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Every year, XXL selects 10 rising rappers on track to have their breakout year. This year in particular is a big one; it is the 10th anniversary of the ‘XXL Freshman’ series, and it has been riotously scrutinized online. This could mainly be due to the ascension of artists like the extremely controversial XXXTentacion, himself only admitted thanks to a fan vote.

Even after casting him aside, this year’s Freshman class is arguably the most unrecognizable yet for the more casual hip-hop fan, especially compared to last year’s list which saw a huge roster of familiar names admitted (Lil Yachty anyone?). But fear not, we’re here to guide you through why these 10 artists have earned their right to be on the cover. Get to know this year’s ‘XXL Freshman’ below.

Aminé

Aminé’s “Caroline” was undoubtedly his breakthrough – fusing a video showcasing his wry humor, an utterly joyous instrumental and lyrics geared toward the generation he’s grown up in. This year, he’s gone on to receive support from Tyler, the Creator, who recorded music for his new video, Kehlani, with whom he released the brilliant “Heebiejeebies” alongside, and received a remix of his slapper “Red Mercedes” by none other than Missy Elliot and the biggest up-and-comer in Grime – AJ Tracey. He’s as capable at making heaters as he is R&B jams – and it’s this versatility which has been recognized by XXL as a punctuating point for his inevitable rise this year.

A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie

Much has been written on the shift of hip-hop’s biggest hitters from Atlanta to New York, but A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie is making sure New York progresses with the times – despite being far from the same mould as the city’s biggest hitters. He has no intention of trying to be typecast into that New York sound – he’s “in his own bag.”

A Boogie’s melodic, autotune heavy trap stylings are full of infectious hooks and acerbic one-liners. A Boogie rolls closely with fellow Freshman class member PnB Rock and has a hit with last year’s alumni, Kodak Black, on “Drowning.” “Bag On Me” alongside fellow bubbling NYC rapper Don Q is also gold, but it’s “Timeless” which is the definitive track which punctuates his potential in 2017.

Kamaiyah

You’ll be hearing a lot more of Kamaiyah’s slick, West Coast drawls this summer. She is both humble and confident, and abruptly straightforward. She blew up as a result of her single “How Does it Feel,” which served as an antidote to the slew of more insecure hip-hop that was popularized by 2016 Freshman like Yachty and Uzi Vert. She’s very tight with YG, providing the hook for his Drake-assisted hit “Why You Alway Hatin” and who starred on her breakthrough mixtape from last year, A Good Night in the Ghetto – which remains one of the most criminally underrated projects of recent years (and a favorite of ours). It might now finally start getting its shine as she continues through 2017.

Kap G

When Kap G landed a spot on the Freshman list, Twitter recognized him from his appearance in the film Dope – to which Awful Records’ Father responded with “y’all gone stop comin’ for Kap G like he not sauced up tho.” This much is true. His background as a Latino rapper makes a welcome addition toward the diversity of the list alongside sole female inductee Kamiayah. His most high-profile link up is getting that Young Thug feature, where the chemistry between the pair’s flow is undeniably gold. “Freakin ‘N’ Geekin” is the Mexican’s other surefire heater.

Kyle

“iSpy” featuring Lil Yachty undoubtedly paved the way for Kyle to feature on the list, but the rapper has a back catalogue full of potential that goes beyond one of summer’s most uplifting anthems. He shares Yachty’s infectious positivity, which definitely underpins his climb to the top. Nor can his link up with Chance on “Remember Me?” be forgotten in his rise, as do the array of bubbly beats that make up his back catalogue.

Madeintyo

Absolutely everyone has heard “Uber Everywhere,” but quite a few hip-hop heads would have raised their eyes at Maedityo’s placement in this year’s Freshman list. In reality, the Japan-raised singer has been making some of the freshest and diverse sounding hip-hop to come out of ATL in the last few years. Alongside big shouts from the likes of 2 Chainz and Wiz Khalifa, he received La Flame himself’s seal of approval for his breakthrough, taxi-related hit. After dropping two solid projects last year, this year has seen Big Sean remix his latest hit “Skateboard P” in what’s set to see him ascend to new levels.

Playboi Carti

The name on the list that people are probably most hyped / familiar with by now, Playboi Carti has been very much manufactured into becoming a star. Dropping a few heaters in the form of “Broke Boi” and “FETTI,” Carti largely remained relevant by dressing well and hanging with the right people. He’s been tight with A$AP for a minute, good friends with Lil Uzi Vert and has one of the song’s of the summer in “Magnolia.” After dropping his self-titled tape back in April – met with wide critical acclaim – the ATL rapper has a slew of unreleased heat to drop in 2017.

PnB Rock

Philly is a city going through a serious rap resurgence through the likes of Meek Mill, Lil Uzi Vert and the more R&B-orineted croonings of PnB Rock. PnB comes from the Fetty Wap and Young Thug school of utilizing ones voice as an instrumental, and has frequently been shown a lot of love from last year’s Freshman, Kodak Black. His features have probably got him the most attention, but his individual style is perfectly encapsulated by his track “Selfish” – which toys on all the feels he had for “a woman he doesn’t even talk to any more.”

Ugly God

The most jokes rapper on the list by a long shot, Ugly God’s viral tendencies with lizards and nonchalantly brilliant tunes like “Beat My Meat” and “Water” have seen him put numbers on the board on SoundCloud – where the Houston rapper racks up multi-million hits on every track he uploads. Ugly God fuses all the nostalgia of growing up as a ’90s kid in his songs, with Nintendo references aplenty and even a track dedicated to the political choice of the US Youth – Bernie Sanders.

XXXTentacion

Easily the least jokes rapper on this list by a long shot, XXXTentacion is a contender for the most controversial rapper of the decade. He is currently serving probation and is awaiting court date for a series of disturbingly violent offenses, including abuse of a pregnant girlfriend. XXX was the fan choice for this year’s Freshman class, and not one made by the publication outright. Take a look at our breakdown on his unprecedented rise right here.

Watch the official announcement of ‘XXL’s Freshmen Class of 2017 right here, and check out our playlist of their best tracks below.

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