The XXL Freshmen photo shoot is done all in one long, exhausting, grueling day, where each of the Freshmen delivers their freestyles and cyphers, conducts multiple interviews, and does their individual photo shoots before everyone comes together for the final cover shot. And for our 62 former Freshmen—as well as our 12 new artists on the cover this year—it can be the longest, yet most rewarding, day of their career to that point. Last week XXL asked 22 former Freshmen for advice that they could give to the current XXL Freshmen, and today we've asked 27 of our former cover stars to share the best moments of their experience at the cover shoot and as a Freshman overall. —As Told To Eric Diep, Miranda Johnson, Emmanuel C.M. and Dan Rys

xxl freshmen best experiences

Crooked I
Year: 2008

In hindsight it was epic, because I met my partner and brother Joell Ortiz there. The ill part is how we were positioned next to one another on the cover looking like two quarters of the Slaughter already! God's work. You're never famous in the ghetto until you're on TV or a magazine cover. My hood-fame was at an all-time high when that cover dropped. It was also my second XXL cover, so I had two bodies until I caught another one with the Shady 2.0 crew! I only need one more body, that Crooked I solo cover... Watch me work.


Gorilla Zoe
Year: 2008

At the time [becoming a Freshman] was just a whirlwind. At the time, I really didn’t know what it was. Then when y’all did the same thing the next year and then year after that, I was more like, I’m a part of a class, that’s part of history. It meant a lot. It did affect my career; a lot of people seen the front page and it was love after that. I was on the front of that XXL, so that’s like you made it for real.

I think my initial situation was a little different than everybody else. Well, not everybody, it was a couple dudes on there that we created our own buzz in the streets. You already had a fan base so it was people that were already listening before your official album came out. The label will pay more attention to you after your buzz grows and of course the XXL cover, the Freshmen class, it helps your buzz.

It was a bunch of dudes from different places in America. It was a lot of different vibes, it was crazy. Everyone was doing their thing though. That was the first time I was on the cover of a magazine.

gorilla zoe 2008 freshman

Joell Ortiz
Year: 2008

My experience at the photoshoot was memorable. I looked to my left and right and saw what some people believed to be the future of hip-hop. Artists that I respected we're telling, showing me how much I was respected. It felt good. I actually met Crooked I, my fellow group member in Slaughterhouse, at that cover shoot. Who would've known that just a few years later we'd be in the same group, become great friends, and feed our families together? That's the beauty of that Freshmen shoot. You just don't know what happens at, and after, the shoot. I had a great time kicking it with my peers that day. Some of us remain, some are long gone. But we all won't forget that moment. I'm sure of that.

The best moment of being a Freshman was buying that magazine issue and saying, "Wow, I'm on the cover of XXL." The shoot is fun and inspiring, but when you actually see the finished product, it's PRICELESS. You have been validated. You're in. How long you stay in, that's on you. But for that moment, you're in. Fans are proud, other artists start paying attention, mom is crying, friends are celebrating, and your team is rejoicing. It's just a GREAT time! Your job it to make it last forever! I thank XXL for allowing me to take part in their Freshmen series. As an artist in, what I consider, my prime, I look back at that kid on that cover and smile. He made it. XXL had a hunch, and they were RIGHT!!! #Yaowa

joell ortiz 2008 freshman

Year: 2008

I don't really remember anything that stuck out, but I do remember it was definitely a good look, and it had a great impact out there for the audience and everybody. I mean, it definitely helped me on my path of where I was trying to go. You know what it is? I don't even remember that they did it together. They kinda put me on there kinda late; I don't remember exactly how it went, but if I remember, I didn't get to shoot with them. So I didn't really have that experience, so you probably gotta ask some of them.


Year: 2008

I was just more happy about being on the cover of XXL than anything. I was like, I’m on the XXL cover, I don’t care if it’s with nine other dudes; I’m on the cover. At that time, a lot of the guys that were on the cover with me were guys that I highly respected. Guys like Lupe, Papoose, and Lil Boosie; all of them I really respected. To even share a cover with those guys who are legendary in their own right, was a good thing.

