XXL Freshmen 2014 Managers Weigh In On The Road To The Cover
XXL Freshmen 2014 marquee
August AlsinaManager: Donald "D-Day" Albright
The Road To The XXL 2014 Freshmen Cover: It was tough; getting him to be considered for XXL was hard, because he’s not a rapper. But that was the same thing with trying to get him covered on the rap blogs. The ones who cover him now weren’t covering him when we were first putting out Tha Product, even Tha Product 2. We had to grind and keep believing that things will happen and keep investing in yourself. It wasn’t a manufactured marketing plan; he’s from New Orleans and grew up and spent time in Houston and now he lives in Atlanta. So if you look at our approach, his first mixtape he had CyHi Da Prynce from Atlanta, Trae The Truth from Houston and 3d Na’tee from New Orleans. We kept it consistent with who he messes with as an artist and the regions we want to build him up in. It was a strategy based around his real life, his regions, where he came from, subject matter, everything.
There was a list of rappers who we wanted to collaborate with and a list of rappers that we weren’t going to collaborate with. As a new artist if you collaborate with someone who’s a little more commercial, you’re not going to get the eyes of the underground. So our thing was, "How do we make him accepted by the underground?" Because if we go too commercial, the rap blogs definitely won’t mess with him, because they are going to say he’s a straight R&B cat. We used Instagram and Twitter and just really played it up, like, let's be the first. Everyone knows XXL is mostly for rappers, but let’s break down barriers and kind of just play up the fact that it's not something normal. We really felt like playing that angle would get his fans energized and give them a goal.
I told him [in the XXL office that he'd made the list] and he was kind of relieved that the whole ranting and raving and pitch process resulted in something. But he was excited. He was relieved. He was ready to get it started. Everything we did from the very beginning, we were trying to get to another level. XXL is a stamp of approval, not just from a hip-hop publication. We always wanted to be the singer accepted by the rappers in a real way, not just because he’s the only singer out there. But in a real way like a rapper would buy and listen to his album. I think this is a stamp in that same direction and hopefully it leads to other publications or circling back to XXL to getting bigger solo looks. —As told to Emmanuel C.M.
Photo Credit: Lexi Lambros
Isaiah RashadManager: Terrence "Punch" Henderson
Company: Top Dawg Ent.
The Road To The XXL 2014 Freshmen Cover: It wasn’t a special effort to getting him considered for [the 2014 XXL Freshmen Class]. It was just doing what we always done. Just put the music out and give it straight to the fans. And the fans responded to it. Probably that’s what really landed him on there, the same with the other guys.
Like I said, it's not particularly just for the cover. It's just for the people. We put the music out for the people and people responded. That’s the main thing. Whatever comes with it, it’s extra. We are absolutely appreciative, but it's just extra. You want to be recognized for the work you do, but our main goal was to touch people’s audience.
Vanessa reached out, I think early in the process, if I am not mistaken. And, you know, let me know that you guys were interested in having them. It’s a no-brainer to us; we did it three other times. Two guys on one cover. Jay Rock in 2010. Kendrick in 2011. It’s a no-brainer. It’s a testament to how we move as a company having all those guys on.
It’s like a tradition at this point. Just about every year, we are right there. It’s a cool thing. It’s an absolute honor just to continue to be considered. We always looking out for new talent, but we not quick to sign anybody. It's gotta be something that really stands out and connects well with everybody. Once that hopefully happens again, we can be considered again. —As told to Eric Diep
Photo Credit: Lauren Gesswein
Jarren BentonManager: Damien Ritter
Company: Funk Volume
The Road To The XXL 2014 Freshmen Cover: We brought Jarren on [to Funk Volume] in 2012, and right when he came on he had a project that was pretty much already done in Freebasing With Kevin Bacon. So when that cycle ended, he started working on My Grandma's Basement, and that was the first project he released under Funk Volume last year. But then we had a bunch of tours—Dizzy Wright had the Smokeout Conversations Tour, and then the Funk Volume 2012 Tour—so with what he was releasing and then getting him out on the road, he was able to start building his own fan base. So that's how the initial momentum started.
And then with the release of his album and his own visuals under Funk Volume, it just got tighter and the vision got bigger. So eventually it caught the wind of you guys, and you guys were able to nominate him. And once the nomination and the votes get started, we have a pretty nice platform, and the fans are very supportive of the things that we do. So when it comes to voting and voting artists, our fans are super supportive, and they just stepped up to the plate and made it happen. The strategy is to let [the fans] all know through all the different touch points that we have. With the way things are these days, you have so many different platforms to touch fans—Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and all the guys have those—so when we're trying to get a message out, we make sure everybody knows and create a lot of momentum and energy. It's not a very complex strategy, it's just firing from all cylinders.
