The 2014 XXL Freshmen: A Statistical Analysis


The line-up for XXL magazine’s 2014 freshman issue was revealed on Monday evening, with the “dirty dozen” of rappers on the cover including Chance The Rapper, Kevin Gates, Isaiah Rashad, Ty Dolla $ign and Rich Homie Quan. Troy Ave is New York City’s sole inclusion.

As with years gone by, comments sections across the internet are already taking glee in picking the list apart and churning out conspiracy theories about the included artists. Beyond debates about whether the round-up represents an accurate snapshot of upcoming rap talent in 2014 though, a statistical break-down of the fortunes of the XXL freshmen past and present throws up some intriguing insights into how the honor goes on to help or hinder a rapper’s career. Consider this the wrath of the freshman math.

See also:Five NYC Rappers Who Deserve To Be In XXL’s 2013 Freshman Class Issue

Chances of actually releasing an album during the same year: 25.8%
Being anointed as an XXL freshman is parsed as the first step to a long and fruitful rap career, but intriguingly most artists who appear on the cover fail to capitalize on the buzz by releasing a studio album the same year. Macklemore (with The Heist in 2012) and Future (with Pluto from the same year) are the two most notable exceptions — and both scored big by actually getting music out before their freshmen year was over.

Chances you’ll become a bona fide superstar: 12.2%
The number of XXL freshmen who successfully flip a spot on the magazine cover into an honest to goodness career as a mainstream superstar is low. Tellingly, those plucky rap kids who do manage to assail to great heights of stardom can usually call on a very generous helping hand — as in Lupe Fiasco and J. Cole receiving hearty co-signs from Kanye and Jigga, Wiz Khalifa snagging ‘Ye’s former G.O.O.D. wifey Amber Rose, or Macklemore coining a pop culture moment with “Thrift Shop.” The low odds of stardom throw credence to rumors that break-out stars like Drake, A$AP Rocky and Nicki Minaj turned down freshman cover opportunities as they didn’t want to be grouped in with possibly flailing talent.

Chances you’re a mature student: 25.7%
There’s often little youthful and fresh-faced about being an XXL freshman, with over a quarter of all picks having hit the magic number of 30 by the time of their cover spot. The first ever freshman roster in 2008 included a whopping eight mature rap chaps in its ranks, while this year’s vintage features the 32-year-old Funk Volume representer Jarren Benton. Rap is no longer just a young buck’s sport.

Chances of falling foul to the Freshman Curse: 11.3%
There was a time when XXL freshmen seemed to regularly be struck by bouts of torrid luck — as with 2009 pick Charles Hamilton booking a vacation in the psych ward, inaugural white rapper freshman Asher Roth tweeting his “nappy headed hoes” comment, or Lil Boosie soon trading up a cover photo shoot for a stint in the slammer. The curse seems to be fading though, with the most notable downfalls of late affecting two 2013 members: Angel Haze’s temper tantrum with her label caused her to leak her own intended studio debut Dirty Gold for free, while Chief Keef’s love of a good illicit shenanigan keeps getting in the way of his music career.

Chances you’re a proud New York representer: 16.2%
New York City used to be the epicenter of the rap world, but these days the music’s commercial and creative potency has spread throughout the country. Despite a strong start with Joell Ortiz, Papoose, and Saigon all appearing on the 2008 cover, Big Apple rhymers are in something of the minority when it comes to grabbing cover spots. A salute then to the rest of our plucky hometown troops: Mickey, Cory, Charles, Diggy, Fred, French, Joey, Troy, and the great Bronsolino.

Chances you’re a white rapper: 9.5%
Since Asher Roth appeared as the first Caucasian freshman in 2009, paler-faced rap kids have gone on to make up just under 10% of all successful spots. 2012 remains the white rapper banner year, with Macklemore, Machine Gun Kelly, and Iggy Azalea all appearing.

Chances you’re a white rapper freshman who then blows up: 42.9%
Of the white rappers to appear on an XXL freshman cover, just under half of them manage to break-through into the mainstream — as with Macklemore’s repurposed wares, Mac Miller’s real deal indie success story, and Iggy Azalea’s wanton pop ambitions.

Chances you’re actually an R&B singer: 2.7%
The lines between mainstream rap and R&B might be increasingly blurred these days with trillers openly embracing the tropes and slang of hip-hop. The trend has crept into the annals of freshman selection too, with rap-styled singer Kid Cudi (2009) and potty-mouthed August Alsina (2014) smoothing out the freshman experience.

Chances you decide to cannily upstage your freshmen mates at the cover shoot: 5.4%
The overriding theme to the XXL freshmen covers is to cram a bunch of rappers together and hope that they all manage to girn at the camera at the same time. The smart cookies of the bunch manage to stand-out on the cover by virtue of possibly ignoring any communal wardrobe advice though: Lil B went tatted and topless in 2011, French Montana stole the 2012 show with his bear hat, and Trinidad James rocked a lurid and near-neon personal color scheme in 2013. This year’s foppish star is Chance the Rapper, who has plumped for a denim dungarees look that nods to Village People chic. Well played, young Chance, well played.

The A$AP Rocky Drinking Game
The Kanye You Once Loved Is Dead and Gone
The Top 20 NYC Rap Albums of All Time

Advertising disclosure: We may receive compensation for some of the links in our stories. Thank you for supporting the Village Voice and our advertisers.