The 46 Best Albums By XXL Freshmen

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  • freshmen albums best albums xxl
    <p>There’s one stipulation we abide by when choosing <em>XXL</em> Freshman. Before the date of the photoshoot, none of them can have a major label debut.</p> <p>Throughout the years, <em>XXL</em> has been on the forefront of co-signing rap superstars the moment before they popped. In 2012, Future was placed on the cover and a year later exploded with the success of his debut album, <em>Pluto.</em> Likewise, many fans were unfamiliar with Macklemore when he made the same cover, but quickly caught on when “Thrift Shop” from <em>The Heist</em> became an international phenomenon. This time around, Logic looks destined to have a strong year with his untitled Def Jam debut scheduled to release this year. Judging by what he has put out so far, we can’t wait for it to come out.</p><p>In the seven years since the Freshman franchise has been around, more than half of the inductees have released a debut album. Even a small percentage of them have gone on to their sophomore efforts off the foundation their first LP created for new fans. Yesterday, we gave you an extensive list of <a href="http://www.xxlmag.com/news/2014/05/73-best-xxl-freshmen-mixtapes/">The 73 Best Freshmen Mixtapes</a>, and now we are back for The Best Albums By <em>XXL</em> Freshmen. From known classics like Kendrick Lamar’s <a href="http://www.xxlmag.com/rap-music/reviews/2012/10/kendrick-lamar-good-kid-maad-city/"><em>XXL</em>-rated </a><em> good kid, m.A.A.d city</em> to critically-acclaimed efforts like Danny Brown’s <em>Old,</em> there are plenty here to revisit again. Sit back, relax, and go in.—<em>Complied By Eric Diep, Dan Rys, Chris Mench & Ke'Andrea Ayers</em></p>
  • lupe fiasco food and liquor
    <h2>Lupe Fiasco, <em>Food & Liquor</em></h2><p><b>Label:</b> 1st & 15th/Atlantic <br /><b>Release Date: </b>Sept. 19, 2006<br /><b>Notable Songs:</b> “Kick, Push,” “Daydreamin’ (featuring Jill Scott)”<br /><b>Why Its Dope: </b> The Chi-Town MC’s debut album was a game changer in the mid-2000’s rap scene. Throughout the project, Lupe tackled heavy topics like politics, religion, and inner city life while incorporating lush, string and horn-heavy production from the likes of Kanye West, The Neptunes, and Soundtrakk. The result was a hip-hop record that stands the test of time as one of the 2000s best. </p>
  • lil boosie bad azz
    <h2>Lil Boosie, <em>Bad Azz</em></h2> <p><b>Label: </b>Trill/Asylum/Warner Bros. <br /><b>Release Date: </b>October 24, 2006 <br /><b>Notable Songs:</b> “Zoom (featuring Yung Joc),” “Set It Off” <br /><b>Why Its Dope: </b> As Lil Boosie’s major label debut, <em>Bad Azz</em> established the Baton Rouge firecracker as a major player in the gangster rap game. Lead single “Zoom” was a classic Boosie club banger, and much of <em>Bad Azz</em> follows the same vein. Of course, with Lil Boosie’s legal troubles finally behind him and the resumption of his music career ahead, it might not be too long before <em>Bad Azz</em> is dethroned by an upcoming project. Until then, it remains the classic example of Boosie’s strong gangster rap sensibilities. </p>
  • papoose nacirema dream
    <h2> Papoose, <em>The Nacirema Dream</em></h2><p><b>Label:</b> Honor B4 Money/Fontana<br /><b>Release Date: </b>March 26, 2013<br /><b>Notable Songs:</b> “Cure (featuring Erykah Badu),” “6AM (featuring Jim Jones & Jadakiss)”<br /><b>Why Its Dope: </b> After going through self-described “A&R Hell” in a failed deal with Jive Records, releasing over a dozen mixtapes, and dealing with delay after delay, Papoose’s debut album <em>The Nacirema Dream</em> finally dropped in March 2013. Boasting appearances by artists like Mobb Deep and Erykah Badu, <em>Nacirema</em> stayed true to Papoose’s long-stated vision. While the album treads on familiar territory after years on the shelf, its release was nonetheless a huge victory for the Bed-Stuy rhymer, as he finally got to put out the project he wanted to. </p>
  • joell ortiz free agent
    <h2> Joell Ortiz, <em>Free Agent</em></h2><p><b>Label:</b> E1 Music<br /><b>Release Date: </b>February 22, 2011<br /><b>Notable Songs:</b> “Battle Cry (featuring Just Blaze),” “Call Me (She Said) [featuring Novel]”<br /><b>Why Its Dope: </b> Despite leaking three months before its release date (thanks to a mistake by Amazon), <em>Free Agent</em> managed to make waves in the rap community. Ortiz’ solid lyricism and beat selection made the album an underground success, with the Brooklyn veteran demolishing tracks like “Battle Cry.” While Ortiz has gone on to have great success as a member of Slaughterhouse, <em>Free Agent</em> was the last solo album he released. </p>
