2014 marks the seventh year in a row that XXL has rolled out its annual Freshman Class, acknowledging the top up-and-coming rappers in the game that particular year. With 62 Freshmen having graced the cover since 2008, there have been plenty of rappers who have gone on to superstardom, selling millions of records and grabbing Grammys and VMAs alongside the top names in the business, and others who haven't quite been able to capitalize on the momentum they'd built before becoming a Freshman.

This year, 12 more artists join the ranks of XXL's Freshmen alums, and they've got a big year ahead of themselves breaking into the mainstream and becoming household names in their own right. But the cover itself won't guarantee success; it's the hard work that goes into building on its momentum that can make or break a star. With that in mind, we asked 22 former XXL Freshmen to share any advice they have for this year's crop of talent. Keep it movin'. —Eric Diep, Miranda Johnson, Emmanuel C.M. and Dan Rys

xxl freshmen covers

Crooked I
Year: 2008

Being on the cover of XXL is dope because you receive recognition from your peers, you get more serious business inquiries, you get A-1 pussy thrown at you, too, but you should never forget the grind it took to get there. There's more work to do.

crooked I

gorilla zoe 2008 freshman

Joell Ortiz
Year: 2008

My advice to the new Freshman Class is to recognize the moment. Realize that this doesn't mean you made it. It means that you have been given a chance to succeed or fail. Now is the time to work harder than you ever did before because EVERYONE is watching. Seize the moment. You can only make a first impression once. Outwork everyone. Surprise yourself. Make the people who believe in you say, "Wow, not even I knew he wanted it this much." This cover could be the first of many or the last one you'll ever grace. That is all determined by work ethic, grind and determination. Show everyone why you deserve to be in the game. The world is watching.

joell ortiz 2008 freshman

Year: 2008

I would advise them to capitalize off the look. Maximize the opportunity. Keep being consistent, keep doing what they're doing—they're obviously doing something right that y'all put them on the cover—the same way that myself, Plies, Saigon and everybody at that time was doing. So keep doing what they're doing; they ain't doing nothing wrong. Don't let the industry tell them to do this or that they need to do that, they need to make a certain type of record; fuck that, because they're obviously doing something that's effective.


Year: 2008

The advice I would give is don’t think that you made it 'cause you're on the cover of a magazine. It’s like graduating high school—you still go to college after that, so don’t get a high school diploma and think that you’re straight, that you don’t need to further your education. 'Cause a lot of guys get that way; yeah, you’re a freshman, you didn’t graduate. Keep that in mind, 'cause there’s a lot more work to do and the work just gets harder. So congratulate yourself and keep it moving.

Try to have some music out while that magazine is on stands so people can turn on the radio and hear your voice. People might turn on MTV Jams and see your video or go on Worldstar and see your video. It’s good to strike while it’s hot, 'cause next month people are going to be talking about the next cover and people going to forget about that.


Young Dro
Year: 2008

The advice I would give for the new Freshman Class is be confident, be humble to even grace the page. Make sure you have longevity. When the next class comes around, you can have interviews like these. [Laughs] You feel me? When I got on there, it was something new. It was something new that was happening. The new school who was going to hold the torch and carry the torch for hip-hop. I was so glad to be a part of that. The only thing I didn’t like was the wardrobe. [Laughs] It didn’t contain any Ralph Lauren, you know what I mean? But we made it through it. I had brought a little gear with me anyway. Gucci myself out. Franck Muller. 100,000 Figaros. It was cool. Actually, they let me pick my own gear. They dressed everybody else. They was like, "Go let Dro do his own thing." It was a pleasure—Freshman year. When you walk in my house, that’s the first thing you see.

young dro

Year: 2009

I would want to see who's the most creative. I would ask that question to them. It's about where the creativity falls. What is actually being created and brought into the world.

blu xxl freshmen

Year: 2010

I would tell them to enjoy their Freshman year 'cause you only get one Freshman year to be the new guy. Just enjoy it. Work really hard. Try to outwork all the other Freshmen. I guess try not to get irritated when they call you a Freshman throughout your whole career. Even when you are a sophomore, a junior or a senior, part of your career they still gonna refer you as that Freshman of whatever year you came from. Take it as an honor. It’s an honor to be a part of XXL history. Enjoy it, most importantly.

fashawn xxl freshman

Nipsey Hu$$le
Year: 2010

My advice is always the same, I think the concept is general. Work hard, stay true, and everything gonna be good, man. As far as details, I would say, don't make it your last one. Make sure it's not your last one. I don't think people should feel pressure about it, but I also feel like people should not let it go to their head and feel like they on, 'cause there's a lot of levels in this game and you gotta keep rising, and gotta keep moving forward. Stay humble, stay working hard, feel your little moment, but keep pushing.

nipsey hussle xxl freshman

Year: 2010

I seen two of my fellow ATLiens on [the 2014 cover], Jarren Benton and Rich Homie Quan. And I’ve heard a lot of these guys’ stuff, like Chance The Rapper. All the guys are great MCs, and I feel like it’s a great selection. But what I would say is to have tunnel vision after [the cover] 'cause that’s a jet pack. It kind of speeds up to 100 mph after that. Everybody notices you, and they also have to take full advantage of all the opportunities that’s gonna come after being selected as a XXL Freshman. 'Cause there’s gonna be an array of things that happen after that, like with the shows. They have to make sure they have a lot of music prepared to drop right after that. Go do their videos and whatnot. Just work tirelessly throughout the night because like I said, this is that jet pack. That’s added gasoline to a fire, so they just have to be ready to take flight.

