It’s hard to believe, but this is the 8TH YEAR of our annual Masked Gorilla Freshman Class. That means we’ve been pretty much doing these as long as XXL. I started Masked Gorilla in 2009 because there truly wasn’t a place on the internet that was strictly covering emerging rappers. I wanted to build a home for artists that I loved and believed deserved proper attention. Along the way the site got popular, I grew up, I moved across the country, I launched a few companies, and this beautiful underground scene sprouted around Masked Gorilla that currently takes most of our focus.
But way back in 2011 when we published our first list, it started as a quasi-homage to XXL trying to essentially predict who they were going to pick. A few years into it our own list turned into a beast of it’s own, where we tried to highlight 10 emerging-artists from across the scene that we believe will have the most success in the forthcoming year. Looking back on some of those lists, I think we did a pretty good job.
Without further adieu, we present you Masked Gorilla’s 2018 Freshman Class.
Let’s start of this year with an obvious choice, YBN Nahmir. Way back when (not really way back, just September of last year) we introduced you to the emerging 17 year old Alabama rapper with his first ever interview. Before his breakout hit “Rubbin Off The Paint” was on Worldstar, or even had 100,000 views, it was clear to us that he was going to be huge. That track specifically seemed to fill a specific void that the incarcerated young rapper Tay K left in his wake, but we couldn’t even predict that he would reach the levels he has so quickly. That music video currently sits at 120 million views, but it’s his followup hit “Bounce Out With That,” currently at 90 million views, which cemented him as here to stay and took him past any possible “one hit wonder” status. He’s even built a solid crew of YBN rappers alongside him. After also surrounding himself with a powerful management team and inking a deal with Atlantic, his career trajectory is limitless at only 18 years old and over 2 million followers on Instagram.
Why don’t we keep the ball rolling with another breakout star who’s first interview (and blog post) was right here on Masked Gorilla. Just about a year about we published an article called ‘6 Dogs Is 17, Blowing Up On Soundcloud, and Grounded By His Mom.’ What was supposed to be a quick phone-interview with 6 Dogs to get some basic information about him turned into an hour long talk, which eventually got a little emotional. “Flossing” was his breakout hit on Soundcloud which propelled him to the next level. With support of his mom, he was allowed to keep recording and racking up followers and plays. His avant-garde style and overall approach to music was hard to deny. Early on he stylistically was similar to fellow Georgia artist Lil Yachty. But after releasing more song, and eventually inking a deal with producer Benny Blanco’s major label imprint Mad Love through Interscope Records, he’s refined his sound at this early time in his career and every day is closer to breaking through the mainstream door with a cross-over hit that is destined to take over the radio. 6 Dogs is currently only siting at 142,000 followers on Instagram, but something tells me that’s exactly where the reclusive artist wants to be.
Well now that I’ve finished patting myself on the back about being 1st (just kidding there’s more patting to come), let’s get into an artist we haven’t necessarily covered too frequently on the Masked Gorilla blog itself. Rico Nasty originally came on our radar, and probably everyone else’s, in 2016 with her playful songs “iCarly” and “Hey Arnold.” The videos were all over Twitter at the time, with vibes of Kreayshawn or Lil Yachty shining through. It definitely feels like something that could fit in the Awful Records camp. The 21 year old didn’t let up after his first taste of vitality. She quickly, and expertly, leveled up her sound with tracks like “Popping.” But that wasn’t it, she also effortlessly crosses over from the more pop friendly tracks with songs that she could perform at UNMASKED and get a pit going, with “Trust Issues” and “Rage.” Rico is super naturally talented, and yes, after recently signing a deal with Atlantic Records it’s only up from here. Sitting at about 300,000 Instagram followers, and the cover of Fader under her belt along with a headlining tour coming up, I’m super excited to see what a proper studio project from her sounds like.
Bans is so young, only 18 years old, that it’s only natural to assume that he’s fresh on the scene. But a quick scroll down his Soundcloud page shows that he’s actually been here for a few years. Dating back 3 years, the Atlanta rapper has tracks with underground legend Yung Lean and bangers with Ski Mask The Slump God. But it was only more recently that he really leveled up, aligning with superstar Future and his crew Freebandz, opening him up to a whole new level of producers and artists to work with. Bans has a really interesting laid back flow, that doesn’t slow down too much, but really shines on tracks like “Dresser” where he steps up his tempo. The 18 year old, new father, has over 300,000 Instagram followers. And yes, you guessed it, he has a deal with Atlantic under his belt. The future is definitely Bans for the taking.
College Park, Georgia rapper Gunna is easily one of the most talented emerging rappers out right now. His story goes that he somehow befriended Young Thug in 2016, eventually appearing on his sons “Floyd Mayweather” alongside Travis Scott and Gucci Mane. He didn’t waste the opportunity, floating all over the track, and then signing to Thug’s ‘YSL’ label imprint, which led to the start of his ‘Drip Season’ mixtape series in the same year. It wasn’t until early 2018 however that Gunna really broke out with the third installment ‘Drip Season 3.’ Tracks like “Oh Okay” and “King Kong” have pushed him into the spotlight. But it’s the guitar sampled Turbo produced new single “Sold Out Dates” featuring Lil Baby that I can’t stop listening to. Pushing 400,000 Instagram followers, Gunna is pushing hard for a spot at the mainstream rap table amongst his peers.
