Melodies and hip-hop formed an unbreakable bond during the 2000s and the foolproof formula has transcended to the point where it has almost become a sub-genre of sorts. Twenty-year-old rapper Rod Wave is among the new school artists who are conjoining rapping and singing and are taking the fusion to new heights.

He's relatively low-key, and puts his pain and struggles into his music, hence the title of his sophomore album, Pray 4 Love. Rod's candid rhymes on the LP resonated with fans, earning him a No. 2 spot on the Billboard 200. This project is where you can get a feel for who Rod Wave truly is: an up-and-coming talent out of St. Petersburg, Fla., who keeps it real in his music about what he's been through, falling in and out of love, overcoming adversity and climbing the ladder of success step by step.

Rod, born Rodarius Green, credits Kevin Gates for motivating him to rap. The sonic semblance can be heard in his music, too. "I really liked your music since the eighth grade, just how you talk about your life," he told XXL last year of Gates, who executive produced his debut LP, Ghetto Gospel. "You made me understand people like us could actually go far, people like us could actually do it in the game. Just the fact that you could take your pain and turn up with it."

So, that's just what Rod does in his 2020 XXL Freshman freestyle as he creates his own a cappella flow while candidly sharing his aspirations as a kid, how that quickly shifted after being exposed to what some might deem the finer things in life and the gratitude he feels after getting a record deal. The freestyle, which was filmed during this year's Freshman cover shoot a few months back in June, ultimately ended up as the song "Smile." The track appears on the deluxe version of Rod's Pray 4 Love album, released in August. The mixed and mastered version of the freestyle further confirms Rod Wave's hit-making ability.

"This for them tribulations and trials/I finally got a smile for all the frowns/I finally get to make my mama proud/Start a family, bought a house/I finally see what pops was talkin’ ’bout/But it was hard lookin’ up when I was down/I was down, bad and bummy/They was laughin’ at me, but it wasn't funny/Imagine me in that bottom as a youngin’ on the any given Sunday/Tryna find a way to get some money/We cut grass to get cash when I was hungry/Stealin’ chicken out of Publix/A nigga grab a box and go to runnin’/A nigga never gave me nothin’, so it's fuck ’em/Was ballin’ on a budget, I remember ballin’ on a budget," he rhymes.

The South Florida rhymer might be one of this year's 12 XXL Freshmen, but as a kid, he didn't dream of rocking the mic. He actually wanted to be a firefighter or an educator. "I was fine ’til my mind got corrupted/I used to want to be a firefighter or a teacher/’Til niggas came through on 22s and boomin' speakers/My mind changed instantly/Mom didn't even know what gotten into me/Thuggin’ hard, stealin’ cars and shootin’ at the enemies," he delivers.

Rod even opens up about prior drug use on the nearly two-minute freestyle. "Back in 11th grade was addicted to poppin’ seals/I love to sip that lean, I like the way it make me feel/The smile up on my face big ’cause I been swallowing pills/Couldn't focus in class/My mind was stuck on them M's/Was thinkin’ ’bout my past/That shit be giving me chills/I never thought I'd see the day I'd get a record deal."

Despite his past, Rod Wave is grateful to have found a passion in his songs.

Watch Rod Wave's 2020 XXL Freshman freestyle, powered by Rap Caviar, below.


See the 2020 XXL Freshman Class

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