Everybody loves waka, apparently. This is something we learned while working on this month’s issue. Yeah, he might not be the most lyrical dude on the planet (even he’ll tell you that), but he sure has a whole hell of a lot of fans, and they come from all walks of life. He’s good in the hood, adored by the hipsters and also seems to be the new main-stream music critic darling. It’s kind of like the Diplomats to me, but maybe like the Southern solo version. Kind of. Dipset (maybe it was mostly Cam’ron?) was beloved by a large spectrum of critics—from the hip-hop mags to the hipster rags to the daily newspapers. Waka seems to be similar. That’s why we put him on our cover this month. And you gotta do new dudes sometimes and shake shit up.

Don’t get me wrong, I was just as surprised as all of you are at first that we were putting Waka on the cover, but the fact is, it really made sense. He’s coming off of a successful debut album, Flockavelli, which spawned surprising, wildly popular singles, and he’s featured on some big hits also. Now prepping for his second effort, Triple F Life: Fans, Friends & Family (that’s an amazing album title), he was set up just right for his own solo cover.

And I just gotta say that Waka is a genuinely cool dude (something else we learned during this cover), and it’s always good to see guys like that win. The fact that he is a spokesman for PETA makes me giggle. My mini dachshund Taco thinks it’s so dope that he wanted to go to the photo shoot so he could meet Flocka (see above photo). Even Taco loved Waka. To figure out why everyone’s feeling this friendly dreaded giant, we sent Digital Content Director Carl Chery (also kind of a giant to me) to tag along with Waka for a night in New York City and interview him along the way. Check out page 54 for the story and some beautiful photos by Angela Boatwright, who also clicked with Waka—pun intended.

Speaking of nice, there just so happens to be a bunch of pleasant people in the mag this month, and yeah, I’m talking about rappers. We got Killer Mike, and anyone who knows Mike will probably agree that he’s one of the coolest. Mike’s got a new project called R.A.P. Music that he’s recorded with El-P (who I don’t really know but might also be a great person), and we caught up with both of them (page 68). Big K.R.I.T. (yep, a Southern gentleman) is putting out his anticipated solo debut, Live from the Underground, so you can read about him too (page 78). And believe it or not, all four of the Slaughterhouse guys are down-to-earth and, dare I say it, nice folks. Even Joe Budden. (Which reminds me, at some point Budden will be doing a rather fun video with us. So he says...) For our Slaughterhouse story we got the famed kris ex back in the saddle for XXL, and he didn’t let us down, filing a dope piece about the group (page 44). And just for the record, I wanna say I love the fact that Slaughterhouse is made up of four MCs from different places who didn’t grow up together and already had careers, but they formed a group that worked and are on their second album. I think that is so impressive. Okay, my spiel is over.

The rest of this month’s mag is strong and jam-packed, I promise you. But I wanna take a moment to welcome some of the new staff members who have joined us over the past couple of months. They will be helping the rest of the team at XXL bring you the very best hip-hop coverage in the mag and at XXLMag.com daily, weekly, monthly, etc. We’ve got Managing Editor John Heinz, Online Editor Jaeki Cho, Video Director Tarik Sykes and our two Editorial Assistants, Neil Martinez-Belkin and Calvin Stovall. (Welcome to the team, guys—your presence has already been felt—in our new Corona Extra/XXL video studio!)

Smoke like I got cataract,

Vanessa Satten (@VSattenXXL)