We dreamed a lil’ too big this month, folks. We thought it was possible to get, like, 30-plus past and present Def Jam rappers together to celebrate the label’s 25th anniversary. Def Jam thought so also. So together we tried to round up all these artists for a special photo shoot to coincide with the taping of VH1’s Hip Hop Honors: Def Jam, and chaos ensued. I think the whole staff suffered from high blood pressure putting this one together.

I can’t speak for Def Jam’s staff’s health, but I’m sure we drove them crazy in the long run. And a lot of lessons were learned. Such as: Don’t try to get a bunch of rappers with different issues together for a photo shoot anymore. Especially when there is a television show going on.

In the end, a chunk of the MCs wound up overseas (Nas, Jadakiss, Young Jeezy), some had last-minute scheduling conflicts (Ja Rule, DMX, Fredro Starr) or passed on the shoot ’cause of issues not related to XXL (Slick Rick, Ludacris—I know, makes no sense, he was at the show), and others were the victims of bad timing (Kanye, Beastie Boys) or just MIA (Black Thought, Public Enemy). But as you see on our cover, we got to celebrate the silver anniversary of arguably the most important label in hip-hop history with a pretty great group of artists. (Yeah, that’s Scarface!) And they told us some amazing stories about their days at the house that Russell and Rick built. Some we can share with you (page 48), others we can’t.

Our Def Jam tribute doesn’t stop there. Lyor Cohen and Russell Simmons sat down for their first interview together ever, with Kevin Liles joining them, at Lyor’s Upper East side Manhattan townhouse. And Rick Rubin phoned in a few days later. Thomas Golianopoulos did the interviews. Great story (page 64). We got Def Jam’s complete rap discography (it’s pretty amazing when you look at it all laid out like that, page 70) and an impressive time line. Then there are the photos. Tons of Def Jam, almost all of it Jonathan Mannion (including the Def Jam album covers, ha!). Who would do it better?

But just like last month wasn’t all about Jay-Z, this issue isn’t all about Def Jam. Taking it out of New York and down a bit, we caught up with the Clipse, who are finally putting their third album, Til the Casket Drops, out, after mucho label drama. (I’m confused by the Clipse. I can’t explain it. I just am. I understand their intense fan base and don’t deny the skill, but I’m just confused by the lane.) Anslem Samuel linked up with the Thornton brothers in Norfolk, Virginia, then relayed their story (page 86).

Heading to the bottom of the map, we caught up with some of my longtime favorites: Hot Boys! It just so happens that Juvenile, B.G. and Baby all have solo albums coming out around the same time (go figure) and have been in talks to start doing some business together again. So we had Jack Erwin put on his Girbaud jeans and soldiers, put in his grill, and then interview and write about all three of the New Orleans artists (page 78). Keeping it in Louisiana, Benjamin Meadows-Ingram chilled with Lil Boosie while he was on the road in Atlanta and got a crazy story (page 44).

Back to Def Jam. Twenty-five years in hip-hop is commendable. They’ve given us hit after hit after hit (some bricks mixed in between, of course—to be expected) then more hits. But the fact that they provided the platform that they did back in 1984, when hip-hop wasn’t the popular, money-making, sometimes-soul-taking industry that it is now, is impactful. It’s architectural. And then to continue to do it for the next 25 years is something to be honored.

Congrats and smoke up! —Vanessa Satten