  • plies definition of real
    <h2> Plies, <em>Definition of Real</em></h2><p><b>Label:</b> Slip-N-Slide/Warner<br /><b>Release Date: </b>June 10, 2008<br /><b>Notable Songs:</b> “Bust It Baby, Pt. 2 (featuring Ne-Yo)<br /><b>Why Its Dope: </b> Despite being slightly overshadowed by the mammoth release of Lil Wayne’s <em>Tha Carter III</em> on the same day, <em>Definition of Real</em> remains Plies’ best work. Buoyed by Top 10 single “Bust It Baby, Pt. 2” with Ne-Yo, Plies enjoyed crossover success. Much of the material was radio friendly, and yet it maintains a street-hardened edge that his debut, <em> The Real Testament</em>, occasionally lacked. The Florida native’s intense delivery, along with high-profile guests like Trey Songz and Jamie Foxx, helped made the record a street-oriented success. </p>
  • saigon greatest story never told
    <h2> Saigon, <em>The Greatest Story Never Told</em></h2><p><b>Label:</b> Suburban Noize<br /><b>Release Date: </b>February 15, 2011<br /><b>Notable Songs:</b> “Come On Baby (featuring Jay-Z & Swizz Beats),” “The Greatest Story Never Told,” “Clap (featuring Faith Evans)”<br /><b>Why Its Dope: </b> For a couple of years, it looked like <em>The Greatest Story Never Told</em> was destined to be the next <em>Detox</em>, as label drama with Atlantic had suspended its release all but indefinitely. While the first single came out in July of 2007, the album didn’t end up dropping until February 2011. Fortunately, those who endured the wait were not disappointed. Richly layered production by Just Blaze underscores Saigon’s intellectual lyrics on everything from history to the hood. While the album didn’t blow up like it could have with a proper release, it showed the world that Saigon’s fight for artistic integrity wasn’t for nothing. </p>
  • rich boy
    <h2> Rich Boy, <em>Rich Boy</em></h2><p><b>Label:</b> Interscope<br /><b>Release Date: </b>March 13, 2007<br /><b>Notable Songs:</b> “Throw Some D’s (featuring Polow Da Don),” “Boy Looka Here”<br /><b>Why Its Dope: </b> Rich Boy burst onto the scene in 2007 when his debut single “Throw Some D’s” reached No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100. Atlanta producer Polow Da Don filled the Alabama MC’s self-titled album with club-ready beats. Capitalizing on the top-notch production, Rich Boy got the party started on songs like “Boy Looka Here,” with his southern drawl punctuating lines about drinking and hustling. The success of Rich Boy’s debut was bittersweet, however, as his sophomore release was tied up in delays until 2013.</p>
  • gorilla zoe don't feed the animals
    <h2> Gorilla Zoe, <em>Don’t Feed Da Animals</em></h2><p><b>Label:</b> Bad Boy South<br /><b>Release Date: </b>March 17, 2009<br /><b>Notable Songs:</b> “Echo,” “Lost,” “I Got It (featuring Big Block)”<br /><b>Why Its Dope: </b> Some critics have dismissed Gorilla Zoe’s rap style as simplistic and Auto-Tune reliant. On his second album <em>Don’t Feed Da Animals</em>, however, the former Boyz N Da Hood member played this to his advantage. Combining catchy hooks with deeply personal lyrics, Gorilla Zoe managed to create strangely workable club records. Tracks like “Echo” and “Lost” dripped with both personal angst and undeniably good production, proving that Gorilla Zoe was more than he seems on the surface. </p>
  • young dro best thang smokin
    <h2> Young Dro, <em>Best Thang Smokin’</em></h2><p><b>Label:</b> Grand Hustle/Atlantic <br /><b>Release Date: </b>August 29, 2006<br /><b>Notable Songs:</b> “Shoulder Lean (featuring T.I.),” “Rubberband Banks”<br /><b>Why Its Dope: </b> As one of the earliest artists signed to T.I.’s Hustle Gang imprint, Young Dro was instrumental in the label’s initial success. Propelled by the popularity of his T.I. collaboration “Shoulder Lean,” Young Dro quickly rose to prominence. <em>Best Thang Smokin’</em> showcased some of Dro’s best club tracks, and was the last official album he would release for nearly seven years. </p>
  • crooked i apex predator
