In 2007 XXL changed the landscape of hip-hop’s breeding ground by tapping a crop of promising up-and-coming rappers to grace one of its covers. Tagged “Leaders of the New School,” the group featured a mix of MCs who’d recently made waves with their debuts (Rich Boy, Plies, Lil Boosie) and others who’d built a strong buzz in anticipation for their first major-label look (Saigon, Papoose, Joell Ortiz).
The following year there was a delay and some discussions before deciding whether to do another cover forecasting 10 up-and-comers. Requirements were tweaked and the leaders were rechristened Freshmen. Only artists who’d yet to drop an official debut album were now eligible. The second Class featured Wale, KiD CuDi and B.o.B MCs who’d primarily cultivated their buzz online. The third cover brought a grittier and more experienced Class of MCs such as Wiz Khalifia, Nipsey Hu$$le, Freddie Gibbs, J. Cole and Big Sean and due to some internal issues, was pushed back a few months so it came out in 2010 leaving no Class of 2009. 2011’s Class, the fourth one, reflected hip-hop’s young in age and attitude faze with artists like Kendrick Lamar, Mac Miller, Lil B, Meek Mill, Big K.R.I.T., YG and Yelawolf. Last year fifth anniversary cover, hit newsstands in March, right as the basketball world plunged into the NCAA tournament and created a similar frenzy with selections like French Montana, Machine Gun Kelly, Danny Brown, Hopsin, Future and Macklemore. Now in its sixth year, XXL’s annual freshman class has become a phenomenon. It’s also become sort of a fraternity, as aspiring rhyme slingers all over the globe pledge in hope of joining the brotherhood. Some have squandered the opportunity to use the Freshmen cover moment and title as a stepping stone for their career, but plenty of alumni have taken full advantage of the platform.
In celebration of the 2013 class, XXL breaks down The Freshmen franchise by the numbers.