It’s been a while since we have had Rick Ross and Meek Mill on the cover; about three and a half years. There hasn’t been any particular reason, it just hasn’t worked out. So when the opportunity popped up for this issue, it was a no-brainer. Ross is coming off the heels of a big 2014, where he released two different albums eight months apart. And Meek, well he’s just hot right now, getting ready to drop Dreams Worth More Than Money, his long-awaited second solo album. He’s also locked down the baddest chick in the game in Nicki Minaj.

So we headed down to Atlanta to spend the day at the Goat Farm Arts Center with Ross and Meek. It wasn’t really the farm I was hoping for. There were a few goats, but by the time I got down there, I had created a full-on petting zoo in my head. That wasn’t really the case and unfortunately you will see no goats in any of the photos.

Don’t get me wrong, the shoot went great, the pics came out dope (thanks to A-Town’s Zach Wolfe), but I think the lack of animals on the Farm made me realize that XXL hasn’t used nearly enough of them in our photo shoots over the years. (Most memorable, of course, was Drake and the live owl in our 150th issue. I think maybe those photos got a little slept on.)

I’ve gotta say congrats to Rick Ross on the weight loss. That shit is no joke and I know what it means to do it. You’ve got to psych yourself up every day for the greater good and sometimes that’s just hard to do. But we’re kind’ve getting a whole new Ricky Rozay and you will be better off for it. (Somehow, Ross looks shorter to me now with the weight loss. But whatever, I don’t know. It’s not like I got taller.)

Meek was great to interview. When I first met him four years ago, he wasn’t much of a talker, but he’s grown into a real personality. He’s a relatable artist who is aware of who he is and wants to be and that’s refreshing for these days. And the early music we heard during the shoot was really good so we know his whole new album, Dreams Worth More Than Money, will be, too.

Anyway, this issue is always hard to do. It’s the first one of the year and with the next issue being our annual Freshman Class cover, that’s all anyone in the industry cares to talk to us about. Even so, we managed to pull together some gems for the mag. We went to Oakland, Calif. to link with NFL star Marshawn Lynch, a die hard Bay Area hip-hop junkie and spent the day with him, his cousin Mistah F.A.B. and the legendary E-40. XXL Senior Editor Dan Rys spent three days with Lil Boosie (he’ll always be Lil Boosie to me) crisscrossing through Atlanta, Alabama and Louisiana while together crafting a dope story (which will be online Monday). We then headed down to Missouri to have Murs interview Tech N9ne, chilled with Action Bronson and Raekwon in NYC and spent Valentine’s Day in the Big Apple with Rae Sremmurd.

So it’s been quite an issue, and while we have been on the road, we’ve talked to everyone we met about potential XXL Freshmen for 2015. We listen to local music and radio and meet with artists we don’t normally cross paths with. We use this issue to help us do our research for the next one. And the next one is gonna be great. Just like this one.

“Why can’t everyone just smoke like me?/Just gimme a quiet place and lemme roll my weed/Where ain’t nobody in my business don’t nobody gotta know/Let all your conscious go and blow it by the O”

Vanessa Satten