March madness is in full swing. The 10 Freshmen for ’10 issue is on stands now, the DJ Whoo Kid-hosted mixtape is available [download here] and the one-night only Freshmen 10 Concert is set for March 31 at the Highline Ballroom [cop tickets here]. Although it’s time for this year’s class to get their shine, we can’t forget the MCs that paved the way for this highly-anticipated XXL cover.

It all started back in late 2007, when 10 select artists were co-signed by XXL as hip-hop’s next superstars, the leaders of the new school if you will, for 2008. But the world of hip-hop moves pretty darn fast and a lot can change in three years, so we figured we’d give you a brief rundown on where things stand with our Junior class. Some fumbled the ball, while others used the co-sign to the best of their ability to truly excel… or, more specifically, to XXL.

Last year, Bad Azz’s would-be breakout year was marred after a marijuana bust and a parole violation brought on a current jail bid. His long-awaited fourth album, Superbad: The Return of Boosie Bad Azz, didn’t exactly set the charts ablaze, either, peaking at No. 7 on Billboard’s top 200 albums chart.

Wasalu scaled new heights to start 2010, climbing Africa’s Mt. Kilimanjaro in an effort to raise awareness of the global clean-water crisis. Lasers, his third LP and much-anticipated follow-up to his 2007 album, The Cool, however, remains grounded.

The Yardfather surprised fans last year by dropping All in a Day’s Work and Warning Shots 2 through Amalgam Digital. Unfortunately, his enigmatic The Greatest Story Never Told continues to be the most appropriate album title ever.

It looked like Mr. “Throw Some D’s” might move beyond one-hit-wonder status, after dropping the impressive Bigger Than the Mayor mixtape in 2008. The disappearing acts he pulls makes one wonder, but at the top of 2010 he’s started to show signs of life with several released tracks of note.

Propelled by the radio success of the Ne-Yo–assisted “Bust It Baby, Pt. 2,” Plies dropped Definition of Real and Da Realist, back to back, in 2008. As of press time, his fourth record, Goon Affiliated, is slated for a May release.

The Atlanta silverback scored a coup by topping the Billboard Rap Albums chart last April with his second album, Don’t Feed Da Animals. Yet he’s still best known as the guy who replaced Jeezy in Boyz N Da Hood.

Quietly, Dro has continued to rep Grand Hustle, with mixtapes like R.I.P.: I Killed That Shit. But his still-unreleased sequel to 2006’s Best Thang Smokin’ has so far remained M.I.A.

Yet another Interscope casualty, the hard-spitting Boricua now calls E1 Music home. After uniting with Crooked I, Royce Da 5’9” and Joe Budden as the popular rap quartet Slaughterhouse, he’s set to drop his sophomore independent LP, Free Agent, this Spring.

Alleged $1.5-million man Papoose has taken to the Internet since his Jive deal disintegrated, releasing mixtapes like Military Grind through his social-networking site, Public response, on the downside, has paled in comparison to that of his pre-Jive days.

Crooked I has managed to attain respected veteran status without ever actually dropping a solo album. The former Death Row soldier has kept busy with his “Hip-Hop Weekly” freestyle series, last October’s Internet-only Mr. Pigface Weapon Waist EP, and a role in the multiregional supergroup Slaughterhouse. —Jesse Serwer