Displayed from left to right: Denzel Curry, Kodak Black, Lil Yachty, 21 Savage, and Lil Uzi Vert.

If the letters “XXL” only sound like a really big shirt to you, then you haven’t heard of the magazine centered around hip-hop and rap music. 

There is a plethora of information that they post to their site daily. They provide all the information music enthusiasts need on new artists, new “bangers” that have come out, and an endless amount of speculation about when Lil Uzi Vert’s album “Eternal Atake” will be dropping (hint: never).

Speaking of Lil Uzi, he will be the subject of this article- or at least one of the five subjects.

Every year XXL Mag releases a “freshman” list of 10 of the best new rappers, mainly artists with only one full project out, or just mixtapes.  They then divide all of the freshmen into groups to participate in the “XXL Freshman Cyphers,” which are a combination of (written) freestyles that promote each artist by giving them a platform to showcase their brand.

In 2016, there was one particular cypher that will forever be regarded to many as the best in history.  It has over 140 million views on YouTube, where the second highest cypher only reached 40 million. This cypher consisted of Denzel Curry, Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Yachty, 21 Savage and Kodak Black. 

All five rappers had risen to fame in the previous year, and this combination confused a lot of people before listening.

Denzel Curry is the most lyrically talented of the five, and likely considered the only non-“mumble rapper” in the group.  Lil Uzi, the purple-dreaded, Hello Kitty cape-wearing rapper provides a bit of fun as he replicates a flow familiar to his fan base and references every other rapper during his part.  Lil Yachty, with hair reminiscent of Ronald McDonald, surprises most on his verse as this is the fastest he has ever rapped, in stark contrast to most of his singing-based flows. 21 Savage, being the Pokémon that he is, begins his verse by saying “21” six times.  And Kodak Black brings some humor to the table as his first line asks who picked this awful beat for them to rap over.

I have found immense difficulty trying to figure out the reason that this particular cypher is so successful, and for the longest time my best answer has been simply “because it’s fun!”

Throughout the video the rappers all help each other to improve the verses, and make it sound more like a real song rather than something you listen to once to find out who these new freshmen are. In Lil Uzi’s verse, Kodak shouts “skrrt skrrt” over his lyrics, and to this day I still have no idea what Uzi said, but I definitely yell with Kodak every time I hear it. Lil Yachty says “21 21 21” throughout 21 Savage’s verse, providing the ad-libs that would normally be on a song. Lil Uzi says “huh, yeah, yeah, what?” in a majority of his counterparts’ verses, just to add a bit of extra flare. 21 Savage almost falls to the floor laughing during most of Kodak’s verse.

This brings me to the main reason that I believe this cypher is regarded so highly- it’s genuine.

In recent years, rappers have used verses from songs we’ve heard, or verses from songs on upcoming albums.  So essentially once their album comes out there is no reason to listen to the cypher again.  This was the case when KYLE, A Boogie and Aminé were all in the same cypher the following year. 

Additionally, XXL has been making some cash grabs by putting artists who simply have one big song on their magazine cover. For example, Blocboy JB (who?) was on the 2018 edition, while only one song of his with a Drake feature had even been popular. 

Even worse, the combinations of artists has felt extremely forced. Earlier this year they combined DaBaby, Megan Thee Stallion, Lil Mosey and YK Osiris. DaBaby and Megan Thee Stallion already had a song together one month prior, and YK Osiris sang instead of rapped. 

This felt like XXL was trying to squeeze a song out of artists that already had chemistry in order to replicate the virality of 2016’s edition. In 2018, Lil Pump and Smokepurpp had a similar relationship, and they even tried to provide ad-libs for each other.

Once again this felt like a forced emulation of a much better project that the world loves.

But the five goons of 2016 came together to make a cypher and just have fun during it. They’re yelling ad-libs and laughing the whole time, insulting the beat, and overall just having a good time. Lil Mosey stole Kodak’s gimmick earlier this year too, insulting the beat of his cypher. 

But the interview that came along with the cypher with all five guys essentially embodied the song they created.  They were all laughing, flexing their chains and money, but not really caring about how it came off. 

They weren’t emulating personas, they were just being themselves with no care to be anyone else.

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