    <h2> Crooked I, <em>Apex Predator</em></h2><p><b>Label:</b> Treacherous C.O.B./Empire Distribution <br /><b>Release Date: </b>July 30, 2013<br /><b>Notable Songs:</b> “Let Me Get It (featuring Tech N9ne),” “No Sleep Gang”<br /><b>Why Its Dope: </b> Despite nearly two decades in the game, Crooked I didn’t release a proper full-length debut until just last year. <em>Apex Predator</em>, while not everything one would hope for from such a talented MC, was nonetheless a solid step in the right direction for Crooked I as a solo artist. More than anything, it proved that the Slaughterhouse member certainly hasn’t forgotten how to spit. Whether he was going toe-to-toe with Tech N9ne or handling things on his own, the California MC’s debut album showed why he was in the top tier of hip-hop lyrically. </p>
  • bobby ray bob
    <h2>B.o.B, <em>B.o.B Presents: The Adventures of Bobby Ray</em></h2><p><b>Label:</b> Grand Hustle/Atlantic <br /><b>Release Date: </b>April 27, 2010<br /><b>Notable Songs:</b> "Nothin’ On You" (featuring Bruno Mars), "Magic" (featuring Rivers Cuomo), "Airplanes" (featuring Haley Williams of Paramore)<br /><b>Why Its Dope: </b> B.o.B’s debut album bubbled with his signature genre-bending style. Massive, multi-platinum singles like “Airplanes” and “Magic” helped propel the project to the top of the charts in 2010, debuting at No. 1 and going on to sell over 500,000 copies. The wide-ranging album incorporated elements of pop, rock, funk, and of course hip-hop, showcasing Bobby Ray’s versatility and his hit-making sensibilities. </p>
  • kid cudi man on the moon
    <h2>Kid Cudi, <em>Man On The Moon: The End Of Day</em></h2><p><b>Label:</b> Dream On/G.O.O.D. Music/Universal Motown<br /><b>Release Date: </b>September 14, 2009<br /><b>Notable Songs:</b> “Day ‘n’ Nite (Nightmare),” “Pursuit of Happiness (Nightmare) [feat. MGMT & Ratatat], “Up Up & Away”<br /><b>Why Its Dope: </b> Many consider <em>Man On The Moon: The End of Day</em> to be the quintessential Kid Cudi album. Narrated by Common, the album brought the listener on a journey through the mind of Scott Mescudi. Along the way, they learn about his dreams, his fears, and his nightmares. The innovative album built upon Cudi’s work on mentor Kanye West’s <em>808’s & Heartbreak</em>, melding the style into a spaced-out dreamscape of a project. <em>MotM</em> spawned many of Scott’s most successful singles, and was certified gold for selling over 500,000 copies. </p>
  • currensy pilot talk
    <h2>Curren$y, <em>Pilot Talk</em></h2><p><b>Label:</b> DD172/Def Jam<br /><b>Release Date: </b>July 13, 2010<br /><b>Notable Songs:</b> “Breakfast,” “Address (featuring Stalley),” “The Day (featuring Mos Def & Jay Electronica)”<br /><b>Why Its Dope: </b> Curren$y has released a handful of solid albums, but the original <em>Pilot Talk</em>, his third, stood a shoulder above the rest. It was on this record that the New Orleans native really began to solidify his style. Aided by Ski Beatz smoky production, Curren$y delivered a laid back flow that still manages to feel urgent. His stoner-friendly persona and thick rhymes helped make the album a hazy triumph.</p>
  • wale the gifted
    <h2>Wale,<em>The Gifted</em></h2><p><b>Label:</b> Maybach Music/Atlantic<br /><b>Release Date: </b>June 25, 2014<br /><b>Notable Songs:</b> “Bad (featuring Tiara Thomas),” “Clappers (featuring Juicy J & Nicki Minaj),” “LoveHate Thing (featuring Sam Dew)”<br /><b>Why Its Dope: </b> Despite showing great promise as an MC, Wale’s first two albums either failed to catch on commercially (<em>Attention Deficit</em>) or missed the mark creatively (<em>Ambition</em>). With his third album <em>The Gifted</em>, Wale finally felt like he was coming into his own. The project’s soul and funk-inspired beats served as the perfect backdrop for the Maybach Music heavyweight’s spitfire flow. Whether it was on the slow-burning “Bad” or the strip-club anthem “Clappers,” Wale sounded more confident than ever. In this case, that confidence was well deserved.</p>
  • ace hood trials tribulations
    <h2>Ace Hood,<em>Trials & Tribulations</em></h2><p><b>Label:</b> We the Best/Cash Money<br /><b>Release Date: </b>July 16, 2013<br /><b>Notable Songs:</b> “Bugatti" (featuring Future & Rick Ross),” “We Outchea (featuring Lil Wayne),” "Mama" (featuring Betty Wright)<br /><b>Why Its Dope: </b> After years of (largely unrecognized) hard work on Def Jam, Ace Hood’s Cash Money debut finally achieved some of the crossover success he had been working for. While “Bugatti” was rightfully inescapable last year, <em>Trials & Tribulations</em> also contained a deeper roster of personal songs than Ace’s previous albums. His work ethic and passion really came through in the music, and the result was his best project yet. </p>