Tracy could easily be one of the most talented songwriters of this entire new generation. The songs he crafted with his friend Lil Peep speak for themselves. But every single track Tracy uploads to Soundcloud is infectious. His string of Soundcloud songs that stay stuck in your head for the next week somehow led to the half-jokey track “Like A Farmer” that is a certified banger. It was only a few days after that rap megastar Lil Uzi Vert hoped on the official remix. A while ago Tracy said on Twitter that he turned down the exact deal that Lil Pump signed which eventually elevated him to mainstream status. That’s the truth. Tracy changes his name a lot. He vents on Twitter a lot. But none of that takes away from the fact that once he figures the stuff out behind the scenes, if he wants to, he’s destined to become a mainstay with massive hits under his belt. Yee Haw!!
At the surface level Juice WRLD is came out of nowhere, dropped “All Girls Are The Same” and a few months later signed an insane 3 million dollar deal with Interscope Records. While the timing of when he was actually signed and when the song was released can be debated, that doesn’t change the fact that he’s been releasing music on Soundcloud for at least 3 years now. Those first few songs of his definitely weren’t the ones, somewhere along the line shifting towards what every top comment on his music videos will tell you is a mix between Post Malone and Lil Uzi Vert. It works, though. Just yesterday his song “Lucid Dreams” cracked into the Billboard Top 10 charts. He’s actually one of the artists I’m most surprised didn’t make XXL’s list this year because it’s so clear that he’s going to be a superstar. I’d like to see him refine his sound a little more and make into more of his own, but with Billboard hits and 800,000 Instagram followers maybe he’s already perfected the formula.
23 year old Atlanta rapper Lil Baby broke onto the scene late last year with his smash hit “Freestyle.” The video ended up going viral on Twitter. With Quality Control Music backing him, he hasn’t missed yet. The hype eventually led to a collaborative track our Canadian prince Drake. “Yes Indeed” aka “Pikachu” could easily be one of the best songs of 2018, which most interestingly in my opinion finds Baby going harder than Drake. Where another Drake co-sign, Blocboy doesn’t seem to have staying power, Baby seems to just be scratching the surface of his potential with his melodic flow. With a gold record already under his belt from “Yes Indeed” and a staggering 1.7 million Instagram followers, Baby is going to continue to use the QC machine to go all the way up.
Ski Mask The Slump God
Ski Mask’s hype seems to come and go in waves. Early last year he was surging, but then he sorta disappeared. We’re not sure why, but maybe it has something to do with his toxic management/ label situation. After finally convincing his label to let him release ‘Beware The Book Of Eli,’ his hype is back up to appropriate levels. Ski Mask even has a collaborative mixtape with Juice WRLD coming. With over 2 million followers on Instagram, Ski has the world at his fingertips. Let’s just cross our fingers and hope he’s allowed to execute his vision and propel to the level we all know he’s capable of reaching.
I had to triple check to make sure I didn’t already include Ghostemane last year. If you can even reminder way back to last year, Ghoste was still building. According to Social Blade he had about 50,000 Instagram followers. Over this past year he’s been exploding across the board. Currently touching 500,000 followers, and with “Mercury” at 50 million plays on YouTube, he’s been touring the country and world on his own headlining tours. Actually, on this entire list Ghostemane hands down has the most successful touring career under his belt. He even has a Travis Barker collab. Late last year he touched down on the UNMASKED Concert Series stage, where his interview is sitting at 100,000 views. He’s definitely the most “underground” rapper on the list with his undefined alternative style, making it not exactly clear what the next step for him will be. But as he continues to dominate the scene, he remains my favorite rapper and the final addition to Masked Gorilla’s 2018 Freshman Class.
Notes from the editor:
– Yes, you know who these rappers are already. Uhh, that’s the point. When we release a list of 10 unknown rappers, we’ll let you know. There is a list of at least 25 rappers that we really like, but just aren’t there yet. Maybe next year.
– Where is this or that Instagram meme star? A few of them are just annoying, and a few of them are terrible humans. It’s 2018 and there’s no time for half measures. Fuck them all.
– Why is Lil Baby on the list? I thought you were an underground blog! Why isn’t Lil Underground on it instead? We love the underground just as much as anyone. We actually love it so much that we don’t do the scene a disservice by pretending that nothing else exists or matters. The scene thrives when it’s not an inclusive members only club, but when it’s recognized as a cool part of rap alongside all the other cool parts across the genre.
– Thank you to the former Masked Gorilla writer Chance for collaborating with me on this list and letting me bounce ideas off him. He’s married somewhere with a real job, but he still lives and breaths this shit.
– Did we miss your favorite rapper? Chances are we already included them in previous years classes. Check them all out right here:
Masked Gorilla’s 2017 Freshman Class
Masked Gorilla’s 2016 Freshman Class
Masked Gorilla’s 2015 Freshman Class
Masked Gorilla’s 2014 Freshman Class
Masked Gorilla’s 2013 Freshman Class
Masked Gorilla’s 2012 Freshman Class
Masked Gorilla’s 2011 Freshman Class