It was a new concept but it was still XXL. It was new but the magazine was already established and doing well. And we did something for the first time, so now when these guys are on it and are all happy about it, me and Joell Ortiz are like, we were the original 10 guys that was on it. I could probably still name all 10 guys that are on there, that’s how important it was to me.

Some people still screenshot the cover and tell me this is the best cover of lyricists ever. As far as lyricists, not guys who have went on to blow up, but it was more lyrical-driven artists on that first cover.

We didn’t have a show when I was on the cover, that came later when they starting getting shows. We didn’t get all that fancy shit 'cause I guess it was the first time so they didn’t know if it was going to work or not. I like [the cover] because it gives the young artist something to strive for throughout the year, other than just getting a record deal. Every newcomer wants to be on that cover. They go hard. It’s really hard, though, when you’re in the running and you get your weight up and then the next year they like, "You ain’t no Freshman, you’re a sophomore."


Young Dro
Year: 2008

The photoshoot was amazing. When we walked in, they just had it laid out. It was a dream come true as a rapper. I’m glad I was well-rounded and well-grounded at that point because it probably would have blew my mind the way they had it laid out for me. Y’all the new guys! You know what I am saying? Everybody is lookin’ at y’all now! It was overwhelming. I’ll never forget it. It always replays in my mind that I was apart of the Freshmen Class, and still does today. You know what I mean? There’s a lot of cats on there that’s not around now. Feels good to be here. It was a great year for my age, it was a great year to be, you know, the first time of the Freshmen Class. First time they even made a cover like that. It was hustle. We was reigning supreme.

Some of the best moments? We were getting called out to do different shows they had us on. Different things they had us representing. It was offers. When they seen us on the cover, they was like, man, I got so many calls. The benefits from it was so great. Things that they were calling us out to do. They knew that we was the new guys that was on the block. The benefits from it was really overwhelming.

young dro

Year: 2009

The freshmen shoot was crazy, it was good getting up with everybody. It felt like Varsity tryouts or something. My best moment was hearing Kid Cudi talking about "Day 'N Night" for the entire interview, that was a big record. That's all he kept talking about. [Laughs]

blu xxl freshmen

Year: 2009

I remember it was bright in the photo shoot, and it was me, Asher Roth, Wale and Kid Cudi and we went walking to the corner store. It was just crazy at the time; I didn't realize just how significant this cover was as far as what it would do for our careers. Just the type of launch pad that it was. So it's actually more significant now looking back at it, because at the time I don't think neither one of us understood the magnitude of how far we would go or how we would take off.

That was a crazy year. I remember shortly after that I dropped "Nothing On You" and my first album came out. That really changed the course of my music at the same time, too. The audience that I had gained and the people that I had reached, that whole year was just crazy for me, it really changed my whole life. One year.

bob xxl freshmen

Year: 2010

I liked how they refered us to the hustlers, not artists. They said “The New Breed Of Hustlers.” I liked how they ushered that in. My experience at the photoshoot, it was cool. I’m a really shy guy; I don’t talk much, I was probably the most quiet person there. I did get to chop it up with a few of the Freshmen though. Some of the guys are really cool guys like Pill and Wiz Khalifa. I remember smoking a lot of weed with Wiz Khalifa. I think maybe freestyling with Jay Rock and stuff like that. Bumping with Big Sean. Me and Big Sean didn’t hit it off too well. I think it was because our names were both “Sean.” "Hi, my name is Big Sean." The introduction didn’t really go over well. It’s all good. It was a cool moment to be an out of towner in New York, living the dream.

