It's been two years since Brooklyn rapper Maino temporarily brought New York hip-hop back to the forefront with “Hi Hater,” his catchy if gimmicky anthem dedicated to his adversaries. The track also acted as the first single to Maino’s solo debut album, If Tomorrow Comes…, on Atlantic Records. The LP spawned three hit records—“Hi Hater,” “All the Above” and “Million Bucks”—which helped put a new Big Apple rapper on the map, a feat accomplished less and less over the years.

Since the BK hard-body MC dropped his debut in June 2009, the U.S. has suffered a financial recession, with a trickle-down effect that has hit the general functioning of the music and entertainment industry hard. That, married with the increasing dominance of the Internet in rap music, has helped change the hip-hop landscape: how the game works and what a star is.

As Maino is set to release his sophomore project, The Day After Tomorrow, with its lead single “Let It Fly,” he has to deal with a different set of circumstances this time around. In May 2011, he entered into a joint venture between Atlantic and indie powerhouse eOne Records for the LP release. The economy is still sluggish, meaning digital sales, merchandise and other revenue streams take precedence over albums for fans, when it comes to digging in their pockets. There’s also, it seems, a declining market for street rappers and street content, as well as a drought of New York rap acts. (For proof, take a peek at the White girl from Oakland sporting Minnie Mouse ears, slingin’ rhymes like weight.)

On a mid-September afternoon, at XXL’s offices in Manhattan, Maino sat down with an esteemed panel of hip-hop experts—Corey “CL” Llewellyn, CEO of Digiwax; Jean Nelson, president of A&R at Hip Hop Since 1978 and former Atlantic executive; Marleny Dominguez, VP Urban of eOne Records; and myself, Jayson Rodriguez, executive editor of XXL, to try and make sense of it all. We talked about where he came from, where he’s going and how he intends to spend the day after tomorrow. Hustle hard. — Jayson Rodriguez

Maino: My first project, it came from a totally different perspective. For one, I was a dude that just got out of prison…and I had this dream about getting away from the streets and getting away from that sort of life. I was trying to use music as a vehicle to kind of get that done… I was going through a lot of stuff. Like, I just came home, and I was on parole, and I had a baby, and I was still in the streets, in a sense, ’cause I had to do what I had to do… Now it’s different. My life changed, because I entered a game which I had only dreamed about, and I put out records that turned into singles that turned out big for me, and my living changed. My perspective widened once I went to different places and saw different parts of the world and seen different cultures and seen different cities and feel different. Now, with this project, it’s like I’m not the same dude.

Jayson Rodriguez: For artists going from the first album to the second album, there’s always that transformation and the pressure of the sophomore slump, but is that exaggerated?

Corey “CL” Llewellyn: It is a big leap from one to two, and what I’m hoping for on the next album is honesty. Like you said it, those [first] records were you coming from your environment and you speaking from your point of view. And, you know, rap can become real fabricated, and, you know, it can get real crazy. You know, I’ma do this single with Chris Brown. And I’m not knocking none of that, but as a fan, what I like is when they speak from their point of view, and I have changed my life, so this has changed, this is what I’m going through now.

Maino: And what you said is important, and that’s exactly what it is. It’s about what I’m going through now, and it’s about me today—me as a father, artist, all these different things today. And my perspective has changed. The issues may be a little different, but it’s all the same. It’s about the sacrifice I had to make to make this happen… I got a eight-year-old son now. He would love to see me every day, and I would love to see him every day, but ’cause I gotta go and chase this… So a lot of the stuff I talk about is all honest, and I think a lot of the pressure comes from, Man, I got a platinum plaque, and, Man, I gotta do that again. And you wanna do that again. You wanna reinvent that, or do it over. So it’s like, how do you do it?

Marleny Dominguez: I think a lot of the problem, it’s like, Oh, my God, the platinum plaque, and how do I go platinum [again]? You can get caught up there for a hot second. And you don’t know when the next hit is. You can put a lot of pressure on you.

Maino: I wanna be able to come with those joints again—“All the Above” and “Million Bucks”—and go past New York. I know what New York is up against, in regards to the rest of the country. And it’s like, I wanna be able to do that again. I think about it, and I push through.