  • asher roth retro hash
    <h2>Asher Roth, <em>RetroHash</em></h2><p><b>Label:</b> Pale Fire/Federal Prism<br /><b>Release Date: </b>April 22, 2014<br /><b>Notable Songs:</b> “Tangerine Girl,” “Fast Life (featuring Vic Mensa),” “Pot of Gold”<br /><b>Why Its Dope: </b> After critics savaged his 2009 debut <em>Asleep In The Bread Aisle</em>, many hip-hop fans wrote Asher Roth off as a one-hit wonder. Nearly five years later, after a slew of successful mixtapes and a departure from his major label, he returned with his sophomore LP <em>RetroHash</em>. The project delved deeper into the many musical influences Roth has explored since his “I Love College” days, and the result was an album that showed a great amount of maturity and promise for a rapper who has fought to be taken seriously by the hip-hop community for years. Playful instrumentals accompany Asher’s dense wordplay, proving that the red-headed Pennsylvania native was much more than just a frat rapper. </p>
  • blu york
    <h2>Blu, <em>York</em></h2><p><b>Label:</b> Nature Sounds<br /><b>Release Date: </b>March 26, 2013<br /><b>Notable Songs:</b> “SLNGBNGrs," “Hours," “Everything’s OK”<br /><b>Why Its Dope: </b>While it’s difficult to pick a best album from a skillful and prolific rapper like Blu, <em>York</em> was perhaps the greatest example of his ample talents. Blu attacked a wide range of important topics on the album, and left the jazzy East Coast beats for something more backpack that resonated in L.A. Considered by many to be an underground classic, the album established Blu as an artist that any true hip-hop fan needed to pay attention to. </p>
  • j cole sideline story
    <h2>J. Cole, <em>Cole World: The Sideline Story</em></h2><p><b>Label:</b> Roc Nation/Sony<br /><b>Release Date: </b>September 27, 2011<br /><b>Notable Songs:</b> “Work Out,” “Can’t Get Enough (featuring Trey Songz),” "Nobody's Perfect" (featuring Missy Elliott)<br /><b>Why Its Dope: </b> J. Cole delivered on years of anticipation with his debut <em>Cole World: The Sideline Story</em>. With touching personal narratives and hit singles like “Work Out,” <em>Cole World</em> capitalized on J. Cole’s buzz and catapulted him into the realm of mainstream hip-hop artists. Handling both the rapping and the production gives Cole’s album a personal feel, and evidence of his hard work was abundant throughout the album.</p>
  • wiz khalifa no deal
    <h2>Wiz Khalifa, <em>Deal Or No Deal</em></h2><p><b>Label:</b> Rostrum Records<br /><b>Release Date: </b>November 24, 2009<br /><b>Notable Songs:</b> “This Plane,” “Chewy”<br /><b>Why Its Dope: </b> While far from Wiz Khalifa’s most commercially successful work, his sophomore effort on Rostrum Records remained his most artistically consistent album. Released just months before his career-changing <em>Kush & OJ</em> mixtape, <em>Deal Or No Deal</em> showcased Wiz at his best. Smooth tracks like “This Plane” and “Chewy” find the ganja-loving rapper delivering solid rhymes without the aesthetic-compromising pop tracks that became an issue on <em>Rolling Papers</em>. </p>
  • big sean finally famous
    <h2>Big Sean, <em>Finally Famous</em></h2><p><b>Label:</b> G.O.O.D. Music/Def Jam<br /><b>Release Date: </b>June 28, 2011<br /><b>Notable Songs:</b> “My Last (featuring Chris Brown),” “Marvin & Chardonnay (featuring Kanye West & Roscoe Dash),” “Dance (A$$)”<br /><b>Why Its Dope: </b> Big Sean’s <em>Finally Famous</em> album marked his transition from Kanye’s understudy to fully realized solo artist. Lead single “My Last” was inescapable on the radio, with party anthems like “Marvin & Chardonnay” and “Dance (A$$)” soon to follow. No I.D. handled the majority of the production, helping the G.O.O.D. music affiliate to discover his voice among the radio hits. The album debuted at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart and went on to sell over 300,000 copies. </p>
  • freddie gibbs esgn
    <h2>Freddie Gibbs, <em>ESGN</em></h2><p><b>Label:</b> ESGN/Empire Distribution<br /><b>Release Date: </b>June 19, 2013<br /><b>Notable Songs:</b> “Eastside Moonwalker,” “One Eighty Seven (featuring Problem)”<br /><b>Why Its Dope: </b> After years of quality mixtapes, Freddie Gibbs had a lot to live up to on his debut. <em>ESGN</em> is, in many ways, a culmination of a career’s worth of hard work. Gibbs’ gruff-voiced flow and bleak subject matter are in abundance, with the Gary, Indiana native spinning tales of street life over trap and jazz-inspired beats. While not everything one might wish for from the highly talented rapper, <em>ESGN</em> was nonetheless a solid debut from a long overlooked rapper.</p>
