The Freshmen issue is always fun and exciting and enough to knock any editor on their ass. Because there is nothing normal about this issue. The buzz starts about three to four months before we’re ready to even deal with it. Our cover is so top secret and we have to get dozens and dozens of people to keep quiet, even though all they wanna do is burst our bubble and tweet about it. At the photo-shoot we watch folks with our cheetah vision and shut down anyone who dares hold their Blackberry or iPhone up. (The balls of some people!)

But seriously, the Freshmen issue is the best to work on because it gives us a chance to listen to a ton of music, meet a bunch of new people and just be reinvigorated by hip-hop while we try to do the same for you (as corny as that sounds). We thought long and hard about our choices this year. Some of them you saw coming, while others, we know, are somewhat of a surprise. And for the first time ever, our readers got to take part in a poll for the 10th spot. We are feelin’ Iggy Azalea, but we had no idea that she was gonna get as many votes as she did.

On the flip side, as most folks know by now, we did ask Iggy’s boo-boo A$AP Rocky to be part of the cover. We spoke to him personally and reached out to his management and publicity department for weeks to try and make the shoot work with his schedule. We even planned it on a day we saw he would be in New York City based on his tour schedule. Fortunately, the other nine rappers worked things out for themselves so that they could accommodate the date without much of a problem. But without any discussion of an alternative date or trying to make it work in his schedule somehow, and after weeks of trying to make it possible, Rocky and his team passed on Freshmen. We replaced him, and all I can say is that things work out the way they do. It would have been cool to have Rocky as part of 2012’s class, but looking at it now, one of this year’s Freshman MCs wouldn’t have made it. And after working getting to know this class, everyone deserves to be a part of it, so it’s all good.

Now, just because y’all know who made the list doesn’t mean Freshmen is a wrap. Not by any means. It just keeps going with the freestyles, ciphers and roundtable on There’s also our first-ever Freshmen tour in honor of the fifth anniversary of the Freshmen. That’s right, we’ve had five different covers with 51 Freshmen total, so it was about time for a tour, and Monster Energy got right behind us. Together we’ve made the Monster Energy Outbreak Tour Presents the XXL Freshman Live concert series, which features Freshmen from every class, kicks off at SXSW in Aus- tin, Texas, on March 13, continues on to Los Angeles, San Francisco and Atlanta (twice) and then ends in New York City. For more info or tickets, go to or

I wanna thank everyone for their hard work pulling this off. Particularly the staff (see above), who busted their asses to make sure we got everything we needed and got this book to the printer during hectic times. Also thanks to the XXL ad department for joining in the production of the day, issue and tour. And while we’re talking ads, we gotta give love to this year’s sponsors, Monster Energy, Reebok, Soul Headphones and Luster Products, who are appreciated in their support of new hip-hop.

I’m glad the list and cover are finally public (bear head and all...). ’Cause we could barely keep it a secret any longer and we’re so tired of dodging questions about it. We hope y’all understood. It’s on to the next issue for us, but there will be lots of Freshmen mania on for you. Get to know who you’re not familiar with. Listen to some new music and expand your iTunes library. And if you’re not satisfied with our picks, sorry.

Make sure to stay tuned into for more Freshmen-related content throughout the month of March.

Vanessa Satten