When the rising rap talent of the mid-2000s—from Lupe Fiasco to Plies to Papoose—graced the 2007 cover of XXL Magazine, no one foresaw the "Leaders of the New School" tagline evolving into one of hip-hop's most important institutions. Yet that was the foundation from which XXL's annual tradition, the Freshman Class, was built. Fifteen years and 15 Freshman magazine covers later, XXL has knighted plenty of promising rookies poised to become staples of the culture, word to Vince.
At this point, you can set your watch to it. Every year in June, XXL unveils a new class of hip-hop neophytes that we've stamped as names you need to know (plus, one fan-voted pick per year). We're sticking to the script in 2022, presenting the 15th annual Freshman Class.
While we're celebrating hip-hop's future, it's only natural to dwell on the past—how far the franchise has come and which Freshman covers predate the latest. The 2009 cover is literally stacked, as the artists are divided into three dope ensemble shots laid atop each other to open the mag. In 2011, the class theme went literal, with the likes of Kendrick Lamar and Mac Miller portrayed in a school setting. By 2013, classes were being compared to those of the past (we wondered aloud and on the cover line if Travis Scott, ScHoolboy Q and Logic's class was G.O.A.T. level). Chance The Rapper sported overalls with no shirt in 2014. The 2016 and 2017 classes were color coordinated, with the former crew making like a Diddy all-white party and the latter artists rocking all-black on a set drenched in red.
In 2020, the likes of Polo G, Rod Wave, NLE Choppa, Lil Tjay and Mulatto appeared on the cover. Out-of-this-world artists for the 2021 XXL Freshman Class included 42 Dugg, Iann Dior, Coi Leray, Pooh Shiesty, Flo Milli, Morray, Rubi Rose, Blxst, Toosii, Lakeyah and DDG. Sticking to the old adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” photographer Travis Shinn, who's been the Freshman Class photographer for years now, hooked up the flicks for the 2022 Freshman class, breaking the mold in the process. The slick, clean-looking 2022 magazine cover includes BabyTron, Cochise, Saucy Santana, Babyface Ray, KenTheMan, SoFaygo, Big Scarr, Big30, KayCyy, Doechii, Kali and Nardo Wick.
Take a look at all of the XXL Freshman covers over the years below.