  • jay rock
    <h2>Jay Rock, <em>Follow Me Home</em></h2><p><b>Label:</b> Top Dawg Entertainment/Strange Music<br /><b>Release Date: </b>July 26, 2011<br /><b>Notable Songs:</b> “Hood Gone Love It (featuring Kendrick Lamar),” “All My Life (In the Ghetto) [featuring Lil Wayne & will.i.am],” “Say Wassup (featuring Black Hippy)”<br /><b>Why Its Dope: </b> Jay Rock’s much anticipated debut <em>Follow Me Home</em> was everything most fans hoped it would be. Its smooth, West Coast-inspired grooves provide the perfect background for the TDE spitter’s heavy lyrics. Despite solid guest appearances by his fellow Black Hippy members, as well as heavyweights like Lil Wayne, Rick Ross, and Tech N9ne, Jay Rock managed to keep the album’s voice consistently and uniquely his own. Luckily, years of languishing on the shelf at Warner Bros. didn’t soften the California MC’s many talents. </p>
  • oj da juiceman
    <h2>OJ Da Juiceman, <em>The Otha Side Of The Trap</em></h2><p><b>Label:</b> Asylum Records<br /><b>Release Date: </b>January 19, 2009<br /><b>Notable Songs:</b> “Make the Trap Say Aye (featuring Gucci Mane)”<br /><b>Why Its Dope: </b> OJ Da Juiceman’s first (and only) album brought together the highlights of his many mixtapes into a cohesive project. Several Gucci Mane features and stellar trap production by Zaytoven helped elevate the album beyond OJ’s typical swagger raps. The single “Make the Trap Say Aye” with Gucci Mane was also a minor hit on the Billboard Rap Songs chart. </p>
  • fashawn boy meets world
    <h2>Fashawn, <em>Boy Meets World</em></h2><p><b>Label:</b> One Records<br /><b>Release Date: </b> October 22, 2009<br /><b>Notable Songs:</b> “Samsonite Man (featuring Blu),” “Hey Young World (featuring Aloe Blacc & Devoya)”<br /><b>Why Its Dope: </b> On Fashawn’s independently released debut, he evoked many of the elements of old-school hip-hop. <em>Boy Meets World</em>, entirely produced by Exile, was a collection of smart raps and smooth flow. Pushing the genre forward, and yet honoring its roots, Fashawn crafted an intelligent but still fun debut album. Exile’s production works as an updated version of classic hip-hop beats, giving the project a new, yet timeless appeal. </p>
  • kendrick lamar gkmc
    <h2>Kendrick Lamar, <em>good kid, m.A.A.d city</em></h2><p><b>Label:</b> Top Dawg/Aftermath Entertainment/Interscope Records <br /><b>Release Date: </b>October 22, 2012<br /><b>Notable Songs:</b> "Swimming Pools (Drank)" “Backseat Freestyle," "Poetic Justice" (featuring Drake)<br /><b>Why Its Dope: </b> There’s no question that any album nominated for not only one, but four Grammys is anything less dope, especially when one of the nominations is for Album Of The Year. <em>good kid, m.A.A.d city</em> was Kendrick’s second studio album, which sold 242,000 copies its first week and debuted at the No. 2 spot on the Billboard 200 chart. </p>
  • big krit live from the underground
    <h2>Big K.R.I.T., <em>Live From The Underground</em></h2><p><b>Label:</b> Cinematic Music Group/ Def Jam Recordings <br /><b>Release Date: </b>June 5, 2012<br /><b>Notable Songs:</b> “Money On The Floor" (featuring 8Ball & MJG & 2 Chainz), “I Got This”<br /><b>Why Its Dope: </b><em>Live From The Underground</em> did great numbers especially considering the fact it was Krizzle's debut album. The LP had over 40,000 copies sold in the first week and debuted at No. 5 on Billboard 200. Big K.R.I.T. also collaborated with great artists on this project such as legendary bluesman B.B. King and ATL staples Ludacris and 2 Chainz. </p>
  • mac miller watching movies
    <h2>Mac Miller, <em>Watching Movies With The Sound Off</em></h2><p><b>Label:</b> Rostrum Records<br /><b>Release Date: </b>June 18, 2013<br /><b>Notable Songs:</b> “S.D.S." "Watching Movies," "Suplexes Inside of Complexes and Duplexes" (featuring Jay Electronica)<br /><b>Why Its Dope: </b>This sophomore album from the Pittsburgh rap-star sold over 100,000 copies in the first week. Although he was in competition with J. Cole and Kanye West, the big numbers proved that he could hang with rap's elite stars. The album itself was an overall strong effort, where songs alongside his buddies Ab-Soul, Earl Sweatshirt, ScHoolboy Q, Action Bronson and Tyler, The Creator brought out the best of him.</p>
  • lil b i'm gay
