For the past few years, XXL's Freshmen cyphers have garnered massive attention from hip-hop heads to rap newcomers. Since its inception in 2011, the cypher has become a staple for the brand. Rappers like Kendrick Lamar, Joey Bada$$, Macklemore and Logic have walked into the lion’s den unscathed while others haven't fared so well.
With fans yearning to hear new bars from some of their favorite rising artists, XXL provided the platform to allow just that. In 2011, we watched a young K.Dot exude promise and confidence with his breathtaking verse. In 2012, Danny Brown and Hopsin transformed their cypher into their own personal playgrounds. In 2013, Joey Bada$$, Action Bronson, Ab-Soul and Travis $cott delivered a cohesive, lyrically solid cypher. XXL's penchant for orchestrating these memorable moments helped create credibility for many of the artists. While some were able to take advantage of the platform at hand, others floundered.
The Boombox decided to do the unthinkable and rank all of XXL’s Freshmen Cyphers. It wasn’t an easy feat, but we got the job done. Check out Every XXL Freshmen Cypher Ranked From Worst to Best.
2015 XXL Freshmen Cypher Part 3 - Fetty Wap, Dej Loaf & Shy Glizzy
Honestly, out of Every XXL Freshmen Cypher Ranked From Worst to Best, this one is dismal. Fetty Wap, Dej Loaf and Shy Glizzy are great at making solid songs -- "My Way," "Try Me" and "Awwsome," respectively, to name a few -- but when it comes to the art of the cypher where bars are essential, they failed miserably. Rap fans wondered why acts like Casey Veggies and Mick Jenkins weren't included on the 2015 Freshman Class cover after seeing this video. We can't blame anyone for even asking that question.
2014 XXL Freshmen Cypher Part 2 - Rich Homie Quan, Lil Durk & Ty Dolla $ign
This flavorful bunch featuring Rich Homie Quan, Lil Durk and Ty Dolla $ign didn't light the lyrical skies on fire with this cypher. But despite these rappers not necessarily being lyrical monsters, they each injected energetic verses into this cypher. Rich Homie demonstrated his exuberance with lines like, "I remember at first everybody was sleeping on me / I tried to wake 'em up, but they still went Tempur-Pedic on me," he raps. Ty Dolla $ign got on his Boyz II Men flow by crooning the first half of his freestyle but then he dropped some rather infantile raps during his verse. Plus Durk's performance wasn't anything spectacular to finish it off.
2013 XXL Freshmen Cypher Part 2 - ScHoolboy Q, Trinidad Jame$ & Kirko Bangz
First off, this piano-laden beat produced by V12 the Hitmen is fire. However, it's just a shame that it went to waste with the verses some of these MCs chose to deliver. While ScHoolboy Q gets busy on the beat and showcases solid rhymes representative of his TDE family, Kirko Bangz and Trinidad Jame$ provide insipid, uninspiring verses. If you want to be a rapper, this isn't the best cypher to use for reference. What's interesting about Trinidad's verse is it's less than 30 seconds and poorly executed. Overall, a dud.
2015 XXL Freshmen Cypher Part 1 - Tink, K Camp, Kidd Kidd & Raury
Tink, K Camp, Kidd Kidd and Raury aren't as polished as some of the artists on the previous XXL Freshman Class covers, but they can at least stand tall in a cypher. The gem here is Tink. The multifaceted artist proves her worth and bodies her freestyle with ease here. Tink, who's also a singer (though you might not realize that from these hard-hitting bars), has proven that she's capable of getting on the mic and competing against the big boys. "So I'm no longer on the healthy tip / Tryna make my dough extend, longer than a selfie stick / Self employed n---- but I'm no Dame Dash / Top of my class, I ball without a shot in my ass," she rhymes confidently, taking home the win in this cypher.
