The XXL Freshman Freestyle is a strange beast.
On the one hand, the allotted 90 seconds has allowed for bubbling new talents to really show their strength. The 16-bar offerings from Vince Staples and Angel Haze still remain some of the most talked-about freestyles in XXL history. But on the other hand, placing swag-rappers and singers in an arena built for battle rappers seems cruel and unfair at times.
“Not gonna lie my freestyle was trash,” Lil Mosley said after his abysmal cypher last year briefly curtailed his reputation. “I don’t freestyle as y’all can see. I like to write songs n [sic] sing melodies, but I tried n had fun.” Sometimes, the XXL freestyle is indicative of whether or not an artist will flop, but oftentimes, the rapper’s vibe isn’t the right fit for an acapella freestyle, especially as Hip-Hop has gradually become more melodic over the years and less about hard-hitting verses. As this year’s collection of freestyles kicks off, here are the most embarrassing freestyles in recent memory.
OJ Da Juiceman
One of the laziest, most low-grade freestyles in XXL history, OJ Da Juiceman’s 18-second four-bar mumble can barely even qualify as a rap. “What it do, ’cause, man, I’m here to stay, aw, man, ’cause, man we in yo’ face,” forever lives in infamy. After his induction into 2010’s freshman class, OJ would go on to have a steady career in rap, but he would never rise to the heights of his other classmates. From Nipsey Hussle and Jay Rock to Wiz Khalifa and Freddie Gibbs, 2010’s freshman class carried some mega-talents that would have a monumental impact on the culture, with OJ falling somewhere in between.
Fred The Godson
A XXL inductee who would go on to flop in mainstream circles, Fred The Godson’s off-putting freestyle was corny merely because he tried to make food puns sound tough. The uncomfortable flaming backdrop provided by XXL didn’t help either. Described by HNHH as “Jadakiss Lite,” the South Bronx emcee fought hard for some of his wack play on words to have gusto. “This b*tch said I’m fat as Free Willy, I guess I’m doing really whale,” he says with an unnecessary amount of angst. “Flow off the noodle, I’m top rhyming. My flow off the noodle, I’m top Ramen.”
Still, Godson led a steady career, and was a powerhouse in his community. He unfortunately passed away from COVID-19 complications back in April.
While the 2012 year was devoid of stand-alone freestyles in favor of a BET cypher, Iggy Azalea’s contribution was so horrendous that it still earned a place on this list, mostly because we don’t know what the hell she’s talking about. “What you smelling on me is getting to the money, going green, flexing on em, feeling like Gumby.” The freestyle would be widely panned for years to come, and it wouldn’t be the last time Azalea would be meme-ified for rapping utter nonsense.
As of 2020, the rapper borders on disgraced. Her mentor T.I. recently called her his “biggest blunder,” and her sophomore effort, In My Defense, sold poorly and was panned by critics. The album was meant as a response to the mounting accusations of cultural appropriation that had swirled around the Australian model for years, to which she told GQ, “The whole privilege thing is a rough conversation.” Despite multiple profiles and Twitter wars, it still seems foggy whether Azalea truly understands her appropriative tendencies.
Kirko Bangz was destined to be the next big thing. As one of the first melodic rappers, his ear for melody and clever use of autotune meant he could traverse the line between R&B and Hip-Hop with ease. His single “Drank in My Cup” made waves on the Billboard charts back in 2011. Once inducted into 2013’s Freshman Class, he announced that the arrival of his debut project was imminent. In the summer of 2013, he released his Progression 3 mixtape, which sported features from Nipsey Hussle, Wale, and YG, among others.
But after much deliberation, his debut album just never arrived. Issues with Warner Bros forever delayed the release of new music, and the buzz around him turned to crickets. Needless to say, his freshman freestyle didn’t help. “N**** got the Lamborghini, I got the Lamborghini, for the album and the magazine, I had a Lamborghini,” Bangz says with a tight flow that almost masks the fact he rhymed Lamborghini with Lamborghini three times.
Shy Glizzy is a really talented emcee, but the D.C. rapper’s style simply didn’t translate to the XXL’s acapella form. A melodic artist with a woozy flow, Glizzy sounds like he’s yelling in an acapella format, and his long pauses make the delivery sound perfunctory. “My b*tch look like Kourtney K, she don’t got no lipo,” he croons. “Two hundred in a stingray, I just switched to Geico.”
His bars aren’t devoid of wit, but they, for some reason, sound trite in XXL’s stringent battle-rap set-up. Glizzy deserved a set up that better catered to his style and flow, but this fumble was by no means indicative of his career, as the rapper has thrived underground for years.
A tumultuous 2019 has left Kodak all but disgraced, after disturbing rape accusations, a return to prison, and inflammatory comments regarding Lauren London quelled all the positive reception Dying to Live received in 2018. While Kodak’s character is questionable, he remains a solid rapper, and his bars off his 2016 Freshman Freestyle weren’t all that terrible…if they had been a freestyle.
Instead, Kodak regurgitated the lyrics off his then-unreleased track “Slayed,” which would come out later that year. It’s safe to say not everyone is built for freestyling, but to camouflage written lyrics as off-the-dome bars is straight lazy. His fellow classmate Lil Dicky would soon do the exact same thing, making the 2016 freestyle’s a little more evident in its lackluster.
Another rapper whose style merely doesn’t translate well in a freestyle setting, Playboi Carti’s distinct brand of flexing mumble rap. “First I park my car, uh, then I pour the Wock’, uh, I’m a wockstar, uh, I’m a popstar, ayy,” he raps with minimal effort. You could see in Carti’s eyes that even he knew he was out of his element.
The freestyle would by no means define Carti’s legacy, as he’d soon be one of the most talked-about talents in Hip-Hop. His highly-anticipated album Whole Lotta Red is probably the most talked-about project in recent memory besides Lil Uzi Vert’s Eternal Atake, the latter of which finally came out this year. Hopefully, Carti follows suit soon.
“I just love to flex,” Pump says in his ludicrous 2018 freestyle. He’s a man of his word, as he delivers his 16-bars holding a fat wad of cash up to his ear, iced out, lifting lyrics from his hit song “Esskeetit” without a care in the world. Pump, who regularly trolls his own genre, built his reputation on being almost a caricature of the modern-day rapper—young, loud-mouthed, destructive, and high as hell.
“Look at my two-tone Patek, I smash a ho then forget, I got a fridge on my neck,” he raps with a wide-mouthed grin. Pump’s rhymes have always been meager, but there’s something about hearing them devoid of a braggadocious beat that makes it particularly cringeworthy.