    <h2>Lil B, <em>I’m Gay (I’m Happy)</em></h2><p><b>Label:</b> Amalgam Digital<br /><b>Release Date: </b>June 29, 2011<br /><b>Notable Songs:</b> "Trapped in Prison," "Unchain Me"<br /><b>Why Its Dope: </b>In addition to the fact that this album ranked No. 56 on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart, this album was great simply because it was the most controversial album of 2011. The title alone had everyone from hip-hop executives to the LGBT community questioning his intentions from the moment he announced it at the 2011 Coachella Festival. Every news outlet began talking about it and the Cali native rap star even sat down with CNN to explain the reasoning behind the title. Lil B was originally going to name the album “I’m Gay,” but after receiving death threats and national attention he added “(I’m Happy)” in parentheses. </p>
  • yelawolf radioactive
    <h2>Yelawolf, <em>Radioactive</em></h2><p><b>Label:</b> Shady Records/ Interscope Records <br /><b>Release Date: </b>November 21, 2011<br /><b>Notable Songs:</b> "Let's Roll" (featuring Kid Rock), "Hard White (Up in the Club)" (featuring Lil Jon), "Throw It Up" (featuring Gangsta Boo & Eminem)<br /><b>Why Its Dope: </b> Catfish Billy's Shady debut was highly anticipated the moment he snapped on <em>Trunk Muzik</em>. While <em>Radioactive</em> didn't sell as much as many industry insiders would have hoped, fans saw Yela's style of fast-rapping and his varied tastes connect with the mainstream. Standouts include songs he made with notable artists such as Eminem, Mystikal and Lil Jon. To this day, Yela is still someone who Eminem really admires.</p>
  • meek mill dreams nightmares
    <h2>Meek Mill, <em>Dreams And Nightmares</em></h2><p><b>Label:</b> Maybach Music Group/ Warner Bros <br /><b>Release Date: </b> October 30, 2012<br /><b>Notable Songs:</b> "Dreams and Nightmares," "Tony Story (Pt. 2)," "Believe It" (featuring Rick Ross) <br /><b>Why Its Dope: </b> Meek Mill was up next in line to put for MMG. His debut album, <em>Dreams And Nightmares</em>, upped his profile in the game, selling over 165,000 copies in its first week. Portraying his idea of intertwining success and failure on the album cover, it was divided into those sections throughout the whole thing. On songs like "Amen," Meek is at his best, while a revealing number such as "Tony Story (Pt. 2)" shows he's very much embedded in the streets. He had to grind like this to shine like this.</p>
  • yg my krazy life
    <h2>YG, <em>My Krazy Life</em></h2><p><b>Label:</b> Pu$haz Ink/CTE World/Def Jam Recordings <br /><b>Release Date: </b> March 18, 2014<br /><b>Notable Songs:</b> "My N*gga" (featuring Rich Homie Quan, Jeezy), "Left, Right," "Who Do You Love" (featuring Drake)<br /><b>Why Its Dope: </b> After a relentless grind in the mixtape circuit, YG's <em>My Krazy Life</em> was a surprisingly good effort that showed the West was shifting back to the top of rap's mountain. Fueled by his hit single "My N*gga," as well as frequent club banger "Who Do You Love," YG guided us through Compton with tight beats by DJ Mustard. "Meet The Flockers" was a real story of robbing a few homes, and "Bicken Back Being Bool" was 100 percent gangster. C-Walk to this all day.</p>
  • diggy simmons unexpected
    <h2>Diggy Simmons, <em>Unexpected Arrival</em></h2><p><b>Label:</b> Atlantic Records<br /><b>Release Date: </b> March 20, 2012<br /><b>Notable Songs:</b> "88," "Two Up," "4 Letter Word" <br /><b>Why Its Dope: </b> This album set up Diggy as hip-hop's next bright star. With a lineage of musical talent in his family, <em>Unexpected Arrival</em> confirmed he's no longer the kid rapping alongside his bro JoJo. Features included Jadakiss, Tank and Jeremih. </p>
  • danny brown old
    <h2>Danny Brown, <em>Old</em></h2><p><b>Label:</b> Fool’s Gold Records<br /><b>Release Date: </b>October 8, 2013<br /><b>Notable Songs:</b> "Dip," "25 Bucks" (Purity Ring), "Dope Fiend Rental" (featuring Schoolboy Q)<br /><b>Why Its Dope: </b> Despite low album sales, Danny Brown's debut was widely appreciated by hip-hop purists. Our review last year on it pretty much summed it up: "In a year that’s seen aging rappers in both the mainstream (Jay Z, Kanye West) and underground (J-Zone, Ka) confront the concept of their own mortality with varying degrees of honesty and depth, Old might be the most impressive yet. Brown displays real bravery in his willingness to merge the sacred with the profane, the independent with the arena-ready, the old with the new. As the binaries of rap continue to collapse, Brown looks less like an outcast and more like a trailblazer. It feels like time is on his side."</p>
