I finished watching the 2020 XXL Freshman Cyphers and throughout my entire viewing session I found myself unimpressed for a multitude of reasons. I’ve noticed as years have gone on that the XXL cyphers seem to have dropped off in quality as newer acts take the stage. Today’s rap music doesn’t have as much of a focus on lyricism and this year’s freestyles showcase just how true this sentiment is. With Polo G arguably being the most lyrical of the class, I was extremely disappointed as his freestyle was extremely boring as he utilized his, what I consider to be awkward, flow in acapella that was cringy at best as the other rappers around him just stood around adding no hype whatsoever. Compare this to the 2016 cypher feat. Lil Uzi, Denzel Curry, 21 Savage, Kodak Black and Lil Yachty where each of the rappers not only came with intense energy but also aided in each other’s freestyles with background vocals and adlibs. There’s also added value for me because of the comically bad 21 Savage freestyle where he mumbles some of his lines as Uzi keeps saying “What?” in the background.
It is important to note that this is a freestyle and most rap artists are not really renowned for their freestyling like the Freshman in the past. However, it’s easy to see how the quality each year gets worse and worse with freestyles that lack any notable bars and are ultimately just hard to sit through. The only saving grace is the way that each cypher is organized from year to year. From my perspective, it seems that XXL attempts to include at least one talented freestyler in each cypher to serve as a highlight to bring you back to the video as years pass.
Jack Harlow, Chika, and Mulatto were, in my opinion, the best artists in their respective videos; with each presenting a nice combination of lyricism, energy and uniqueness. Both Mulatto and Chika were very pleasant surprises to me as they both were not only able to keep up with their peers but arguably steal the entire show from them. In a genre mostly populated by men and their perspective, I genuinely look forward to their careers moving forward and will be keeping a close eye on both of them. Jack Harlow also performed well, but the
entire video he was featured in reeked of
mediocrity which I feel is part of the reason I
have him in the top.
I do enjoy some of the liberties taken from a few of these newer artists as they try to sing their freestyles instead of just rap them. However, where I really find issue with this approach is that most of these artists are best coupled with autotune or some form of voice distortion. This isn’t to say that they sound bad, but just that their sound is noticeably different from their recorded music and can be misleading as a showcase of their abilities.
I would like to end this on a positive note by including some areas I actually enjoyed and found entertaining. For starters, the production was mostly great all around, with Mulatto’s video arguably having what I felt was the worst instrumental of the bunch. Chika’s dog was also a great highlight as I couldn’t stop myself from laughing at her sleeping dog while also finding it to be completely adorable. Lastly, I thoroughly enjoyed the interactions between Mulatto and Fivio Foreign for the comedic value they present. Mulatto’s bar of “ I ain’t even talk with a rap n***** yet but if Fivio want to then I ain’t gonna pass on” coupled with the look of absolute happiness on his face is enough to make me burst out laughing every time. For me, there is definitely some good substance on offer from this year’s cyphers. It’s when you compare these videos with previous years that you may start to notice that not everything is how it was. Whether it’s for better or for worse is up to your interpretation.
Written By: Michael Miserendino