THIS TEXT ORIGINALLY APPEARS IN THE STORY “HOW YOU LIKE ME” FROM APRIL 2011 ISSUE OF XXL. ON SALE NOW

Catching up with XXL's 10 Freshmen For '10.

J. Cole
Just when J. Cole’s buzz seemed like it was subsiding, the Fayetteville, North Carolina, rapper dropped his Friday Night Lights mixtape last November to universal acclaim. He also rocked stages with big brother and Roc Nation label head Jay-Z, scored a genuine hit with the Miguel collab “All I Want Is You” and released his own single, “Who Dat.” While his Roc Nation debut has yet to be released, Young Simba’s crowning ceremony is definitely overdue.

Pill
Pill inked a deal with Asylum last year and nabbed a high-profile cameo on Mark Ronson’s Record Collection, yet his debut, The Medicine, is MIA. In the meantime, the A-Town MC released a well-received Gangsta Grillz edition with DJ Drama last summer and collaborated with Freddie Gibbs, Gucci Mane and Killer Mike. Pill’s already mastered the mixtapes, but whether he can handle an album remains to be seen.

Nipsey Hu$$le
This Angeleno kept busy in 2010, starring in the hood flick Wrath of Cain with Ving Rhames in January, appearing on the “We Are the World” remake, and dropping The Marathon mixtape in December. But the single “Feelin’ Myself,” with Lloyd, peaked at 93 on the Billboard Top Hip-Hop and R&B chart, and his debut, South Central State of Mind, has been in label purgatory over at Epic Records for almost two years now.

OJ Da Juiceman
The Juice was loose in 2009, churning out the hit collabo “Make the Trap Say Aye” with Cam’ron, and then his momentum slowed after he released the block-approved mixtape O.R.A.N.G.E. (with DJ Drama) in February 2010. While his sophomore release, The Otis Williams Jr. Story, lacks a release date, the ATL native’s strong ties with Brick Squad—Gucci Mane, Lex Luger and Waka Flocka Flame—could mean big things in 2011. Aye!

Wiz Khalifa
Pittsburgh’s finest had an amazing 2010, signing with Atlantic Records in April and selling out live shows in increasingly large venues nationwide. Wiz’s mixtape Kush & Orange Juice set the Internet ablaze with smart Twitter marketing, his single “Black & Yellow” went double platinum (and was celebrated with a slew of remixes), and his major-label album Rolling Papers was set for a March 2011 release. As of now, Wiz is the breakout star of the 10 for ’10 Freshman class. Taylor Gang up.

Freddie Gibbs
The Gary, Indiana, representative finally dropped retail product, with the Str8 Killa EP; it was released in an unabridged form as a mixtape earlier in the year. Gibbs also formed the supergroup P.O.C. with Bun B and Chuck Inglish, and he’s been cooking up an album with the Alchemist. With his labelless debut album, Baby-Faced Killa, set to drop sometime this year, 2011 looks bright for Gangsta Gibbs.

Jay Rock
Jay Rock supplied the streets with three mixtapes last year, including the iTunes-distributed Black Friday in November. He also formed supergroup Black Hippy with Top Dawg Entertainment colleagues Schoolboy Q, Ab-Soul and Kendrick Lamar and severed ties with Warner Bros. Records in early 2010. The Watts native’s debut, Follow Me Home, is now set for a May release through Tech N9ne’s label, Strange Music, a blessing for fans searching for more of the Cali street sound.

Big Sean
The G.O.O.D. Music rookie was featured on his mentor Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Fridays series last year, appearing on “Don’t Look Down,” “Good Friday” and “Looking for Trouble.” His debut, Finally Famous: The Album (Def Jam), struggled to get a release date but is now scheduled for this spring. With Mr. West and an all-star lineup behind him, the new year holds much promise for the Detroit MC.

Donnis
Donnis undeniably had a quiet 12 months. The Atlanta MC signed to Atlantic Records last year but made more noise with his Adidas commercial than with his music. Donnis’s singles “Gone” and “Tonight” made little impact on the charts, and his Fashionably Late EP dropped last year but made little noise. His full-length debut, Fashionably Late, is due out later this year. Perhaps 2011 holds better things.

Fashawn
The Fresno, California, native kept his backpacker fan base happy in 2010 with a pair of mixtapes, the XXL-presented Ode to Illmatic and Grizzly City 3. Fashawn preserved his underground buzz into 2011 with his Sunday School weekly freestyles and frequent touring, building anticipation for his next tape, Higher Learning 2. Fash’s second album, The Ecology, is tentatively scheduled for a release this year. Expect more clever lyricism and some of that ol’ boom-bap.