  • hopsin knock madness
    <h2>Hopsin, <em>Knock Madness </em></h2><p><b>Label:</b> Funk Volume<br /><b>Release Date: </b> November 24, 2013<br /><b>Notable Songs:</b> "Old Friend," "Hop Is Back," "Rip Your Heart Out" (featuring Tech N9ne)<br /><b>Why Its Dope: </b> While Hop says this was his "last album" before going to retirement, <em>Knock Madness </em> made a significant impact on the charts. With features from Tech N9ne and Funk Volume's Dizzy Wright, Hop held his own.</p>
  • mgk lace up
    <h2>Machine Gun Kelly, <em>Lace Up </em></h2><p><b>Label:</b> Bad Boy Records/Interscope Records<br /><b>Release Date: </b> October 9, 2012<br /><b>Notable Songs:</b> "Wild Boy," (featuring Waka Flocka Flame), "See My Tears," "Invincible"<br /><b>Why Its Dope: </b> This album was expected to be strong when the debut single "Wild Boy" was certified gold after selling over 500,000 copies. The album went on to debut at No. 4 on US Billboard 200 with first week sales of 57,000 copies. Great features with Ester Dean, Tech N9ne, DMX and Lil Jon were also on the album. </p>
  • macklemore the heist
    <h2>Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, <em>The Heist </em></h2><p><b>Label:</b> Macklemore, LLC<br /><b>Release Date: </b> October 9, 2012<br /><b>Notable Songs:</b> "Can’t Hold Us" (featuring Ray Dalton), "Same Love," (featuring Mary Lambert) "Thrift Shop" (featuring Wanz)<br /><b>Why Its Dope: </b> As an independent artist, Macklemore shook the world when his song "Thrift Shop" became the No. 1 song on the Billboard 200 and sold over 7 million copies. Couple that with his controversial win for Best Hip-Hop Album at this year's Grammy Awards and going platinum in three countries, Mack's been riding high since his debut. </p>
  • french montana excuse
    <h2>French Montana, <em>Excuse My French </em></h2><p><b>Label:</b> Coke Boys/Bad Boy Records/Maybach Music Group <br /><b>Release Date: </b> May 21, 2013<br /><b>Notable Songs:</b> "Pop That" (featuring Drake, Rick Ross & Lil Wayne), "Freaks" (featuring Nicki Minaj), "Ain’t Worried About Nothin"<br /><b>Why Its Dope: </b> This album hit the No. 4 spot on the Billboard 200 charts after selling 55,000 copies in its first week. Diddy, Nicki Minaj and Snoop Dogg were just a few of the many big names featured on the album. French released three singles from the LP and all three ranked on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. </p>
  • future honest
    <h2>Future, <em>Honest </em></h2><p><b>Label:</b> A1/Freebandz/Epic Records<br /><b>Release Date: </b> April 22, 2014<br /><b>Notable Songs:</b> "Honest," "Sh!t," "Move That Dope" (featuring Pharrell, Pusha T and Casino), "I Won" (featuring Kanye West), "Covered N Money" <br /><b>Why Its Dope: </b> Future's second offering established him as a true star out of The Dungeon Family. Mixing in trap bangers, loverboy anthems, and more, the ATL rapper/crooner showed a lot of growth and progression since his strong debut, <em>Pluto.</em> Plus, anyone who can get Andre 3000 to rap again is always a win.</p>
  • kid ink my own lane
    <h2>Kid Ink, <em>My Own Lane</em></h2><p><b>Label:</b> Tha Alumni Music Group, 88 Classic, RCA Records<br /><b>Release Date: </b> January 7, 2014<br /><b>Notable Songs:</b> "Show Me" (featuring Chris Brown), "Iz U Down" (featuring Tyga), "No Option" (featuring King Los)<br /><b>Why Its Dope: </b> This album debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard charts when selling 50,000 copies in its first week and over 115,000 copies to date. DJ Mustard produced three songs off the album including his first single "Show Me."</p>
  • iggy azalea new classic
    <h2>Iggy Azalea, <em>The New Classic</em></h2><p><b>Label:</b> Island<br /><b>Release Date: </b> April 21, 2014<br /><b>Notable Songs:</b> "Work," "Change Your Life" (featuring T.I.), "Fancy" (featuring Charli XCX)<br /><b>Why Its Dope: </b> <em>The New Classic</em> is the highest ranked female hip-hop album since Nicki Minaj’s <em>Pink Friday.</em> It sold over 50,000 copies in its first week and debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 chart. Iggy became the first non-American female rapper to hit No. 1 on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. Her album has guest appearances from Watch The Duck, Charli XCX, Rita Ora and T.I.</p>
  • jon connor unconscious state
