition for XXL reveals their next Freshman class every year, the hip-hop magazine celebrated their ninth annual issue with a sold-out show at New York City’s PlayStation Theater on Tuesday night (June 28), featuring a majority of hand-picked artists the outlet deems have next.
The 2016 Freshman class features a mix of pure lyricists, melodic geniuses, street narrators and one satirical rapper from all parts of America: Anderson .Paak, 21 Savage, Kodak Black, Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Dicky, Dave East, Denzel Curry, Desiigner and Lil Yachty (who was voted in as this year’s tenth spot winner) have all established themselves with cult followings either through a standout project, viral campaigns or live shows. The Freshmen performing under one roof felt like a cheat sheet for the uninitiated to hip-hop’s up-and-comers, where fans essentially get 10 mini-shows for the price of one.
Due to current tour obligations, Anderson .Paak, Lil Uzi and 21 Savage did not perform at the inaugural show. Kodak Black, who is currently incarcerated at Broward County jail on several charges including robbery and false imprisonment, could not attend though several acts shouted out “Free Kodak Black!” during their sets. One of them was fellow Florida native Denzel Curry, who started off the night strong with several selections from his Imperial mixtape. “ULT” and “Knotty Head” — two tracks that are solid primers for Curry — elicited the loudest response. “Zone 3,” a throwback to 2013’s Nostalgic 64, showcased his Lord Infamous-like flow, staying in pocket for the track’s dark production.
Dave East and G Herbo share similarities in their aggressive style, which makes sense that they performed back-to-back midway through the show. While Harlem and Chicago are a few hundred miles away from the Empire state, the cities have produced some of the sharpest street storytellers, each adopting sinister trap beats that seem like perfect background music for mosh pits. East held it down with his freestyle to OT Genasis’ “Cut It,” and played his recent hits “Forbes List” and “No Coachella.” A lyricist just like his mentor Nas, he made sure to kick some bars a cappella before letting G Herbo control the crowd with “Kill Shit” (sans former 2014 XXL Freshman Lil Bibby) and “Heaven or Hell” (CHIMACA), where he brought out Atlanta-based, Kingston-born rapper Zuse for his verse.
Once the night’s host DJ Suss One announced that Lil Yachty was about to hit the stage, the Yachty chants were instantly deafening. The 19-year-old artist, who recently inked a deal with Quality Control, rapped his own songs, feeding off the crowd’s energy to create a party-like atmosphere during “Wanna Be Us” with Burberry Perry and the uplifting “Broccoli,” a single with Virginia rapper/singer D.R.A.M. On-stage, you could spot Blink-182‘s Travis Barker enjoying Yachty’s set while his son Landon Barker dabbed throughout the performance of “Minnesota.” Lil Boat’s other SoundCloud hit, “One Night,” had the audience so amped that he ran back “Minnesota” as a final goodbye.
Next up was Lil Dicky, a controversial pick this year as critics felt his placement crossed out other contenders like “White Iverson” hitmaker Post Malone (who had a riff with the mag about his inclusion), Love & Hip-Hop star Cardi B and Bay Area’s Kamaiyah. The live experience of an LD show is based on your own personal taste. Dicky exuded the same mannerisms as a “professional rapper,” as he put it, doing his own versions of call-and-response like “No more spreadsheets!” and “I say abortion, you say pro-choice!” The comic showed off his technical skill on tracks like “How Can I Become a Bawlaa” and “Pillow Talking.” His wallet-friendly anthem “Save Dat Money” — which has over 46 million views on YouTube — is hard to ignore but felt like a missed opportunity for 2015 XXL Freshman Fetty Wap and 2014 XXL Freshman Rich Homie Quan to do the song with Lil Dicky live for the first time. He ended with “Lemme Freak,” seating a young girl in the middle of the stage for a literal interpretation of his video by stripping down to his boxers and dry-humping her.
It’s a rare occasion for the XXL Freshman show to have all inductees performing in one night. The leaner line-up created less delays and built more anticipation for Desiigner’s headlining set. After delivering a left-field XXL freestyle that inspired various remixes, a BET Awards performance and his first G.O.O.D. Music release New English, the 19-year-old Brooklyn rhymer was more than ready to deliver for his hometown. He played mostly material from the one-week-old mixtape, like his potential crossover hit “Overnight,” and kept the crowd on their feet with his signature microphone throw-and-dab. The finale came from a sing-a-long for “Timmy Turner” that seamlessly transitioned into “Panda” featuring more of Desiigner’s dancing and Milly rocking than rapping. Just moments before the show ended, Desiigner and his hypeman left the crowd with “Panda — G.O.O.D.” and “G.O.O.D. Music” chants, an omen that Kanye West’s youngest signee — like the rest of this Freshman class — are ready for the big leagues.