06 March 2013

XXL Freshmen Class 2009: Then & Now

We don't claim to be the definitive source of information here at BITM when it comes to news within the urban community, but at the same time, we won't hesitate to speak from the soul when giving our opinions on a subject. With that said, let's move on to the XXL Freshman Class of 2009. 

It's true that this was not XXL's first issue in their Freshman Class series, but it was the first that introduced a wave of relatively unknown young talent to the world at the time. How many of us really knew who Asher Roth was in 2008? In fact, at the time, I only recognized 3 out of the 10 artists who graced the three covers; Cory Gunz, Blu, and Wale. The one thing that impressed me the most back then was the noteable absence of typical radio type artists on the cover of a well known hip-hop magazine (I knew nothing about Ace Hood back then). Of course I wasn't able to predict what type of careers these artists would carve out for themselves, but I was just glad to see the next wave of young talent that would help bring in the new decade.

XXL has had their own "Where are they now" series for each Freshman class for some time now, but theirs usually come only two years after the release of the issue. The rap game moves fast though, so I get it. But I always like to give artists around five years to see just how much the game changes them, or to see if they are among the minority who are actually able to change the game themselves.

Wale - His first album under MMG was surprisingly better than his debut album Attention Deficit released a few years prior. He has also been featured on countless singles throughout the MMG camp and beyond. At first it was odd to see someone whom I considered to be somewhat of a lyricist joining forces with MMG, but to be honest, Rick Ross probably saved this man's career. Personally I wouldn't have minded if he stuck with mixtapes, but at the end of the day I understand the man wants to get paid.

B.o.B. - He has probably seen the most success out of the bunch. After grinding solo since 2006, he is now nestled comfortably under the umbrella of Grand Hustle. Bobby Ray's wildly successful young career has actually kept the Grand Hustle label afloat amidst T.I.'s "vacations." I'm still not sure which direction Tip is headed with the "Hustle Gang," but B.o.B. will clearly play a huge role in the future of the label. His music doesn't particularly appeal to me for the most part, but I can definitely rock with a few of his joints here and there.

Charles Hamilton - Bum Sauce. I don't really want to spend a ton of time on this clown because all of his missteps have been highly publicized. His downfall was self-induced, which is sad because from a true hip-hop perspective I feel like he gets it. I think he understands the essence of what's real. I just can't wrap my head around how someone would allow their career to crash and burn so violently after having a decent deal damn near gift-wrapped for them. The Pink Lavalamp tape still gets spins in the whip every now and then, mainly due to the production, but I don't think many Charles Hamilton fans exist anymore.

Asher Roth - He is starting to gain the reputation as a baby shit soft rapper, which is something that I can't understand. Rappers are always poppin off about being real and staying in your lane, but when Asher does exactly that, all of a sudden he's soft? He stays true to the life he knows, and never ventures outside of those walls even for a second, which is more than I can say for several artists today. Would it be better if Asher started trying to sound black on his songs? I think people lose sight of what's really important in hip-hop, and instead focus on irrelavent issues to try to tear down an artist who might not necessarily fit the norms set by radio stations. Keeping all that in mind, his album "Asleep In The Bread Aisle" to me was an amazing debut that hit all the right notes. Since then though, Asher has only released a couple of obscure mixtapes that haven't even come close to living up to his LP. Which is rare...because it's supposed to be the other way around...right?

BLU - Hands down the biggest disappointment out of the entire 2009 Freshman class. It's almost as if he poured every ounce of his heart and soul into the timeless classic "Below the Heavens," and has been running on an empty tank ever since. He has thrown out countless under-produced un-mastered mixtapes, re-released those same tapes years later as albums, and done a couple of album collabs with other artists / producers, none of which even come close to reaching the bar set by Blu & Exile's Below the Heavens. Blu even teamed up with Exile again for "Give Me My Flowers While I Can Still Smell Them," but the album is the embodiment of this comfort zone Blu has reached. It's almost as if he refuses to challenge himself to be better. Don't get me wrong, I am far from a Blu hater. My frustration stems from the fact that I know what the man is capable of, and he keeps failing to deliver with each project he releases. Hopefully "NoYork!" will be a return to form when it drops on March 26th.

Cory Gunz - I have been loosely following Cory Gunz since the early-mid '00s, but never really expected him to establish a presence beyond his enormous mixtape collection. Even after inking a deal with the label that makes it damn near impossible to flop (YMCMB), my expectations for the young gun are proving themselves to be reality. It's all good though, the kid is only 25, he has plenty of time to shine.

Mickey Factz - I'll be honest, I don't really know much about this guy other than the song he had on the Fight Night Round 4 soundtrack, "Rocker," which...rocked. I can only hope the rest of his music follows the same mold. He has apparently amassed a healthy mixtape collection since 2006, but I have yet to sample a single one. He hasn't released a studio album, and hasn't made any serious noise since appearing on the cover of XXL.

Ace Hood - Most artists spend years on the underground circuit. For some, it may take 5-10 years before they experience any sort of consistent monetary success on a grand scale. Then there are artists like Ace Hood, who follow the cookie-cut mold to acheieve instant overnight mainstream success just from being in the right place at the right time. After Ace handed his demo tape to DJ Khaled, his future was sealed. Even though I consider his style and what he stands for to be an example of everything that is wrong with the rap game, I do respect some of his cadences when he raps. Outside of that, the man doesn't exist to me. And making the type of music he makes at age 24, I don't even think he truly understands what hip-hop is. The club goers love him though, but their ears aren't trained to pay attention to lyricism, of which he has none.

Curren$y - This one is the wild card. I've been known to destroy Spitta in a few of my hip-hop circles from hatin on his boring delivery to sayin he raps like he got a d**k lodged in his mouth, but over the years I have grown to like his style. I can't relate to any of the shit he talks about in his music, but I still find myself coppin every album he drops. He has found a lane that works for him and consistently releases albums at a steady pace. I really got nothin bad to say about dude, I respect what he's doin.

Kid Cudi - Easily the most eccentric artist of the bunch, Scott Mescudi's music is a mixed bag that isn't necessarily embraced by everyone. The closed-minded crowd feels like his sound is too weird, but those who love art are able to respect the divergent approach Cudi takes with his music. Cudi was one of the first artists in 2008 who made me realize this new decade of music was going to be littered with artists taking risks and not being afraid to be themselves. Nowadays it's easy to notice that hip-hop has branched off into several sub-genres, and while Kid Cudi clearly was not the first person to come with a new sound, he has definitely been one of many who have managed to inspire a new generation to not be afraid to challenge the status quo. In my humble opinion, Cudi is the definition of a game changer. Regardless of whether or not you actually like his music, you would be a fool to not recognize the impact he's had on hip-hop.

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