This year marks the eighth anniversary of the first-ever XXL Freshman Class, an annual cover that began as a way to highlight some of the younger, up-and-coming artists making waves in hip-hop in that particular year. But in 2012, we switched things up a bit, picking 9 (instead of the usual 10) Freshmen and leaving the final spot up to you, the fans, to see who you'd like to represent the masses as the People's Champ on our Freshman cover. In the past four years it's consistently been a hotly-debated issue, with the number of voters rising exponentially year after year. This year's 10th spot winner was Kidd Kidd, who ran away with the vote and landed on the cover alongside Fetty Wap, DeJ Loaf, Vince Staples, Tink, GoldLink, Shy Glizzy, K Camp, OG Maco and Raury. His XXL Freshman freestyle and profile was posted today and in honor of the end of our freestyles (and, of course, just before we get into next week's cyphers), here are the three previous 10th spot winners—Iggy Azalea, Dizzy Wright and Jarren Benton—speaking about becoming the People's Champ. Shout out to the fans. —XXL Staff
Iggy Azalea, 2012Ed. Note: Interview originally ran March 12, 2014.
Iggy Azalea's finally gearing up for the release of her debut album, The New Classic, this April, and the Australian rapper's headed for a busy 2014 after that. But with XXL launching our Freshmen 10th Spot contest this week, we spoke to the inaugural winner of the competition—Iggy took 2012's vote by a landslide—to get her take on what it was like to be voted in by the fans.
"I think it's amazing, because I know it's the only way I would ever make it on there," she said, laughing, during a phone call this week with XXL. "I'm pretty happy about that. But I think it's cool to give people the power to choose what they define as new culture. And I don't mean that just for me, because I was voted in by the fans, but I think in so many aspects—especially in hip-hop—there are gatekeepers, and a very small, select group of people who consider themselves to be tastemakers, and choose who people should like or who they shouldn't. And now with the Internet, I don't think that's an honest reflection of what's popular."
With the world so interconnected via the Internet, Iggy said, the voting process makes the event go much further around the globe, making the Freshmen Cover a much more worldly proposition.
"I think that it was a brilliant idea, especially with the Internet and things being so global, and hip-hop being so global, I think it was a cool way for people from all over to be able to have a say and get their person in that they like," she said. "It's awesome... 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."
And with the majority of the list still in the hands of the XXL Staff, the one open spot, she said, takes the absolute power away from the "gatekeepers" and into the hands of the fans, without turning the competition into a full-blown popularity contest, such as the MTV Video Music Awards, which nominated Iggy as an Artist To Watch during last year's show.
"Honestly, I really do think that it's very cool," she said. "I like that some of them are picked by you guys, and I like that there's that one person that the fans can vote. Because I think with things like the MTV Awards, I will say, it can get a little crazy and it can get to be a popularity competition, and I think it's important and I think it's a cool way to fuse both things, have a wild card entry, and I love that. I think it's very cool. And I know I'm gonna go and I'm gonna vote for Skeme, 'cause he's my favorite."
Dizzy Wright, 2013Ed. Note: Interview originally ran March 11, 2014.
On Winning The 10th Spot:
Dizzy Wright: I guess it puts you in that position to feel like you put in enough work to be labeled as [one of] the Top 10 Freshmen in the whole damn world... you had to obviously put in that work. It felt good. Ever since the XXL shit, I've just been real active. I was active before, but that made me want be even more active. I [definitely] reaped the benefits of it, you just gotta work, work, work, and not really worry about how it all falls into place, but just know that it's gonna happen. But it's been all good for your boy since then.
It definitely [was] a big surprise, you know I'm from Vegas, we don't got no big rappers from outta here. I'm probably the biggest rapper to ever come out of Vegas and that XXL shit kinda solidified that. I was just super pumped about it because I followed the XXL Freshmen shit for a while, all the way back in 2010 with Wale, and it just felt good to be a part of it.
On His Fan Base:
Dizzy Wright: I feel like they know that I work, they know that I work hard, and I fuck with the people that fuck with me. I'm always on the road, always online, I've just been engaging for a long time. A lot of my fans is family now, and I treat 'em like that. I give respect, I get it back. It was something that I wanted, and I put it out there, and I let my fans know that it was something that I wanted, and because they knew that I wanted it, they made it happen. The whole Funk Volume movement plays a big part of it.. It's all organic. This shit is built fan by fan. And that's the way we like to keep it.
Jarren Benton, 2014Ed. Note: Interview originally conducted June 25, 2015.
XXL: You won last year's fan-voted 10th spot. What did that mean to you at the time?
Jarren Benton: Man, the 10th spot, I would say, is one of the illest ways to get it. The 10th spot, that's the fans, it ain't the politics it's the fans. So the 10th spot, that shows you that your fuckin' fans really fuck with you heavy if they go hard like that. And not even just fans, maybe it's the people who aren't accustomed to you who went out and voted. So I'd say the 10th spot is the greatest accomplishment as well, 'cause you can gauge where you at and know that the people ride hard for you, so you gotta go hard for them.
How does it feel to have the fans' support like that?
That shit is crazy, man. You know, when I was up for the 10th spot, at first—I'm pretty sure like every artist—you never know if you're gonna get it, and I don't think anyone would want to seem confident. But then I started seeing the numbers I was like, "Oh, shit, they really wanna go hard." It made me feel good, man. I would say the whole Funk Volume, our camp got something special with our fans. If they fuck with you, bro, they gonna go hard. It's a blessing man, to be honest with you. 'Cause I remember, shit, like having 80 people liking your shit to having thousands of people digging your shit. It's a blessing, man. That's how I look at it, really.
Did you feel that love on tour? I know you spent a lot of the year touring.
Oh hell yeah, man. You know, there's still some spots where I still feel I gotta get the fans to get me. But yeah, I felt that love even before going out on my own tour, going out on Funk Volume 2012 and all the other tours I did before that, man. That's when I was really like, "Damn, these muthafuckas really rock with me, this ain't no made up shit, they really fuckin' with me."