I think [what sets Funk Volume apart] is that we're a pretty tight-knit bunch, and we communicate relatively well. We've really taken advantage of that to build every project. I mean, it serves every artist well—whether we're trying to get votes or trying to push a project—it's just beneficial for everybody, when it's their turn to get exposure or to push a project, they get everybody supporting them. So it's just in everybody's best interests to be supportive so that the whole team can move forward and the momentum overall can get bigger.
I always tell the guys that it's constantly building on small wins. I look at everything as a small win; I try not to let my highs get me too high or my lows get me too low, you just keep moving. We build on every success that we have, so looking forward it's like, let's take this—let's not rest or lean on it—let's see how we can build on it to make whatever is in front of us bigger than the last thing that we did. —As told to Dan Rys
Photo Credit: Lexi Lambros
Jon ConnorManagers: Savvy Davis, Jr. and Mateen Cleaves
Company: Best Of Both Offices, All Varsity Music
The Road To The XXL 2014 Freshmen Cover: Sav: Basically, just hard work, working for a goal like the Freshmen cover. When you're on the cover, next step is stardom. So we always started, with all the years we've been working together, that the goal was the cover. So we were just hustling and grinding to get into positions where XXL would consider us.
MC: I think that signing to Aftermath gave him extra confidence. He's always been a confident person, but I think that just kind of solidified him as an artist as far as being recognized by one of the greatest ever in Dr. Dre. So I think that just gave him the confidence and that extra edge about himself, and it also gave him a major co-sign, something that we've never had since we've been working with Connor. And a guy like Dr. Dre, just to say that you're in business with Dre, or working with Dre, it automatically puts eyes on you. And we always knew that once eyes were on Connor, that we'd be able to get to the next level.
I was super excited [when I heard he made the cover], because I'm actually from Flint, Mich., where Connor is from, and there's not much going on here. And to have a kid from Flint on the cover of XXL, that means the world to our city. So right now, Connor is carrying the flag of Flint, Mich., and for all the hard work that everybody's been through—myself, Sav and Connor—that was gratifying. That was one of his dreams, and having a kid from Flint give other kids from poverty-ridden communities hope that they can go up and do the same thing? Connor is flying the flag for that right now.
Sav: [Dre] was excited, too; he was like, "This is dope, man." Dre is all about, if it makes us happy, he's down. He just wants to make sure that after that cover, that we're in the studio working on that album. That's what he wants. He wants to make sure that this major debut comes out and that it's the best possible album that we could make. And that's why we love working with Dre, because we know that if we're working with Dre, we're working with the best, and that he doesn't accept mediocre.
MC: The cover fueled Connor. I talked to him the next day and he was all about, "I wanna get in the studio." He wants to make XXL look good. He appreciates the fact that they noticed him. We looked back at all the covers and looked at people who did not explode, or whose careers did not expand because of life. And we were like, "Hey, this is a great start." But that's exactly what it is, is a start. And we gotta keep doing what we're doing to continue to have success. —As told to Dan Rys
Photo Credit: Lexi Lambros
Kevin GatesManager: Dreka Haynes
Company: Bread Winners Association
The Road To The XXL 2014 Freshmen Cover: We actually have been in this together for probably since the very beginning of his career. Since Day one, so you can say this has been 10 years in the making. It’s basically just a lot of hand-to-hand with him. He likes to touch the people himself, so it was actually him being involved. He played a huge role of him being where he is right now.
His thing is touching the people. He likes to be out in the streets. He loves doing in-stores where he can actually meet his fans. That’s really the strategy that we use, being in the streets and allowing fans to see who he really is. People listen to his music and feel like they know him, and when they finally meet him, they feel like they've known him their entire lives. Kevin is just a very interesting person. So we didn’t really do too much, it just happened.
[We found out he made the list at the] very last minute; I think it was the day of the actual shoot, and it was really exciting. We were traveling somewhere and we had to take a detour; it was awesome, it was very exciting. I got the phone call and it was crazy. We were on the way to New Orleans. Once we got there it was like, maybe 6 a.m., and we had to get someone to open up a store so he could get clothes for the shoot. It was a really cool experience. He was super excited. He was sitting right next to me when I got the phone call.
