A little over two years Joell Ortiz graced the cover of XXL along with nine other MCs dubbed the Leaders of the New School. Co-signed as the artists to have the most impact in 2008, that inaugural freshmen class catapulted the Brooklyn-born spitter into the limelight. Since then, he’s made a name for himself both individually and as one-fourth of rap super group Slaughterhouse. Interestingly enough, it was at the XXL cover shoot that Joell met fellow freshman and Slaughterhouse member Crooked I. The pair, along with Royce Da 5’9” and Joe Budden, built a cult-like following with the release of their self-titled debut in 2009.
After splitting ways with Aftermath in 2008, Joell is now focusing on the independent hustle, releasing his second independent LP, Free Agent, this spring. XXLMag.com caught up with J.O. to discuss the impact of his Freshman cover and what the newcomers that followed should take from the experience.
XXLMag.com: You were on the very first Freshmen cover; what did you expect it to be like?
Joell Ortiz: I didn’t know what to expect, I was excited like, Damn I’m on the cover of a magazine. As a kid you dream of things like that. That was like hearing myself on the radio for the first time. As soon as you go into a store you look in the magazine section, look in the hip-hop section, you look at XXL, you see Joell Ortiz, that [was] incredible to me, and I will never forget that.
XXLMag.com: Do you remember where you were or what you were doing when you first saw the cover?
Joell Ortiz: When I seen the cover? Actually my boy [and] I was on the subway and I had to stop and see. I was like, “Oh, shit!” and [the guy behind the counter] gave me the copy. I was just blown away. I was excited. It was just a whole lot of shit going through my mind like, Aw, man, it’s about to be on now.
XXLMag.com: So being on the cover was a good look for you?
Joell Ortiz: Definitely. I was on the underground level hard body [then]. Aside from me shooting videos it wasn’t too many visuals, like, as far as magazines and stuff like that, ’cause I was so underground and XXL definitely helped.
XXLMag.com: Who’s your favorite out of the 2010 class?
Joell Ortiz: I have to say J. Cole is my favorite out of these dudes. Not to knock nothing from anybody else, J. Cole and Nipsey Hussle, I like both of them. J. Cole could rhyme really well and he puts words together really good.
XXLMag.com: Are there any artists on the cover that you would like to collaborate with?
Joell Ortiz: I don’t really reach out for collaborations and stuff, I just let things happen. If any of them reaches out to me I will love to do something.
XXLMag.com: What do you think the Freshmen cover means to new artists and their careers? What advice would you give to the artists that are on the cover right now?
Joell Ortiz: It starts now. Don’t think it means, “Done,” because that might exactly become what it means, like, you’re done. It’s like when somebody puts a plate of steak out, it’s not ready to eat if it don’t taste well… Then that’s it. They’ll never order from that restaurant again. So now y’all faces are out there and people are going to be checking up there. Dig in or else you’ll fade. It’s like only one or two that make it. It’s like the NBA, you could be ill in college but hopefully you’re studying and really considering that you will be professional in something other than sports. —Brooklyne Gipson