Written by Gabrielle M. Jones
Every year XXL magazine rolls out its Freshman Class issue, featuring the next handful of rappers poised to breakout. For those new to the process, the magazine staff selects 9 prospects, while the twitter trolls and diehard music fans vote the 10th. The lucky ones who are picked have buzz in their city and have released music to a streaming platform or radio. The selection has been met with the traditional mix of celebration from those included to those citing popularity over talent being the deciding factor. Beyond the bragging and bickering, does becoming an XXL freshman actually help any artist’s rap or R&B career? Or are those picked doomed to doing shows at standing room only music halls around the world? I can’t predict future performance, but I can read the past. So, I sat down and sifted through the stats of all 84 XXL Freshman (2011,2013 and 2014 broke tradition and let fans pick an 11th, 12th or 13th freshman) to work out the chances of a freshman turning into a star. Read on for the conclusions I've made, but beware: it`s not pretty.
(The numbers were found by dividing the overall number of freshman from who actually completed the task at hand. I'm a fan of rounding so I would go with the nearest whole number.)
Chances of graduating into a superstar: 18%
After the bragging rights of snagging a spot on a magazine cover, the number of XXL freshman who turns their stint on the front page into a superstar status career is extremely low. Of the entire freshmen roster, only 18 artists can be considered a big deal. These artists include Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, Future and so on. Tellingly, all 18 of those artists counted on other factors to push them along: some benefitted from gargantuan co-signs from Kanye West and Jay-Z respectively; while others scored a series of pop hits by packing their album with pop stars; weed rapper Wiz Khalifa succeeded the old-fashioned way with a huge break-through hit, “Black and Yellow.” With Drake and Nicki Minaj famously turning down an offer to appear on a freshman cover and A$AP Rocky citing being “ too busy” to appear, it seems like rappers benefit from distancing themselves from their run-of-the-mill classmates.
"Every artist who was able to beat the odds and graduate to stardom followed a simple business model. They consistently put out quality music, interacted with their fan base through genuine interactions and on and off the camera, went on tour to see the people who quote their lyrics every day and stayed out of the drama." - Gabrielle M. Jones
Chances of releasing an album before the year is out: 21%
Becoming an XXL Freshman might boost your profile, but it doesn’t bode well for your chances of actually getting to release a studio album before the year of your cover placement is out. Because of the culture we live in, most artists feel as though they don't have time to record 30 or 40 songs, cut that down to 10 and release an album through various forms of promotion. Most end up quenching fans thirst with mixtapes; which turn into series (Meek Mill- Dreamchasers) that in some cases happens to be better than the album itself. Excluding this year’s picks, only 23 past freshmen achieved the feat.
Chances of suffering from the freshman curse: 10 %
There’s a 10% chance that an XXL Freshman will be struck by a bout of bad luck after appearing on the magazine cover. Charles Hamilton derailed his own career and ultimately checked himself into some sort of a mental asylum, preppy white rapper Asher Roth’s chances of cracking the mainstream dissolved when he tweeted about “nappy headed hoes,” Saigon saw his album continually delayed and then eventually shelved by his then label Atlantic and lastly, Chief Keef who didn't even make his cover shoot due to being in jail, constantly suffers from ongoing legal issues ranging from assault to child support delinquency.
Chances of a song or album going platinum: 16%
Can the freshman factor give an artist enough of a promotional push to propel them to a stage where they can mount a platinum plaque in the recording studio or the foyer of their million dollar home? Not really. Only 16% of freshmen past and present have been able to claim any sort of platinum status — and even then that includes Rich Boy’s one-hit-wonder “Throw Some D’s” and Iggy Azalea`s 5x platinum hit “Fancy”. The songs that do reach platinum status happen to have either a catchy hook or a feature that is established and respected within their genre. The real challenge is creating a platinum album. Only J. Cole, Macklemore and Kendrick Lamar are the only three artists to go platinum with 2014 Forest Hills Drive, The Heist, Good Kid, M.A.A.D City and To Pimp a Butterfly.
"The reality of the situation is that being a cover star of a major magazine dedicated to the culture does not guarantee overnight success; hard work does." - Gabrielle M. Jones
Chances you will be signed to a Major Label: 38%
A popular charge from the conspiracy section of the peanut gallery is that every artist who makes the list will end up being signed to a major label. That`s not entirely true, as most will get signed, but not to a major label. Most likely, it will end up being an independent entertainment group with distribution rights going to a major label. Entertainment groups normally have less of a roster to work with and can end up giving an artist more attention than a label could. This is done so that major labels wont waste money and resources on possible one hit wonders. An artist is like flipping a penny; you can luck up and get a YG or tails and be stuck with a Troy Ave. It`s easier to chalk up a loss with money when there`s more than one hand in the pot. Then there are the few who do get signed to a major label but get burned. Trinidad James was signed to Def Jam off the commercial success of “ All Gold Everything. A two million dollar deal and one album later, he was dropped from his label and out of a career. Ultimately, signing to a label for some rappers is something impossible to turn down especially when the label slides a six-figure advance check on top of the contract asking for your soul.
The reality of the situation is that being a cover star of a major magazine dedicated to the culture does not guarantee overnight success; hard work does. Every artist who was able to beat the odds and graduate to stardom followed a simple business model. They consistently put out quality music, interacted with their fan base through genuine interactions on and off the camera, went on tour to see the people who quote their lyrics everyday and stayed out of the drama that baby mothers and chain snatchers brought to their door. To be honest, I cannot wait to see what the class of 2016 brings to the table as I hope that all 10 reach their potential.