pill xxl freshman

Big K.R.I.T.
Year: 2011

Stay true to yourself. Use the opportunity to go as hard as you possibly can, musically, because people are gonna be paying attention, there's gonna be a lot of positivity—and there's gonna be some negativity—but use all of that to try and create some of the best music that you possibly can, because at the end of the day all that hard work paid off for you to get the opportunity to be a part of a cover with that magnitude. And now it's about using that as a stepping stone to do bigger and better things.

big krit xxl freshmen

Fred The Godson
Year: 2011

To use this as a big stepping stone. This was like the biggest look for me. I look at it as the All-Star Game. They’ve been selected to the All-Star Game. There’s millions of people that want to be on that cover, and they gotta take it and they just gotta go harder than they ever went. However they went to get there, they gotta go 20 times harder. They just gotta go 'cause all the focus is on them. They gotta show out.

fred the godson freshman xxl

Mac Miller
Year: 2011

This is an Internet culture; this is a quick moment where people are gonna look at you, so don't think that this means that you're the man, or you're doing anything yet. This is just an opportunity that y'all provide people to fuckin' really take another step up in their shit. But they gotta come with the shit now, bro. Just don't get comfortable. That's really my advice for everything—I'm never comfortable. I'm never like, aw God, I made it. I got way more to do. And no offense—XXL Freshmen was fuckin' awesome—but I didn't go to the XXL Freshmen list and say, "Nah, I'm good," you know what I'm saying? People get blinded by being on a magazine cover. And it's fuckin' amazing, dude, I was fuckin' happy as hell. But it doesn't mean that you made it. It doesn't mean that. Not at all. You get a good look, but you know what it is.

mac miller freshman xxl

Year: 2011

My advice to the new Freshmen is, whatever they did that got 'em on the Freshmen cover, keep doing it.

yg xxl freshmen

Danny Brown
Year: 2012

To want to be Freshman you have to want to work hard. So make the best possible music you can make and work as hard as you can. Be as humble as possible, do nice interviews, do what you got to do; shake hands and kiss babies and then everything else will fall into place. Because if you just worried about just trying to make Freshmen you might be disappointed. It's a lot that comes with it. You may not get it 'til the next year, but that doesn't mean stop working hard.

danny brown

Iggy Azalea
Year: 2012

Don't listen to the "Freshman Curse"—that's complete bullshit. [Laughs] I hate when people say, "The Freshman Curse! The Freshman Curse!" I'm like, that doesn't exist, just ignore that, that's not real. Sometimes in hip-hop culture, everybody wants to act like the Freshmen list isn't relevant or something, and I think it's very relevant. I think if you make it on the cover, you should feel proud of it, and don't let people make you feel like it doesn't matter, or it's not important to culture, to rap culture, to hip-hop culture. It is important, and it's important to the rest of the world. I spent all of last year in Europe, and every single country where I got interviewed, I got asked about being on the Freshmen cover. I think it's very important to rap culture and something you should be really proud of. Don't let people say it's not important; it's very important, and I think whoever makes it should be really proud that they got on there.

Iggy Azalea xxl reshmen

Kid Ink
Year: 2012

Make the cover and take those opportunities from it, and don't let the cover make you. I think it's one of those situations where, some people get there and feel like they don't have to do as much work as they did to get to the cover once they got on it. They kind of like let it see what it brings towards them, and I think you're really supposed to work even harder and use it as a tool, man. And you can tell, the people who ended up doing that and the people who didn't. And I think mine had one where a lot of people were a little more hungry than some of the past ones, but you can definitely see the people who wanted it and worked and didn't let the cover take their careers.

kid ink xxl freshmen

Angel Haze
Year: 2013

I would just say, do you, do what you want and have fun with it. Go for it.

angel haze xxl freshmen

Dizzy Wright
Year: 2013

Stay consistent and don't try to jump too fast. Everybody becomes a Freshman and they feel like, "Yo, we got to take it to the next level," but don't jump too fast or do anything that have you fade out. I just feel like people should make the right moves, the smart right moves.

dizzy wright xxl freshmen

Joey Bada$$
Year: 2013

Stay out my way. What I'm not sure a lot of people knew was that getting that cover was a goal that I've aspired to before I was on and shit, so I was very grateful. It was like, another goal accomplished, and it pretty much fueled my fire to just keep going. I wanna thank everybody at XXL for giving me the opportunity as well.

joey badass xxl freshmen

Year: 2013

I don’t know, I don’t want to give any secrets away. Like with me, I did that and I went on tour. I went ghost to work on my album. The funny thing is I remember always thinking how you guys do the "Where Are They Now?" with the next one and next one. With me, the mixtape was well-received and I went on a national tour. Sold that out. Went on the road with Cudi and all this stuff. Signing with Def Jam. That’s great and all, but it is funny because this is the year that it’s really gonna go down for me as far as the album. My greatest advice is don’t try to impress anybody. Don’t put out music to stay relevant. As long as you have a fan base, make sure the music is there. That’s probably my greatest advice. Make sure the music is good and take as much time as you need with it. Your fans will always be there. It just takes one hot record to come back into the conversation.

logic xxl freshmen

Trinidad Jame$
Year: 2013

The best advice I can give those guys on the new Freshmen cover is capitalize on your moment. Take advantage of what's going on at the time. People are looking at you now, and a lot of people don't know who you are and want to know. They want to know the reason why these guys are picked out of everybody that's rapping. Really take advantage of your opportunity and make sure you do the best with it. If you don't have a project out, get a project done. If you have a project out, promote it even harder.

trinidad james xxl freshmen