Live: Machine Gun Kelly Is The Valedictorian Of XXL’s Freshman Class


XXL Freshman Class 2012: Don Trip, Kid Ink, Iggy Azalea, Roscoe Dash, Macklemore, Hopsin, Danny Brown, Future, French Montana, Machine Gun Kelly
Best Buy Theater
Monday, April 9

Better than: Ten rappers you’re completely unfamiliar with.

Every year, XXL selects a group of rappers to label as “freshmen”—supposed up-and-comers that the magazine feels are ready for the limelight. To jaded hip-hop bloggers, the freshmen bear some resemblance to the Best New Artist category at the Video Music Awards: The selection is wildly uneven talent-wise and tends to ignore an artist’s history. To everyone else, including attendees of the XXL Freshmen showcase concert at the Best Buy Theater last night, they’re a group of unknowns with one or two familiar names thrown into the mix, names which are worth commuting into the belly of Times Square to witness.

The four-hour showcase, containing ten 15-minute-ish sets, involved at least three people dressed as Spider-Man, Irishmen waving flags, innumerable high-schoolers, and (due to those high schoolers) a lot of awkward, occasionally angry, grinding. It was loosely hosted by Cipha Sounds and Peter Rosenberg of Hot 97, who seemed both excited and disgusted by how many young white people were in the audience. A rundown of the performances:

Don Trip
Don Trip came out performing “Letter to my Son,” a sobering, heartfelt song about fatherhood—exactly what a bunch of rowdy teenagers wanted to hear to start off their night. Trip didn’t seem fazed by the lack of interest, though; he made his way through his set casually, strolling back and forth across the stage throughout. The song that he dedicated to the ladies contained the lines “bet you can polish a pole even if you’re not a stripper” and “I can only love you when you’re undressed.” The girl next to me pumped her arm halfheartedly at the latter.
HIS OUTFIT SAID: “In The Groove.”
CLASS RANK: 5th. Trip didn’t make any waves, but he rapped six good songs quickly and then got off the stage.

Kid Ink
Kid Ink has a lot of tattoos, which is probably why he calls himself Kid Ink, but it’s possible that he was really into Ghost Writer when he was a kid. He would’ve been better suited to be a freshman in 2011—he’s a bit of a Thank Me Later-era Drake clone, shamless hashtag raps and all. Hashtags he used last night include “knock ’em out in one round… #miketyson,” “smell that… #folgers,” and “[something about] #mormons.” Much to the chagrin of the body-conscious guy behind me (“Where’s his sixpack, yo?!”), he took his shirt off at the end of his set.
HIS OUTFIT SAID: “Dope” and “Reckless.”
CLASS RANK: 9th. Kid Ink is not a very good rapper. He had some energy going for him, but not much else. His new single is called “Time of Your Life” and sounds as if it was written by Ester Dean.

Iggy Azalea
Azalea was nearly incomprehensible and needed a huge boost from her hypeman, who was fully incorporated into her short set. After performing three songs and losing the interest of the crowd completely, she asked if there were any “Azaleans” in the audience; once it was established that there weren’t, she ducked into the crowd in the hopes of gaining some converts while down there. She laid low while the DJ played Tupac’s “Ambitionz as a Ridah” and “All Eyez On Me” and then she quickly disappeared backstage.
HER OUTFIT SAID: “I want to be respected for my rap skills.”
CLASS RANK: 10th. Aside from being very difficult to understand, Azalea appeared to lose her breath after performing a couple of songs, which may explain her sudden disappearance.

Roscoe Dash
Dash, who resembles a rap version of Zippy the Pinhead, is the kind of rapper who supplies the extra feature on a lot of current radio hits. This meant that he was able to surprise an oblivious crowd with a trio of songs that they knew—”No Hands,” “All the Way Turnt Up,” and “Marvin Gaye and Chardonnay.” This went over well.
HIS OUTFIT SAID: “I like the graphic tees at Urban (that one with the red line over Kate Moss’s eyes).” “Also, my rap name could easily be Kid Ink.”
CLASS RANK: 4th. Roscoe rapped all of his hits both comprehensibly and well, and he had a short, organized set and a great energy level. He was the first person to really get the crowd excited (after the moment when the DJ played the theme song from The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air).

