Published in the September 2010 issue, which is on newsstands now!!!

For the past 13 years, XXL has always had a soft spot for rap’s hardest artists. Keeping our eyes on the streets and our ears close to the speaker, we’ve spent the last baker’s dozen documenting the culture from the ground up. But while a number of talented rappers continue to debut and develop into music stars, we can’t help but notice that hip-hop as a whole doesn’t seem to rep the streets as hard as it used to. Hip-hop was born in the Bronx and spread throughout hoods around the country, before infiltrating the burbs—and even then it still lived in the streets.

More recently, the music seems to have moved away from its origins and into a new place, where it doesn’t really matter if you have any real credibility. Sure, there have always been a few fake and wannabe thugs that slipped through the cracks, but their lack of creditability wasn’t as blatant as some of today’s MCs. Has the once important mantra of “keepin’ it real” become completely devoid of meaning, as more rappers are finding their fraudulent street backgrounds exposed? And if that is the case, is it acceptable?

In honor of XXL’s 13th anniversary [and Friday the 13th], we invited 13 of rap’s most-hardcore street-oriented artists to weigh in on keepin’ it real in hip-hop in 2010.

Respect our gangsta. —Compiled by Matt Barone, Rondell Conway, Adam Fleischer, Jesse Gissen & Rob Markman

“Well, you know, a lot of artists—I’m an artist that lives what I do. But the deal is, [for] a lot of artists, it’s entertainment. So I would never knock a hustler. I would never knock how a man or a woman feed they family. This is what they do. You got some of the best artists in the world say stuff in they music that they don’t do. But people still listen to it and buy it, ’cause that’s what they wanna hear. I used to think it wasn’t okay, but, you know, you can never knock a hustler. You can’t tell a man how to feed his family, how to feed hisself.”

“A lot of these rappers out here, when you see them and catch them on a one-on-one basis, it’s not what it’s cracked up to be. A lot of us have to put on a costume to make this thing look good. Even some of the realest have to do things in this game that they feel might not be the realest thing they had to do. But, shit, if you gotta make a dollar and keep that roof over your head, you gon’ partake in this game a little bit. So if you wanna be real and be broke—Oh, you wanna be the realest nigga and be stupid and be broke?—that’s cool. But you could be real smart about being real and being a real man in this muthafuckin’ industry, and handling yourself like a real street nigga would in the situations that he would have to go through in the streets.”