July 30, 2021

Soul of Hip Hop

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Orchestrating an XXL Freshman class is no easy task. Add on the complexity of facilitating nearly 100 pitch meetings via Zoom due to an unprecedented global pandemic and it goes without saying that the XXL team had their work cut out for them this year. Nonetheless, the 2021 XXL Freshman Class has arrived and these burgeoning rhymers are joining a roster of lauded rap greats like Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, Travis Scott and a plenty of others.

This year’s Freshman inductees cover cities all across the map. There’s a variety of sounds, too. When it comes to melodic cadences, there’s Blxst from South Central, Los Angeles. If you’re looking for feel-good hood love tunes, listen to Syracuse, N.Y.-born and Raleigh, N.C.-reppin’ artist Toosii. Swag-filled rhymes and some AutoTune-added flare are delivered by Freshman 10th spot winner DDG of Pontiac, Mich. Harmony-filled tracks about aspiring for greatness and getting it out of the mud come courtesy of Fayetteville, N.C.’s Morray.

Hailing from Detroit, there’s 42 Dugg, who’s making a name for himself with his street anthems and laid-back approach to rapping. You can’t forget the importance of southern trap hits, which 1017 Records rapper Pooh Shiesty of Memphis offers effortlessly. And contrary to the rap styles of the aforementioned artists, pop-rock-adjacent artist Iann Dior, who reps both Arecibo, Puerto Rico and Corpus Christi, Texas, has already had a No. 1 hit with “Mood.” So, if he’s not on your radar, yet, get familiar.

For the ladies, there’s four women in the 2021 XXL Freshman class this year. A venomous spitter on the rise, Lakeyah from Milwaukee serves up bars of steel without hesitation. Then there’s Lexington, Ky.’s Rubi Rose, whose demeanor is sweet, but her raspy delivery and flow leaves listeners yearning for more. Certified hit-maker, Coi Leray, reppin’ both North Jersey and Boston, has a unique sound that serves as a recipe for a successful track. And Flo Milli, of Mobile, Ala., brings a full package of rhymes, fashion-forward looks and star power.

Rarely are any aspects of the XXL Freshman shoot calm. In fact, it’s now split into three days with artists divided up into groups due to COVID-19. Like any behind-the-scenes set with talented rhymers, there’s numerous duties being fulfilled all at once. It’s fair to liken the shoot to the energy of New York City, the city that never sleeps, because for a good eight to 10 hours each day, which is encapsulated in this BTS footage, movements are non-stop.

Here, you’ll see artists whose names should be remembered, but they’ll soon be plastered everywhere. Not to mention, personalities being displayed through colorful ensembles, stacks of cash and infectious dance moves. XXL’s Editor-in-Chief Vanessa Satten weighs in on the overall Freshman experience this year as do Lakeyah and Morray in the clip, both artists peeling back their layers in full transparency to share what being a part of the coveted class means for themselves personally.

Eleven artists made their way to the 20,000-square-foot Studio Space Atlanta in ATL between May 11 and May 13 for bustling days filled with cyphers, freestyles, interviews—both on and off camera—and much more.

Multiplatinum-selling producer Nick Mira created the beats for the famed cyphers, working with his Internet Money team to craft sounds that will stay ingrained in hip-hop heads’ ears for the summer and beyond. They also crafted over 20 beats for this year’s class to choose from for the cyphers, which the artists did as a unit on their respective days at the shoot. You can hear Nick Mira and Internet Money’s beats throughout all of the Freshman video content this year.

The latest Freshman class offers a little bit of everything, from lyricism to appeal and overall drip, charisma and much more.

Major congratulations to the 2021 XXL Freshman Class: 42 Dugg, Blxst, Coi Leray, DDG, Flo Milli, Iann Dior, Lakeyah, Morray, Pooh Shiesty, Rubi Rose and Toosii.

Go behind the scenes of the 2021 XXL Freshman Class shoot below.

Travis Shinn for XXL

See the 2021 XXL Freshman Class

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