2011 XXL Freshmen Cypher Part 1 - YG, Mac Miller, Lil Twist & Diggy
Now here is where the cyphers get interesting. For one, this was an extremely young group at the time and secondly, they all represent various areas on the rap map. YG showed out for the West Coast, Lil Twist held it down for Young Money in the south, Pittsburgh received some shine thanks to Mac Miller and Diggy repped the Big Apple. One of the more standout performances in this cypher comes from YG. "It's YG, 400 / The flow cold got these hoes nose runnin' / The rap game a bakery, I'm getting dough from it / And I shop with it, I got something to show from it," he raps. Mac also did the damn thing and flexed during his time in front of the camera. "I'm just rhyming, spitting so efficient / Keeping the tradition, while seeking to be different / Just dropped "KIDS," but I'm a man of many words / You had to do it big, but couldn't stop the work," he delivers. Despite these two holding it down, their verses weren't strong enough to propel this cypher into the top five.
2012 XXL Freshmen Cypher Part 2 - Kid Ink, Macklemore, Iggy Azalea, & Don Trip
You can label this group “The Hitmakers” -- with the exception of Don Trip. Iggy, Macklemore and Kid Ink have each crafted bangers that climbed to the top of the Billboard charts, but are their cypher skills to be celebrated or bashed? Macklemore definitely owned this cypher with ease as a result of his flow and sheer lyricism ("Better re-up and eat that beat I need that bass like a fiend does, needle in my arm, plug in to the speakers"). On the other hand, Iggy's forced and rugged delivery is something to frown upon. "Everybody on my d---, they wanna ride my pony," she exclaims. Really, Iggy?
2014 XXL Freshmen Cypher Part 3 - Jon Connor, Jarred Benton, Lil Bibby & Troy Ave
Aside from Flint, Mich. rapper Jon Connor and Decatur, Ga. native Jarren Benton, this cypher is virtually a snooze fest. Take a look as the four rhymers go to work with a hint of animosity in the room. We'd say that's the sign of a decent cypher since competition is at its core. Despite Benton and Connor being lauded as lyrical titans, Lil Bibby and Troy Ave don't seem too impressed, but they also don't give the greatest performances of their career either. “Just like Big and Jay, Troy Ave hit after / I represent the streets, I ain't these weirdo rappers," Troy serves. Shots fired? Sure seems like it.
2014 XXL Freshmen Cypher Part 1 - Isaiah Rashad, Chance the Rapper, Vic Mensa, August Alsina & Kevin Gates
Don Cannon lays the beat foundation as Isaiah Rashad, Chance the Rapper, Vic Mensa, August Alsina and Kevin Gates go to work. Chance and Vic are a tad bit playful with their verses while Gates proves he's done some pretty bad things in the eyes of the law. "N---- killed my brother so I took him from his family / Went and got some tears in my face, now I'm branded," he spits. Alsina leaves the rapping to the rest as he sings the hook between verses ("I'ma hustle all day"). The standout performance here comes courtesy of TDE's very own Isaiah.
2015 XXL Freshmen Cypher Part 2 - GoldLink, Vince Staples & OG Maco
This is easily the best cypher of the 2015 class. GoldLink talks sex, Vince Staples makes you think and OG Maco reminds us that he can spit off the top. "Maybe I can teach her right, damn sure I can eat you right / Eat you like I'm eating pizza, baby I might have a slice / Baby I can climb up on ya like the Eiffel tower / We can have a baby, baby, have a baby shower," GoldLink delivers. Then Vince flips the mood by addressing police brutality and some harsh realities. "My homie died through the negligence of the policeman / Can't tell me no different, I still can hear him screaming / He was barely a teen / And Jesus couldn't save him, so I barely believe / Give the levees a break and watch us all drown in the sea that Moses had parted / We wasn't part of American's dream," the Summertime '06 creator ruminates.
2013 XXL Freshmen Cypher Part 3 - Logic, Dizzy Wright & Angel Haze
Logic single-handedly demolished this cypher. That's why we appreciate his lyricism; he raps with reckless abandon. The 25-year-old rapper's ability to weave together poignant raps is what makes him a special breed. "Incognito, manipulate the steel like Magneto / Smackin' suckas like mosquitoes, dispersing verses like a free-throw," he rhymes. Vegas' very own rascal, Dizzy Wright, also infiltrates the beat with gusto: "You could say that I'm proud, cause I wasn't following' crowds / I was stuntin' on all them n----s that was running' they mouths." Last but not least, Angel Haze represents for the ladies on the Jahlil Beats-produced track.