    <h2>Jon Connor, <em>Unconscious State</em></h2><p><b>Label:</b> Varsity<br /><b>Release Date: </b>July 2, 2013<br /><b>Notable Songs:</b>"Rise Up" (featuring Talib Kweli), "Michigan Shit" (featuring Royce Da 5'9")<br /><b>Why Its Dope: </b>By this point, Connor was known as one of the most lyrical MCs in the game, but <em>Unconscious State</em>—with its features from Royce, Kweli, Freddie Gibbs, Danny Brown and Smoke DZA, to name just a few—proved that he could stand his ground amongst his peers in the game. Connor may have made his name through his mixtapes—calling himself The People's Rapper, he's been known to cater to his fanbase but consistently delivering top-notch music for free—but <em>Unconscious State</em> established him as a rapper with more than just technical ability on his side.</p>
  • troy ave new york city
    <h2>Troy Ave, <em>New York City: The Album</em></h2><p><b>Label:</b> N/A<br /><b>Release Date: </b>November 4, 2013<br /><b>Notable Songs:</b>"Cigar Smoke," "New York City" (featuring N.O.R.E., Raekwon and Prodigy), "Hot Out"<br /><b>Why Its Dope: </b>Troy had been bubbling like crazy in the New York underground prior to this—with his<em> Brick In My Backpack</em> and <em>BSB</em> series both catching new fans by the day—but the game changed when he dropped <em>New York City: The Album.</em> All of a sudden, his claims about "bringing New York back" held a credence that went further than the simple comparisons to 50 Cent, and Troy was able to spit his drug-dealer-turned-superstar narrative with more authority than he'd ever had beforehand.</p>
  • jarren benton grandma's basement
    <h2>Jarren Benton, <em>My Grandma's Basement</em></h2><p><b>Label:</b> Funk Volume<br /><b>Release Date: </b>June 11, 2013<br /><b>Notable Songs:</b>"Razor Blades And Steak Knives," "Cadillacs And Chevy's"<br /><b>Why Its Dope: </b>Jarren had been making a name for himself as a spit-fire MC with his mixtapes before this, but his first Funk Volume album was his most fully-realized project to date. This album launched him from just another ATLien into one of the premier talents on the scene without him being entrenched in the now-formulaic Atlanta trap world.</p>
  • august alsina testimony
    <h2>August Alsina, <em>Testimony</em></h2><p><b>Label:</b> Def Jam<br /><b>Release Date: </b>April 15, 2014<br /><b>Notable Songs:</b> "I Luv This Shit" (featuring Trinidad Jame$), "Ghetto" (featuring Yo Gotti), "Make It Home" (featuring Jeezy)<br /><b>Why Its Dope: </b>When August first started making waves on the scene, it was his backstory—impoverished kid with a drug-addicted father trying to make it through the impoverished New Orleans projects—that set him apart from other singers crooning about love and sex. <em>Testimony</em> proved there was more to him than just a story; he has a melodic sensibility that many would dream of, and a wealth of integrity that many would dream of.</p>
  • chief keef finally rich
    <h2>Chief Keef, <em>Finally Rich</em></h2><p><b>Label:</b> Interscope<br /><b>Release Date: </b>December 18, 2012<br /><b>Notable Songs:</b> "I Don't Like" (featuring Lil Reese), "Love Sosa," "Hate Bein' Sober"<br /><b>Why Its Dope: </b>It was the album that launched a million white kids dancing with their arms perched awkwardly next to their faces, but it was also the album that established Keef as the unequivocal leader of the then-emerging Chicago drill music scene. If "I Don't Like" put him firmly on the map, this album proved that, despite all the drawbacks, bullshit and lyrical deficiencies, Keef could write hooks that get stuck in people's heads for days and days and days.</p>
  • schoolboy q oxymoron
    <h2>ScHoolboy Q, <em>Oxymoron</em></h2><p><b>Label:</b> TDE/Interscope<br /><b>Release Date: </b>February 25, 2014<br /><b>Notable Songs:</b> "Collard Greens" (featuring Kendrick Lamar), "Man Of The Year," Break The Bank"<br /><b>Why Its Dope: </b> Q's album was easily one of the most anticipated of 2014, and it didn't disappoint, debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and rescuing hip-hop heads from the doldrums of the often-slow early year release schedule. With powerhouse singles, a slew of high-profile features and some beats that were flat-out undeniable, Q put the West Coast on his back and rode it back to its gangsta rap origins, earning TDE's first No. 1 album along the way.</p>

Previously: The 73 Best XXL Freshmen Mixtapes
iStandard Selects The XXL 2014 Freshmen Producers
XXL Freshmen Class: By The Numbers
Check Out New XXL Freshmen And Profiles From This Year’s Class