The best moments, I have to say, being on tour and going into a supermarket and then actually buying the XXL Freshmen Cover when it came out. Like, the day it came out. That was the best moment of the whole experience for me. That’s probably just as great as the actual photoshoot was when I actually saw it come to life. Actually picked up the magazine off the racks. People recognizing me as I am buying the magazine. That was the first time I got massive exposure. That was probably the greatest moment. After that, it was a lot of work. A lot of work. You know when that cover came out, a lot of touring and a lot of traffic. Let’s be clear about that. A lot of music trafficking.

fashawn xxl freshman

Nipsey Hu$$le
Year: 2010

That was my first national cover, so that was dope, when you walk into a 7-11 and see yourself on the cover of a magazine, that's always dope. And knowing what XXL means to hip-hop, getting the stamp from XXL for what we had been doing the year or two prior, it was an accolade that feels good when people notice your work. And also it's an expectation now, it's like, alright, what you gonna do? What's your career gonna look like? 'Cause you can always look back at the cover and say, "Yeah, XXL was right about these people, XXL was wrong about these people." And levels of success want to make you want to keep going, and I want to be one of those dudes when you look back and say, "Yeah, they was right about that dude. They assumed he was gonna be successful, and he was."

It was a lot of moments, you know? I think me and Jay Rock, we did an MTV piece together, and Kendrick was always moving with Jay Rock at the time, and Kendrick was on deck at the photo shoot, and you see what ended up happening to his career. It was a cool moment, everybody being in the building, taking pictures for the cover and the photoshoot. There was a lot of people in that room that were still building, and ended up doing real work. Wiz was on that cover, J Cole was on that cover, Big Sean was on the cover, myself, Pill was on the cover, OJ. But what happened with those dudes' careers—and mine included—everybody was moving forward. And you kinda had that feeling at the photo shoot, that we was gonna have a big next couple of years. It was an excitement, it was a little bit of competitiveness, camaraderie, but it was dope, though.

nipsey hussle xxl freshman

Year: 2010

[When I got the call] it was one of the most gratifying moments in my early career because it meant that my music was appreciated. It meant that it was reaching out to a broader fan base than [just] the guys in my neighborhood. In the beginning I was just doing it for the guys in my neighborhood and for recognition in the trap. So to be called to be a part of the XXL freshmen class, the XXL Freshmen 10, it was surreal. I was very appreciative of the opportunity to be seen on a broader scale.

It definitely put me on a bigger plateau. I got noticed, 'cause XXL is carried everywhere so people got a chance to see who I am. It definitely got more shows, more recognition; everything just started to go into hyper drive. My phone call volume was a little bit higher. I had a lot more cousins than I thought I had in the beginning. A lot more relatives jumped out of the woodwork and people were like, "He for real with it." And of course, I went on to sign a major label deal, signed with Warner Brothers. It was finally cemented with the cover and the label deal.

One of the funny memories was just being with all the guys. We were kind of tense at first and Vanessa told us, "You guys can relax." So Wiz Khalifa pulls out a big ass bag of weed and starts rolling up joints. So I’m like, "Dog, what you doing?" and he’s like, "She said we can relax." So we just started blowing and everybody was just laughing from that point on.

pill xxl freshman

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

It was crazy, just trying to finish up Return Of 4eva, and actually getting the call as far as being actually being on the XXL Freshmen cover. I saw CyHi Da Prynce in the airport, and I was like, "Hey, where you going?" and he was like, "I'm going to New York, where you going?" And I was like, "I'm going to New York." And it was like a secretive, don't tell anybody thing. And just being there and running into Yelawolf and everything, Mac Miller. I already had relationships with them as far as musically, and just seeing my partners there. And you know, just to be able to kind of brand myself, because at that point with all the [mixtape] covers I had been putting out, they never had my face on it. So to be able to put a name to the face, it was a major platform, to put my music into households that wouldn't even have known who I was.

But I ain't gonna front, I was nervous, because to tell you the truth, I was nervous too, because the freestyle portion was coming about, and everybody wanted to do their best. But it was dope, man, to be a part of the cypher, and there was so much camaraderie there, and everybody just wanted to see the next person win. It was beautiful; there's so many artists that came from that cover that are really doing their thing, and everybody's really taken off from there.