2012 XXL Freshmen Cypher Part 1 - Hopsin, Danny Brown, Future, Machine Gun Kelly & Roscoe Dash
If you had to choose one king of this cypher, it really is a toss-up between Danny Brown and Hopsin. However, Future, Machine Gun Kelly and Roscoe Dash also serve up solid offerings "Yo, check out this verse I wreck, I think I'm more cursed than blessed / No one seems to know if my brain's the result of birth defects / I need a solution, pastors tell me that church is best / But they'll look at me devilish cause I'm how they interpret death," Hopsin rhymes. Then Danny comes through and commands on the mic. "You think I'm gon' fall off, got advice for you, homes / Fall asleep in your car, in the garage, with the engine on / Playing Ping Pong with your bitch jaws / You're the type to have a sing-a-long in Superman drawers," he delivers. But that's not all. He finishes strong by rapping, "Me on the beat, that's a hate crime / With black ink I murder white lines." This is one cypher not to be slept on.
2011 XXL Freshmen Cypher Part 3 - Meek Mill, Big KRIT & Fred the Godson
Big K.R.I.T. serving up lines in his distinctive southern drawl is just one reason why this cypher is dope. His grittiness in conjunction with his hard-nosed lyricism makes him the standout artist here. "Hey, do you mind if I murder this / Spit that southern slang over something so conservative / Swinging lane to lane, candy-coated, sipping purple s---," he rhymes. New York native Fred the Godson may be the underrated wordsmith in comparison to K.R.I.T. and Meek Mill, but he holds his own and flexes his lyrical muscle with lines like, "Big chain gets you smoked like I love lucys / just me and my Cuban, I Love Lucy." Plus, Meek's energy is also something to appreciate as he reminds fans that everything comes off the top: "Engineer lookin', when that boy gon' pull the pen out / No pen, no pad, this year so sad." This is worthy of the No. 3 spot in Every XXL Freshmen Cypher Ranked From Worst to Best.
2011 XXL Freshmen Cypher Part 2 - Kendrick Lamar, Yelawolf, CyHi the Prynce & Lil B
Talk about bars. Kendrick Lamar eviscerates this beat seamlessly. We all knew that he had the lyrical chops to rap his ass off in a cypher but to watch him in action is art in motion. "It's Baghdad kids with bad dads cops with bad badges / Big bullets, no my bads once the gun shoot ya," K.Dot rhymes. He continues his lyrical onslaught with lines like, "Hot as the Mike Jordan lacing my Jordans and yelling out Iso, Ike Turner your idol, whip em." Besides Kendrick, Yelawolf and CyHi the Prynce get busy and even Lil B gives a solid showing of his lyrical skills. "My n---- told me if I ever stop rapping / The game lost Jordan, trade him to the Magic / Exhibit based, not Exhibit C / You n----s couldn't see, let me part the sea," the BasedGod raps. Flexing never sounded so good.
2013 XXL Freshmen Cypher Part 1 - Joey Bada$$, Action Bronson, Ab-Soul & Travis $cott
Are you ready for the No. 1 performance in our Every XXL Freshmen Cypher Ranked From Worst to Best list? Here we have Ab-Soul, Joey Bada$$, Action Bronson and Travis $cott, who each give us the best cypher hands down due to its cohesiveness. For one, everyone killed their verse. The level of lyrical skill is rather equal considering the rap behemoths in the form of the Black Lipped Bastard, Bronsolino, Badmon and, surprisingly, La Flame. Scott's verse came as a surprise at the time because before this cypher, he had never showcased bars quite like this. "Have that, pass that, light it up and then blow / Imagery abstract, it's like NASDAQ when I stock it up and then grow," he spits.
See XXL Freshman Class: Where Are They Now?
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