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. Sixteen years and 16 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 2023, presenting the 16th 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 DuggIann DiorCoi LerayPooh ShiestyFlo MilliMorrayRubi RoseBlxstToosiiLakeyah and DDG. For 2022, Nardo WickDoechiiSaucy Santana, Babyface Ray and SoFaygo were a few of the rappers who broke the mold. Now, all eyes are on the 2023 class, which is comprised of spitters like GloRilla, Central Cee, Finesse2Tymes and 10th spot winner DC The Don, among others. 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 Freshman class.

Take a look at all of the XXL Freshman covers over the years below.

See Every XXL Freshman Class Over the Years

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