Knowledge Darts Vol 16: Screaming Into The Void
Time to stop complaining about the XXL Freshman cover and move on
10 years ago, XXL magazine released their first Freshmen Class cover which featured Saigon, Papoose, Joell Ortiz, Crooked I, Lupe Fiasco, Lil Boosie, Plies, Young Dro, Rich Boy & Gorilla Zoe. “Hip Hop’s Next Superstars” the cover line declared. I begin this piece with that crucial piece of information to establish context and to remind everyone that their selection criteria were flawed from the outset. The magazine wanted to appeal and appease certain demographics in order to sell issues so they selected ten individuals that had fanbases or rabid followings from all regions, mainstream success and were proven cats who were then considered champions of the underground.
XXL didn’t go out and find some up-and-comers cats weren’t up on, get behind them and try to introduce them to readers because that would go counter to doing the safe thing and trying to sell magazines. There was a time where Rap wasn’t “safe” so neither was Rap journalism. I knew this format was doomed because they never had an aesthetic to stick to from the outset. It was clear that they were going to pander to whichever demographic or audience that would be willing to buy the magazine based on the cover. Meanwhile, all throughout the Rap bloggerverse between 2008 and 2013 cats were making lists by themselves that put the one made by the entire XXL staff to shame. Later on, they began putting the tenth spot up to a public vote—with a corporate sponsor—to make it seem like the fans really had a voice. Grow some spines.
If you’re waiting for me to critique who’s on the 2017 XXL Freshman cover or give my take on who SHOULD’VE been on it instead, you’re shit out of luck. I’ve been scrutinizing the XXL Freshman since the days when it actually counted. I questioned the direction of the 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 AND 2012 covers to the point where cats I knew who rapped began looking at them like corporate brownie points or insults to their back catalog and talent levels. I have pointed out the blatant omissions, questionable choices, obvious attempts at pandering to particular fanbases, cribbing from popular blogs, and the XXL Freshman cover picks that were always two or three years late back when SoundCloud and Bandcamp were new. I was vocal about it on Twitter back in the old days of the Fail Whale when you could visibly see the number of DM’s you had and you needed to use Twitpic because Instagram didn’t exist yet.
I have another objective entirely with this piece…
From year to year XXL will move the goal posts and grasp at straws looking to put together whatever list will elicit the biggest possible response. Or in some cases ANY response. Problem is, Rap publications may be less significant in this day and age than they have been in the entire history of journalism.
With all due respect XXL has very little cachet amongst many of the talented or reputable rappers or emcees. They don’t even see the XXL Freshman cover as an honor or a boost to their careers. Many have declined a spot on the cover when offered. Cats like me have written the whole thing off so long ago we simply stopped caring. To complain about who did or didn’t make the list year in and year out is a waste of time. The big question is: why do we pretend to care every year?
The usual suspects who actually rely on the mainstream Rap industry to pay their mortgage co-sign the cover picks while everyone else makes jokes and memes via social media. We lose sight of the fact these lists hold no weight whatsoever anymore. We’re just going through the motions discussing something that’s manufactured solely to fill a space in the news cycle. I find the whole ritual maddening to say the least.
Vanessa Satten, Editor-In-Chief of XXL has been doing her usual media run for the cover —going to Hot 97, The Breakfast Club, Sway In The Morning, etc. Every year there’s a brand new controversy or talking point to try to keep the conversation going. It’s like there’s a glitch in The Matrix. Every goddamn year folks complain about who’s on the list—folks who don’t even read the fucking magazine anymore and quite frankly don’t even listen to the music made by the artists who were picked for the cover. With each successive year we continue beating a dead horse with another half dead horse until we have two horse corpses laying in front of us.
The definition of insanity is repeating the same routine under the same circumstances while hoping for a different outcome. We are all stuck in a loop like the film Groundhog Day and it’s time to finally break the cycle.
Bottom line? These lists don’t predict shit about who’s next to blow. They don’t accurately reflect who are the best cats in Rap right now nor do they even gauge who has the most buzz in the industry—nor amongst fans. I could run down a laundry list of cats who flat-out turned down a spot on the Freshman cover and many more who accepted the offer only to regret doing so years later. I mean… I remember seeing Macklemore on the 2012 XXL Freshman cover and spazzing out because his debut LP came out back in 2005 and he’d been around for about 5 years before that dropped. That was the moment I washed my hands of even trying point out the hypocrisy and flawed logic behind who was chosen and who wasn’t.
If the list is trash every year and I’m past even recognizing anyone they put on the cover then I might as well do what everyone else who actually loves, cares and values the art form, journalistic standards, and accuracy should do: Focus on something else that actually matters.
Dedicated to the memory of Josh The Goon.