Forty years of hip-hop is truly amazing. It’s hard to believe it’s really been that long. Sure, the game has changed tremendously since it was birthed in the Bronx in 1973. But it’s cool to see how hip-hop is now old enough for fathers and sons to talk about it, share music and put each other onto artists and trends. It’s even kind of shocking to see how important the music and culture have become to the mainstream. It isn’t just about the dude tinkering with the boards in his basement, or the kid selling CDs out of his trunk, or the thug trying to speak for the streets. Now it’s for all of those guys but also for the nerdy kid sitting at his computer, the stylish guy, the “artsy” type and the dude who just wants to be down.

Hip-hop music has become part of the fabric that makes up American entertainment. It dominates the airwaves and Billboard charts, and has found its way into television, movies and soccer moms’ iPods. It isn’t just for the heads anymore.

Since it’s really all about the music, XXL is paying homage to 40 years of hip-hop with a year-by-year breakdown of the most essential albums and songs from 1973 to 2013. It’s the top 10 albums and songs of each year for the ultimate hip-hop listening guide. This special collector’s edition has five different historical hip-hop covers with classic images featuring some of the best to ever do it: Jay Z, Lil Wayne, OutKast, LL Cool J and Snoop Dogg. And has a year-by-year breakdown of the most important hip-hop mixtapes of all time.

This issue has some good stories including one on Karen Civil, the queen of the hip-hop hustle game (page 56). Karen has made some serious moves over the past few years, and that should be recognized. It’s always nice to see a woman making her way through hip-hop by working hard. We’ve got to support that. Strange Music also deserves special treatment with the successful year they have had, which we investigate (page 60). They even landed on the Forbes Cash Kings list again. Y’all know I’m a real Tech N9ne fan, so that’s fantastic to see. And the West Coast is bubbling, but it isn’t all just TDE. There are a few other guys out there making noise, including DJ Mustard and YG (page 50), and with the help of Jeezy, building a significant movement. There is also our annual shopping guide (page 71), which gifts rappers with the most necessary items to cop this season. And of course, we crown an Eye Candy Of The Year (page 80).

November and December aren’t often a busy time for hip-hop, but this year it seems slower than usual. We’ve had a lot of big dogs come out with projects in 2013, so it will be interesting to see how things unfold in 2014, year 41. Regardless, hip-hop has proven that it will push on.

“I reckon it’s the ganja, it’s the marijuana/That’s creepin’ up on me while I’m so high”

Vanessa Satten