Macklemore was the biggest surprise of the night. He happily stated that it was OK that no one in the crowd knew him (which wasn’t true; he had a sizeable fanbase), then proceeded to rap like a cheerful Slug (of Atmosphere), accompanied by an exuberant trumpeter and a rotund singer in suspenders. He also took some time out to tell the crowd that Jim Henson’s Labyrinth is a good movie. This was met with total confusion, which was then exacerbated when Macklemore donned a fringed jean jacket with a hand-painted picture of David Bowie on the back.
HIS OUTFIT SAID: “I craft in my spare time.”
CLASS RANK: 3rd. Macklemore was upbeat (he climbed a speaker!), got the crowd involved nicely (a couple of the Irish joined him onstage) and displayed the most amiable personality of any performer.

This is where the angry grinding came into play. Hopsin wears scary contacts which effectively make him look insane. And dude has a lot of energy—he performed the song “Hop” while hopping up and down, and then crowd-surfed for the entirety of “How You Like Me Now.” He then brought out Tech N9ne (who really put in perspective how lyrically inferior everyone had been) and was able to match him in fervor and dexterity on their song “Am I A Psycho.”
HIS OUTFIT SAID: No idea; eyes were too terrifying to break contact.
CLASS RANK: 2nd. Hopsin can rap, move a crowd, and not make a fool of himself, all at the same time. Crowd-surfing for three minutes while not missing a bar is impressive.

Danny Brown
I was a big fan of Brown before the showcase, and I couldn’t help but to enjoy his set. That being said, he was ornery, abrasive, and hard to like for anyone not already familiar with his eccentricities. Brown’s concert voice is several octaves lower than the one he uses on wax, which doesn’t make it any more tolerable but does make it a lot less distinctive—not to mention more difficult to hear just how skilled he is. Most of the crowd hated him (he had a can thrown at him within seconds of being onstage) but there was a small contingent of people rapping along to “Blunt After Blunt,” and he bought out the fantastic Schoolboy Q for the latter’s single “Hands on the Wheel,” which garnered him some extra love.
HIS OUTFIT SAID: “Fuck Swag,” and “I really don’t care what you think of me, at all.”
CLASS RANK: 7th. The crowd for the most part loathed Brown, and he didn’t make it easy for them to change their minds.

Future suffered from following Brown, the complete lack of organization of his own set, and the fact that the crowd was getting pretty tired after three-plus hours. He only played one of his best songs—”Ain’t No Way Around It”—for a moment before changing his mind, but he got a better crowd response from his Scarface tribute “Tony Montana” and club track “At the Same Time.” It bears mentioning that Future hired a man in an astronaut suit to dance for the entirety of his performance.
HIS OUTFIT SAID: “If there’s one thing I love more than America, it’s really ugly jackets.”
CLASS RANK: 8th. Future was pretty forgettable, and unable to give the crowd the injection of energy it desperately needed.

French Montana
Montana came to the stage late, drunk, and with about forty people in tow. Also, he was wearing a ski mask for the first part of his performance. He relied heavily on his hypemen, and his guests Red Café and DJ Khaled, to get him through his set, but he somehow managed to keep the crowd engaged, perhaps because so many of them had stayed for him that they felt they needed to justify the decision.
HIS SKI MASK SAID: “It doesn’t matter which of these forty people is French Montana, since you’re still here.”
CLASS RANK: 6th. Montana kept the crowd entertained—impressive, both because was very drunk and because everyone was ready to go to sleep.

Machine Gun Kelly
Maybe as he claimed, he had suffered a couple of shitty days stuck in airports and making mistakes in interviews. Maybe he felt he was being sold short, included in a group that he already felt superior to. Whatever it was, something lit a fire under Machine Gun Kelly, and he woke up the entire room with a pretty incredible set. From calling four normal-looking girls up onstage to strip him to his underwear, to pouring vodka all over a cymbal before bashing it with his head, to leaping up on top of the DJ booth, to willing a wild mosh pit to exist on a floor that had been dead just five minutes before, MGK was at his best last night, completely justifying the presence of those exhausted fans who had stayed so long just to watch him work.
HIS OUTFIT SAID: “I like the Misfits, and my rap name could easily be Kid Ink.”
CLASS RANK: 1st. With absolutely no competition. He rapped about as well as guest Tech N9ne and had more energy than Hopsin with a degree of showmanship that nobody else even came close to.

Critical bias: I was a big fan of Brown going into the show.

Random notebook dump: The show began after the DJ made sure that any girls who “smelled like hot dog water” had exited the premises.