There was one thing that did stick out—aside from the cyphers—was to sit down at the roundtable with everybody talking about things in the industry, the pressures of the industry and what we all planned on doing with our careers after our albums came out. And to look at those conversations and to think about how everybody else still stayed true to themselves and how it all played out as far as everybody's careers, 'cause even Meek, his mentality was, "I'm gonna go as hard as I possibly can, and I'm gonna get it in now, because this might not come around again, so I'm not gonna take this for granted." So just to see his work ethic, and at his point, he wasn't playin', you know what I'm saying? And everybody thought that subject matter and lyrical content was really important, and if you really peep all the people on that cover, I think we all hold our own lyrically as well. So that was dope, too.

big krit freshman xxl

Diggy Simmons
Year: 2011

It was fun, man. Just being a part of it, and those group of guys. XXL gave it to me when my career was just getting into that point where they felt like I deserved it. A lot was going on during that time for me—I was making my album, my fan base was just growing, gearing up to put out music—and then the cover came out. So altogether, with everything that was going on in my life, it was just a lot of big moments at once. And that just put the bow on it. Just having that stamp meant a lot.

You know, being amongst those guys—and of course with XXL being so legendary—it let a lot of people know. Some people it confirmed it, like, "Of course I knew," and some people were like, "Oh, shoot," you know? It was just an incredible opportunity, and it showed a lot of people that I deserved to be on it, and further confirmed it for the people who believed. I was just thankful to be able to get on it.

Just moving forward from [those experiences], coming out with my album, coming out with my music—even doing that show, which was one of my first 5-10 shows. And that show we did at BB Kings, I just got better from that experience. Being in front of a crowd another time while it was one of my first shows, it taught me a lot. I looked at the footage over on YouTube, and I was like, okay, these are the things I want to fix, these are the things I want to get better at. There were just things that happened that XXL provided that I gained experience from.

diggy simmons xxl freshman

Fred The Godson
Year: 2011

It was crazy because, you know, I’ma brag. I’ma keep it 100. My Freshmen Class was the best Freshmen Class ever thus far. I was in there with a lot of people that got busy; you got Meek on the left of me, Kendrick on the right of me, Mac Miller, YG, Yelawolf. It was a lot of people. Big K.R.I.T. It was crazy. It was just a whole bunch of talent. The crazy thing about that Freshmen Class was everybody got busy, but it was really like 11 different styles. You had Meek, Mac. You had the homie, Lil B. I put that in bold letters man. My Freshmen Class, I had the ball. It was a privilege to stand next to them guys. Everybody laughing, chilling. Food there. Everybody doing the cypher. Who was cyphering with who. Meek came in and he had his barber cutting his hair. Shit was crazy. I was just there like three deep. It was like a tight shoot and they ain’t want anybody to get the cat out the bag, you had to be quiet about it. It was a beautiful thing. I’ll never forget that day.

fred godson freshman xxl

Mac Miller
Year: 2011

It was cool, man. At that point, I was just nervous. When I came out here and did the Freshmen show, I was 18, and it was right when the Internet started crackin', crackin'. All these dudes now that get on the cover, they're poppin', I can't even imagine what those shoots are like. But ours was tight, because everyone was really humble. And our cover was fuckin' gangsta, bro. You had me, Kendrick, Lil B, fuckin' Meek. And everyone was tight, but the fact that you had me, Kendrick and Lil B on the cover was fuckin' crazy.

