TRUTH: On Being A 2014 XXL Freshman: “I feel ecstatic. On top of the world. I feel big but not in the sense of, like, height or weight, but colossal. It’s a step that you gotta take, you know what I’m saying? And there’s a million rappers that all want that spot, so it’s a big deal to be able to represent a space in music as one of the Freshmen. And it’s also a big deal for me because I’m unsigned, no publishing, no recording deal. It’s a really organic thing that’s being appreciated.

[XXL] is like what The Cosby Show is to Black television, if that makes any sense. It’s a very important piece to what rap is, you know what I’m saying? And to be recognized on a level…I like to think that the Freshmen List is based on the year before. People like to say different, but saying that, ‘We observed you last year, and you killed it,’ and this is like an appreciation award, and kind of them pushing off your shit, saying, ‘Continue to do what you’re doing.’ It’s dope. It’s a cool milestone.

Yeah, [I look at the cover] every year. Everybody reads the Freshmen List. It was a big deal when I got nominated last year—that was like the biggest thing that happened to me last year—and I felt a certain type of way about taking a spot when there’s so many newer artists, but like I said, I like to believe it’s based off the year before, and I would never turn that shit down. It’s definitely cool to be on the same shit that Future, Kendrick, Freddie Gibbs, Chief Keef—Keef had a little poster on the side.

I feel like the world is retracting back into bohemian society, with the poor artist. Everybody’s got this idea of this utopic, million-dollar deal or billion-dollar deal that you get from rapping that’s completely fantastical. It’s not real at all. And I feel like through continuing to be a poor artist and functioning the way that I do—I make money, but I have a full team, you understand? So I have a production manager, an assistant, a security guard, a music director, a general manager, a business manager, a publicist. Everything that it takes for an artist to be fully well-rounded. But it costs money. And I have a specific team, so we all have a job, and we’re part of this artistic community, and we all have jobs that are part of this artistic community. We’re all artists, bohemians. And I think the more I drop songs through Soundcloud without selling them, or produce songs completely from my home studio, or just do a lot of DIY shit and do it on a platform where everybody can see it and sees that the structure is completely DIY and very organic, the more other people will start to follow.

And that was kind of my point in this last year. I want to see a lot more independent artists, fully independent artists, thrive. And I think thriving doesn’t always necessarily have a monetary aspect to it. You could be the value that I’m at right now, you know what I’m saying? Like, I just released a song the night before last called ‘Home Studio’ because I made it in my home studio. And the whole point was, I can drop a song on Soundcloud and reach 100,000 people in less than eight hours, around the world. The audience is infinite. And I think we get so caught up with trying to put music in so many different boxes by genre, or boxes by region, and try to make rap smaller than it is. But it’s a universal language that is profitable and is a real thing. So if we can just make it so that people can understand that you can trade music at its value—which is more than a dollar but less than something else—it’s of such high value, but I don’t think selling it is the right way to do it. It’s more about spreading it. So once I spread that worth, the value of that song, then I can tour off of one song for the next few days, you know? And once this bohemian community really, fully [develops], the value of music will go up. There’s no iTunes without artists. There’s no radio without artists. There’s no art without artists. And I think the more I can brand this rap shit as a free way to go, the more people will fully align with it and realize that it’s more than just rap. It’s about being an artist and being poor but being successful. I’m givin’ you knowledge right now.”—As Told To Dan Rys

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