In the XXL office, there’s a wall that has almost all of the covers the magazine has ever done posted in chronological order. That includes the multiple or split covers we’ve done, but none of the first 12 issues—that’s a whole other story. Usually anyone who visits us in the office stops to check out the wall of covers and talk about their favorites. Most of the staff, and myself, use it pretty regularly as some sort of tool for reference. I use it for inspiration, definitely. And some thug motivation.

Looking at the wall the other day, I tried to compare all the Jay-Z covers we’ve done to see how the one for this month’s issue was gonna fly. I think it’s just fuckin’ insane! And a lil’ reminiscent of Tha Dogg Pound’s “New York, New York” video, in a weird way. If NYC was covered in marshmallow in their version. Just playin’. You’ve all seen the cover of Jay’s new album, The Blueprint 3. You know what day it comes out, what city he’s from. You get what we did. You see how crazy it is. Shout out to Creative Director Davina Lennard, Photo Editor Mike Delfin (who’s leaving us after this issue; good luck, Mike D!) and Michael Lavine for pulling off a ridiculous concept. It’s amazing what you can do with 30 minutes and some black clothes.

In last month’s 12th-anniversary issue, we said 50 Cent and Jay-Z were tied as the two artists with the most XXL covers of any artists ever—10 each. Jay just took the lead this month with his 11th cover, perfectly timed with the release of his much-anticipated 11th solo album. That’s a hell of a lot of times his mug has been on the cover of our book. In fact, he was on the very first cover of XXL (split with a Mr. Percy Miller). Must mean something, right? It means that a veteran rapper with 13 years in the game has been in demand by this magazine its entire existence. That’s either pathetic or smart. I’m going with the latter, and if you re-read the cover lines, on the front of the mag, you’ll see why.

For Jay fans, this issue will get you excited. Bonsu Thompson asks Hova some tough questions (page 62), and we caught up with the architects of Jay-Z’s classic in The Making of The Blueprint (page 78). Then there’s a real dope Rocawear 10th-anniversary fashion tribute, where our most stylish staff members, Coffey and Smiley, in collaboration with Jameel Spencer over at Rocawear, recreate classic Jigga videos, with models (and Memphis Bleek) wearing Rocawear gear (page 108). The Jay coverage extends to this month also, with other special features (Jay-Z’s Most Impactful Trends, Top 20 Best Verses, and a few others) and a contest to win 10 bottles of Hov’s new fragrance, X.

But don’t worry, the issue is not all Jay-Z. Come on, folks, some of you have to know me. Kris ex explores the state of lyricism in hip-hop (page 92), our newly named Senior Editor Clover Hope keeps her hip-hop soul going with a story on Trey Songz (page 102), and Anslem Samuel (a member of my inner parachuting circle) catches up with Raekwon (page 98). Rae’s got a real strong album on his hands, people. Only Built 4 Cuban Linx Pt.II isn’t quite a classic, but The Chef stepped up to the plate on this project. The problem is it’s just too long! Check out Play by Play (page 124) for a review.

This one was a tough one, folks. Thanks to the staff for the late nights and hard work and to our Managing Editor, Taiia Smart Young, who holds our ship together every month. When the ship goes down, ya better be ready! But don’t worry, XXL’s floating just fine.