It’s the first real issue of 2010, and we kick it off behind bars with Gucci Mane. What a place to be. At least Gucci has less than a year in there, ’cause this jail shit is a pain in the ass—for everyone involved: the folks locked up, their loved ones holding them down through it… It’s also hard for any reporters trying to do an interview. I know, I know, cry me a river, but we put work in on this one, people. (I’ll keep it at that. Plus, an added shout-out to Warner’s Richie Abbott. He’s the man!)

It was worth it, though. You know you love Gucci. I don’t even believe those haters online (’cause where else are they hating?), when they cry their purist babble over artists like Gucci blowing up, when artists like Gucci have Billboard top 100 hit singles, big mixtapes, a huge buzz, a crazy story and a new album debuting in Billboard’s top 10. People know there’s a lane for Gucci Mane. And I’m feelin’ The State vs. Radric Davis. (I love “Heavy” and “The Movie”!) My big complaint? Survey says: too many guest appearances. (Next time, more Gucci, Gucci!) And let me remind some of you (for those convinced record sales still really matter so much) that Gucci sold 90,000 in his first week, while sitting in Fulton County Jail, unable to promote his album. Which is more than the other five rap albums that dropped that day. The numbers might’ve even been bigger if he were free to actually work it, right? Yeah, jail is a pain in the ass.

But this issue isn’t another jail special. The cover subject’s locked up, and we have a story about all these rappers getting in and out of jail, but that’s not all we’ve got. It’s an interesting book this March, folks. First, our Digital News Editor Jesse Gissen got questions from 20 different rappers for Rakim. Then, he sat down with the God MC and relayed them, collecting some really good answers. I’ve been down on Rakim for a few years now. He’s a great rapper—this I don’t deny—but I don’t think anyone understands how hard it’s been to do an in-person interview with this guy, and I’ve been holding a grudge ever since his Aftermath days, when we first tried. Phoners were fine, but in-person interviews weren’t going down, for some reason. Now that it’s finally happened (see page 64), the whole thing is really great and worth the wait. (Although, we could’ve done two, maybe three Rakim stories in that period, but still…Who’s complaining?)

2009 has wrapped, and that’s crazy. Looking forward, we saw that not many records were actually coming out in the first quarter of 2010 (none!), so our X-Rated section is dedicated to the nine best mixtapes of 2009, since we had some strong ones this year. (Yeah, So Far Gone is in there, but what else…? See page 101). And it was torture trying to figure out how to reflect on the past 10 years and honor it, since it’s the end of the decade. XXL likes freshman classes, so we picked out the top 10 freshmen born in the past decade and ranked them. By born, we mean they released their first official solo album in the decade. (See page 44 for the winner, but you should know the answer already.) Also, check out our newly revamped The Cool section (page 87), featuring Juelz Santana test-driving the 2010 Lincoln MKS, a sampling of Ludacris’s new liquor, Conjure, Tony Yayo’s Valentine’s Day gift ideas for your lovely lady and a fashion blowout starring Styles P and Jim Jones (Jimmy’s got another special spot in the book, also). And don’t miss our well-reported, yet sad, story about the rise and fall of Scott Storch. Whoa!

It’s a new year, a new decade, so I wish you and yours the very best in everything. Keep your fingers crossed that the first quarter, or maybe the second, picks up. If not, we’ve still got mixtapes!

Kush is my cologne (if I were a guy),

Vanessa Satten