I would say, just shit with B, man, that was kinda where me and Lil B met and we've been pals ever since. 'Cause he just showed hella love to me when I rolled up, and then when we got to the plane [afterward] we actually were sitting next to each other, so we had this hilarious flight home, where we were just talking, and it was pretty incredible.

mac miller freshman xxl

Year: 2011

My experience was quiet; I really ain't know too many people except for Kendrick and Lil B at the time. So I wasn't saying much. I appreciated it though.

yg xxl freshmen

Danny Brown
Year: 2012

I wouldn't say anything stuck out, but that was my first time meeting a lot of people that I’m like super cool with now. So that was tight. Don Trip, I think I met Macklemore once before that but that’s when him and me really started to talk and kick it. Macklemore back then, who knew he was going to win a Grammy? So that was tight. I wasn’t really up on his music, but then I met him and started listen to his shit and was like, yo, this is tight. We had a lot of mutual friends, too. Over time I came to Seattle and we hung out or if I was in the area. We did festivals together; we always kicked it, now he's the man out here.

danny brown

hopsin xxl freshmen


The Los Angeles rapper whose real name is Marcus Hopson changed the spelling of his last name to sin from son to describe the sins he commits on the mic.

Iggy Azalea
Year: 2012

My experience as a Freshman was pretty rough. I feel like everybody got so up in arms about it, and then other people wanted to backtrack, and I don't feel like I was really supported enough about it. I feel like I wish people had stood behind the decision to put me on the cover a little more. But I'm still really glad I was on there, because it's still... I have it on my wall in my house right now. It's still a great accolade, and I'm very proud of being invited to be a part of it.

Iggy Azalea xxl freshmen

Kid Ink
Year: 2012

The shoot and the day was one of those things I felt like, everyone was excited, but not really knowing everyone—I don't think everyone on the cover was familiar with each other and didn't really meet until the shoot—it was a big introduction for everybody, and I think everybody was a little more humble in that sense. Just getting to know everybody and at the same time still not trying to be vulnerable. It was a weird vibe, but I think everyone was just excited at the same time and didn't wanna come off too cocky early. But still friendly and everything. It was a dope thing, man. Everyone was excited about the situation, but still trying to feel each other out and see who they vibe with the most.

I think the coolest moments was going around and vibing with everybody. There was so much pressure that day, and I think everyone was just so concerned with getting their freestyles off, but once it got to that point it was like, that's what everybody's mind was on, we gotta get these freestyles together and get these freestyles finished. And after the first run, and me getting my freestyle knocked off on the first go, that was the biggest moment for me. 'Cause I was like, we got that off, that's what I've been thinking about all week was making sure these freestyles were crispy. So I was lucky.

kid ink xxl freshmen

Year: 2013

That was cool. I grew up in a record shop, I was an avid fan of the hip-hop magazines and of course XXL. Just to be a part of XXL in any respect is crazy. We got high. Me and Q was in there high. We got some great weed. I think Action Bronson blessed us. He always blessed me. It was great.

ab soul

Action Bronson
Year: 2013

It was just cool to be on a fucking cover of a magazine. You know, to be thought of in that vein, to be on there. You feel me? It’s a lot of good times. I had some of my good friends there. I had the fucking rap homies there. Had Joey there, had Soul, had fuckin’ Q.

I have fun in every situation. It was a fun day. It was long, tedious or whatever. But it was good. I got to be honest, you know what was iller? When I walked in and I saw all of Trinidad Jame$’ shoes. Just the selection alone was fuckin’ enough for my day. It was incredibly funny. It was crazy. It was the shit.

I fucked with Soul beforehand. I fucked with Q beforehand. I fucked with Joey beforehand. I knew Trinidad. I don’t need nobody’s help. I don’t need to fucking do no crazy shit together, man. I’m a loner, like I said.

action bronson xxl freshmen

Angel Haze
Year: 2013

I released my album, which was a first, and insane to think about. But also all the things that came as the aftermath for me, like now I'm working on my second project and I've done a bunch of features here and there. It's been a freaking blast. So i'll probably say that every moment since being a Freshman has been one of the best, if not the most, significant part of my life.