It means a lot. All I can say is every since that happened—I mean things have already been progressing—but that took things to a whole other level. The day that the cover was premiered on BET, we got phone calls out of the blue from other artists’ managers, people that we already working with, people that we haven’t worked with yet. It was crazy. It did a lot. It put the stamp on him like, hey, you need to watch out for this guy. Any and everything is next. He’s recording right now and probably will have an album out early next year. We have the By Any Means Tour this summer starting up in July. We’re just going to keep it going. —As told to Emmanuel C.M.
Photo Credit: Lexi Lambros
Lil BibbyManager: Lorin Patrick
Company: Cream Of The Crop Productions
The Road To The XXL 2014 Freshmen Cover: Tresa [Sanders], who does our PR, called and said we got it. I said, "We got Freshmen?" She said, "We got it." I just screamed, "We got Freshmen!" I was just so excited. They was like, "Don’t say anything." If it got out who was on, it was automatic disqualification. I didn’t even tell Bibby until the last minute. We was like picking out clothes and we were kind of angering him because he was like, "I don’t want to spend $900 on this sweater." And I’m like, "Just do it. Just trust me. Just do it. We gotta go to New York and you need this Givenchy sweater." "This doesn’t make any sense." And I am like, "Dude, just trust me." And then finally I’m like, "You got Freshmen." So I had to wait until it was like [the night before], it couldn’t have gotten out. It wouldn’t have mattered at that point.
Bibby said, "You lying." [Laughs] But he was excited, too. He kind of knew something [was up], because we are real frugal when it comes to the way we spend money. "I knew it was something when you said buy that $900 sweater." He recognized what that meant. He worked so hard. We have to work even harder now, but it shows that they are paying attention. I think sometimes you got tunnel vision, that you are working so hard, but it's like with your tunnel vision, you don’t realize how big your movement has gotten until something like this comes about and you are like, "Oh, man. Wow. They paying attention to us." You are doing something right.
It was a career milestone. It’s almost like being a college basketball player or something and going first in the draft, you know? The first round—being one of the elite college kids that everybody is talking about and then just the speculation. "Oh, this person has the potential or they could do this or they could do that." When you kind of actually go pro, so to speak, it kind of gives you that alley-oop that you need. Coming from an indie situation to coming from where we come from, it’s that alley-oop that you need to say, "I’m here now. Watch what I do with the ball." —As told to Eric Diep
Photo Credit: Lauren Gesswein
Lil DurkManagers: Chino (Uchenna Agina) and D-Thang (Dontay Banks)
Company: OTF Recordings
The Road To The XXL 2014 Freshmen Cover: Chino: For that whole year leading up to XXL and the Freshmen Cover, when he put out music, he got hot and then his name was scorching. His mixtape crashed the site, Datpiff.com. Seeing those type of things, he was at a point where he was bubbling. So it was only right to put him on the magazine and show him that notoriety, that he’s working just as well as the other artists. I mean, it’s always a strategy to everything you do, that’s definitely what it is. He gave us his agenda along with what he wanted to do. From that point, we had to take that and believe in him from every point.
D-Thang: We started putting out virals, video virals, and then they caught on across the world. It was trending across the world. 5,000 turned into 10,000; 10,000 turned to 50; then 150,000 and then we hit 1 million. When we hit 1 million, I knew it was real.
Chino: [When we found out Durk made it] we were happy, man. We scratched it off our list and it was motivation to keep going. It’s plenty more to go. [Durk was] excited. 'Cause you can go so long without being noticed and it showed him that hard work pays off. Added more fire to his game.
D-Thang: They don’t want to see us win in Chicago, so we had to overcome that. Start doing better for the neighborhood and show them that we are growing up and that we know we are a part of our environment.
Chino: You always got to make a bigger move. Everything is lining up and it just makes sense right now. —As told to Miranda Johnson
Lil Durk Tom Medvedich
Photo Credit: Lauren Gesswein
Rich Homie QuanManager: G. “Fly” Henry
Company: Think It's A Game Entertainment
The Road To The XXL 2014 Freshmen Cover: Quan was one of the hottest artists of 2012-2013, so it was pretty much no question that he was given a XXL Freshmen spot. He was touring [and doing] $40k a show, he was one of the hottest independent artist in the streets and he just laid the groundwork from city to city, state to state. Building his fan base organically. It only makes sense to be a part of XXL Freshmen 2014.
The ground work overall—putting out great content, him practicing for his shows and touching his fans—just preparing for the release for his previous mixtape [I Promise I Will Never Stop Going In], which I feel like is his biggest mixtape of his career thus far being that he hasn’t put out an album yet. I don’t exactly remember when he found out he was a Freshman. I received a call and then I called him, and I know how he sounds and how he talks, so I can remember telling him. I knew that he was smiling.
