Last Tuesday the XXL Freshman Tour stopped at the Best Buy Theater in Times Square for a sold out show. It was one of the few stops on this year's run that was supposed to feature all 10 MC's but, unfortunately, Angel Haze and Ab-Soul were unable to be in attendance. However, the eight that made it- Dizzy Wright, Kirko Bangz, Logic, Travi$ Scott, Action Bronson, Joey Bada$$, Trinidad Jame$, ScHoolboy Q - each displayed the reasons why they were inducted into XXL's exclusive class. The night was hosted by Hot 97's Cipha Sounds and Peter Rosenberg and served to put all attendees on official notice: this is the new generation of hip hop. Zumic was there and saw first hand just how bright the future looks.
Dizzy Wright and Kirko Bangz were the first two acts, but I got there too late to catch them (hey, I got a day job too). I was fortunate, however, to arrive in time to see Maryland based MC Logic. The young 23 year old is an ultra-talented rapper and he let the room know. A couple lighting-quick acapella verses showed the people that although he was young (and white), he takes his craft seriously. The majority of his material on stage came from his Young Sinatra: Welcome To Forever mixtape that Logic put out earlier this month. He thanked XXL and his fans, some definitely new converts, and repeated as he left, "I represent peace, love and positivity."
Next up was Houston's own Travi$ Scott, whose collaborations with Kanye West and recent mixtape Owl Pharoah had the audience hype with anticipation. Scott, who had never headlined in New York before, showed no signs of being nervous. He spit a couple tracks off Owl Pharoah, his verse off G.O.O.D. Music's "Sin City", and took off into the crowd to deliver "Upper Echelon". He even informed us that he has a couple tracks on West's upcoming Yeezus. In other words, Scott is a name that you need to keep an eye on. His performance put the people in a frenzy and set the stage for what would be the best act of the night: the incomparable Action Bronson.
Although Bronson is a few years older than most of his other Freshman classmates, he is arguably its most creative and innovative. From his work with Alchemist to his upcoming Saab Stories LP with Harry Fraud, Bronson has quickly risen to the top of the resurgent New York rap scene, alongside A$AP Rocky and Joey Bada$$ (another Freshman), even if he hasn't had the commercial success of A$AP or the support of a larger collective, like Bada$$'s Pro Era crew. It quickly became obvious that Bronson had the most hardcore fans in attendance. There were chants of his name a few times throughout the night and when he took the stage you could tell this was why most people were there.
He started off by rhyming over the piano and string intro to Guns N Roses' "November Rain" (!) and then went into his most recent single "Strictly 4 My Jeeps" that tore the roof off. To the surprise of the crowd, he spit his verse from "1Train", the posse cut off A$AP's Long.Live.A$AP, which would become a reoccurring theme of the night. After RiFF RaFF hit the stage to do his verse off "Bird On A Wire", it was clear that the night belonged to Bronsolino. He ended with "9.24.11" off his much celebrated Blue Chips mixtape and placed the bar at an impossibly high level for Joey Bada$$. I kind of felt bad for everyone else that followed.
The young MC from Flatbush, BK was up for the challenge though. With help from some of his Pro Era team and Statik Selektah as DJ, Joey wasted no time in making his mark on the night. He also spit his verse from the aforementioned "1Train" along with debuting a brand new track from his upcoming Alchemist produced project B4da$$. Fat Trel and Fredo Santana also took the stage to help out. Even as I hesitate to use the term, the Pro Era crew has solidified itself as representing the second coming of NY backpack rap. Their music recalls a time when Rawkus Records was putting out the material that laid the blueprint for the underground scene for a decade after. It seems Joey, the Flatbush Zombies and the other Pro Era members are on the same path of influence. In putting Trinidad Jame$ next, XXL showed that they were intent on representing the entire spectrum of hip hop.
Trinidad is a treat to catch on stage. His sartorial makeup is part rock glamour, part gaudy, early 90's rap. Think Jimi Hendrix meets Big Gipp. Fat gold chains, a bandana, and loud prints make Jame$ an instantly recognizable figure, as if he's somehow landed in 2013 from an earlier era of the game. His sound, however, is firmly placed within the music emanating from the trap music capital of the world. He even brought Atlanta counterparts B.O.B and DJ Drama out for support. When he performed "All Gold Everything" (and especially his "Popped a Molly I'm sweatin'" line) the crowd came its closest to rivaling the energy of Bronson's set. Jame$ is part of the ultra-stylized aesthetic that is characteristic of much of contemporary rap. You could see the consequences unfold as his set steered more towards style than substance. He barely rapped. Most of the time was spent hyping the crowd and letting his crew take over. At one point there were more photographers on stage than there were rappers. That being said, he still rocked the crowd, even if was at the expense of being overly lyrical.
In a somewhat curious decision by XXL, the last to hit the stage was ScHoolboy Q. The Black Hippy member, whose name association with Kendrick Lamar was the most probable reasoning for him being picked as the last act, had a quality set but by the time he got on, you could feel the energy of the crowd draining. Some people had been there since 7:00, seen seven acts already, and it was now 11:30. Q still brought it though. He rocked the stage by himself, a stark contrast from the huge numbers that were on stage during the previous two acts, and seemed comfortable at being unofficially crowned the valedictorian of his class. I still think that title goes to Bronson, but whatever. He played a joke on the crowd by announcing that A$AP and Kendrick were going to come out but made up for it with his performance of tracks off Habits and Contradictions plus some of his previous work with A$AP. The crowd showed their appreciation by chanting, "Oxymoron!", the title of Q's new project right back at him. Q was a beast but I think ending with Action or Joey would have been a better choice as both are from NY.
Overall, the XXL Freshman Tour was exactly what you wanted it to be. A showcase for up and coming talent alongside the emerging new superstars of the game.
Shouts to XXL for the photos.