Yeah, I was the only girl there at the shoot. [Laughs] It was actually doing my cypher [that was my favorite moment]. It was really really interesting to watch; Dizzy and Logic they go for it there. I don't know; it was astounding that those guys are so talented lyrically, and I feel like the entire day I was just in awe to be around talent similar if not better than my own. It was really cool.

angel haze xxl freshmen

Dizzy Wright
Year: 2013

I think just when all the Freshmen came together, I kind of vibed with all the Freshmen. Like, I smoked with ScHoolboy Q and Ab-Soul and I got to see how fly Trinidad Jame$ is. If anybody was there, you know how fly Trinidad was; he came with all the clothes, just the energy. My Freshmen Cover year was the year Macklemore blew up. It was actually nice to see a Freshman from the year before do so well. Like, you got to keep working hard. I liked it all.

The cypher with me Logic and Angel Haze [was a highlight]. Me and Logic became really cool homies. We were already homies before that, but we became real cool homies after the cypher, [and] that's my brother now. That's probably my most memorable moment.

dizzy wright xxl freshmen

Joey Bada$$
Year: 2013

It was pretty cool, you know, it was a very long day, very fucking draining. [Laughs] I knew Action, I knew Ab-Soul, I think that was the first time I met Q if I'm not mistaken. I knew Trinidad—or that might've been the first time I met him—the first time I met Dizzy was there, first time I met Logic was there. Shit, who else was on that shit with me? [Me and Dizzy] linked up there and we shared similar interests, and we were like, "Yeah, we should definitely work" and shit.

joey badass xxl freshmen

Year: 2013

That was really dope, because It’s not necessarily that I keep to myself or reserved, it’s just I’m very, like, respectful of others and people’s space. So I wasn’t tryna be like, “Yo what’s up Action [Bronson]!”, I’m straight. Even though I’m fans of these people, you know I was, I was just tryna let everybody do their thing ‘cause it was a long ass fucking day.

The shoot was grueling, but fun and the whole time that I was there I was just thinking about how this isn’t—like, I want the cover by myself, you know what I’m saying? Like the whole time I’m like, “All right, cool, this is great, but I can’t wait 'til I get the cover by myself.” I was also thinking about some of my favorites from Cole to Sean, Kendrick, K.R.I.T., Mac Miller, that were on here previously. I think the funniest thing is when I would look at those covers, I was like looking at them up here like, “Wow, oh my God I can’t wait.” Then when you’re actually there, you realize that, 1) It’s an incredibly huge milestone, especially for somebody like me, you know who everybody’s like, who? You guys took a chance, which I appreciate, but once you’re there you realize that there’s so much more. I even remember Vanessa telling me, she was like, “A lot of people see this as the pinnacle, as IT, just make sure you don’t see it that way.” And I never did.

I guess the acknowledgement is dope because like, fuck what everybody else thinks. So, to be a part of that I think was the biggest—I remember the first time I ever got anything posted on XXL. Do you remember that shit? It was “Young Sinatra III” and I was in a hotel on my first tour. This was when I had my fan base but I was tryna get to the blogs and get to all this other shit and I remember y’all posted it and I was jumpin’ up and down like, “Damn XXL posted my shit, that’s crazy,’ you know?” [Laughs] So, to go from that to have you guys choose me to represent you, like, if I’m not successful that doesn’t look good on y’all. To know I have to do my best to stay at that high stature and to grow even more is dope, so that’s what I loved about it.

logic xxl freshmen

Trinidad Jame$
Year: 2013

All in all it was pretty smooth. I remember when I couldn't get my outfit together, that was pretty hilarious. But I ended up making it happen.

It was an honor and it was one of the only things that I wanted in the rap game. I was just happy to just be doing it. I felt like I was a true Freshman because I really was, and to be able to be on the cover, it kind of made sense to me. I've been collecting the cover since Freshmen Class started. It was dope; I got to actually be on the cover.

trinidad james xxl freshmen

Previously: 22 Former XXL Freshmen Have Advice For The 2014 Class
XXL Freshmen 2014 Managers Weigh In On The Road To The Cover
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