I appreciated that, man. My reaction was great because I felt like he really deserves it. It was a great feeling overall, because that’s the second artist that’s signed to me to make it [after Trinidad Jame$ last year], so it’s two-for-two for me. It’s only the beginning; it means the work has just begun. Now that he’s on that platform and he has that awareness, everybody is looking to see what is he going to do next. The job only gets harder, so we have to grind ten times as hard as we have in the past. Work, work, work, planning, strategy, building and we’re working on getting this album out and getting this product out for the people and just continuing to build. Continue to build the TIG brand, continue to build the artists to be the superstars that they are. That’s where we go from here. —As told to Emmanuel C.M.
rich homie quan fly
Photo Credit: Lauren Gesswein
Troy AveManager: Hovain Hylton
Company: BSB Records
The Road To The XXL 2014 Freshmen Cover: We was up for consideration last year. We were saying, this year we're gonna make it so we can’t get left off next year. Put out these tapes. We hit the road. We put out quality videos. We had a strong one on radio. So we made sure we didn’t leave it to chance. We didn’t want to take anything for granted. We had a song on radio and we were still going hard with the CDs. We were actually physically in the streets with CDs. We weren’t just leaving it to the Internet. The strategy was to leave no stone unturned. Really, just to go hard.
When Vanessa called us up to the office—it was me and Troy in the office. He was supposed to be there for his pitch and they was talking to him about why they should make it. He was like, "Man, I am not doing that. I am not pitching why I should make it. I’m hottest in New York, I should make it." He gon' make it, he gon' make it. If he not, fuck it, we don’t care. She was like, "Oh, I’m joking! He made it."
It wasn’t really a pitch, it was just saying why he should make it. Facts. "I should make it because of this. If not, fuck it. I don’t care. I am going to be a millionaire anyway." It was the truth. It was like watching somebody. You like watching a movie, and you agreeing. "That’s right. You should have made it last year." But whatever, we didn’t make it last year. When we started talking this year, it was just like watching someone tell the truth.
It was validation. People try to act like XXL Freshmen ain’t shit. That shit is a fucking benchmark. It’s a standard. This is something that they can never take away from you. XXL Freshman Troy Ave. It’s like you won an Oscar. Like, Oscar-Winner. These are the things that you want to have along the way to a successful career. Being in the NBA, I want the Rookie Of The Year. Then I am gonna get the MVP. Then I'ma get a championship. Now, I’m one of the Freshman. I'ma do this deal and make some hits. We always remember being a Freshman. That’s something you want. You are not being honest with yourself if you are a rapper and you say you don’t care. You don’t care? You do care, but you just don’t think you are gonna make it. —As told to Eric Diep
Photo Credit: Lexi Lambros
Ty Dolla $ignManagers: Kevin Liles and Will Dzombak
Company: KWL and Taylor Gang Entertainment
The Road To The XXL 2014 Freshmen Cover: WD: We started out just not trying to rush out a single, trying to build a large fanbase because he does make unbelievable music. [We were] not trying to just rush him to the radio, [we were] trying to introduce him to people. He’s been a songwriter for a long time so he had a lot of his own relationships, and so when he really started putting the gas on his own music, it really took off in a great way for him.
KL: One thing Will and I helped him do was get a point of view. Helped him, instead of doing records that might not fit, [he could] write them, but he needed to perform records from a certain point of view. As soon as we got that, then KWL and Taylor Gang came together to do this, we knew we got something special. We don’t want Ty to just be a record, he has to be a movement. He needs a point of view and has to be a brand, [and] that’s something we’re working on every day.
WD: [When Ty found out he made the class] he was super excited. It was something that was really important to him and he felt like he really was recognized for all the work he had been putting in for years.
KL: It’s a lot of things that people don’t look forward to like they used to look forward to because the landscape has changed with technology and some magazines not being as viable. But the Freshmen Class and XXL, there couldn’t have been anything better for him. It was something, I think, for him, was just another light in the tunnel for him to say, “I’m doing the right thing, I’m with the right people. I’m making the right choices.” It’s just a true honor, not something that people take lightly, on our side nor did he. —As told to Miranda Johnson
Ty Dolla Sign Jory Lee Cordy
Photo Credit: Jory Lee Cordy
Previously: XXL Freshmen Class: By The Numbers
The 73 Best XXL Freshmen Mixtapes
The 46 Best Albums By XXL Freshmen
45 Of The Best XXL Freshmen Collaborations
XXL Freshmen 2013 Report Card
Check Out All Our Coverage Of The XXL Freshmen 2014 Class