I’m kind of glad this issue is finally over, believe it or not. I love it to death. It’s a great issue, and I stand behind everything in it and on it, but, goddamn, it’s been going on for months. Like, really. I take the blame. I made a mistake. On October 14, 2010, at 2:38 p.m., I tweeted the following: “freshmen cover is coming in a few months - who are people feeling?” Now it’s not that I (@VSattenXXL) have that many followers, but with all the retweeting and whatever else goes on, the next thing I know, I’m overwhelmed by tweets with suggestions for this year’s Freshman class. Then folks started to tweet other editors on the staff.

For literally the next four months, we were inundated with Freshman pitches everywhere we went. Honestly, most of the pitches were just absurd. At some point, I wanted to scream on people and ask them if they ever saw any of the past XXL Freshman picks and if they really felt their buzz or their artist’s buzz equaled any of the previous Freshmen’s. But then I would remember that we’re in the day of the Internet, where, if you rack up enough Facebook “Likes,” you think you’re the world’s biggest star, and I would angrily just let it go. Some people crossed the line. They didn’t mind reaching out on personal lines. Some actually threatened violence via Twitter if their artist wasn’t picked as a Freshman (that’s not cool).

Then came the selection process. Co–Deputy Editor Rob Markman added it up and figured out that we spent 10 hours as a staff debating about this year’s list. That doesn’t include all the individual research we did and discussions we had with industry buddies. One of the things we learned along the way was that, unlike previous years, there seemed to be an abundance of new talent to pick from in 2011. That’s what was making our discussions so difficult. And then somehow it all came together. Since our list was jam-packed with new talent, and there seemed to be a bunch of new relevant labels and industry movers and shakers in hip-hop, we realized that the recession in hip-hop seemed over, and there were way more new faces than ever making this music thrive.

Since it’s 2011 and there is so much new talent in hip-hop to watch out for, it made sense that we added one more Freshman to the list, for the first time ever. This year is a special occasion. That’s why we put all of the guys together on one cover. It was harder than ever to agree on how to split them up. In the long run, I think this is the best-looking Freshmen cover we have ever done. From top to bottom, the whole visual package of this year’s Freshman class is dope. Thank you to XXL Creative Director Paul Scirecalabrisotto, XXL Photo Director Rebecca Fain and photographer Travis Shinn for just killin’ it, really!

But the toughest thing about the Freshmen issue is not putting it all together, but keeping it all a secret. So many people wanna ruin it for us and in this day of Twitter, blogs and bitter rappers, it’s almost impossible to keep anything under wraps, but we managed to for longer than we expected.The whole thing has kinda killed us, but it’s been worth it. Thank you to the staff for working so hard to make the day and the issue a success.

There’s a lot in this issue besides just the Freshmen. You’ve got the Top Five New Hip-Hop–Soul Artists, the Top Five New Producers, the Top Five New Groups, and we added a new category, the Top Five New Labels/Companies. But still, we weren’t able to cover everyone we wanted to. Truthfully, we weren’t really sure how to cover Theophilus London, Outasight or Odd Future in our traditional outlet, so we’re exploring them more online, at XXLMag.com. And while we’re talking XXLMag.com, there you’ll find the video of the XXL Freshman freestyles, the Freshman roundtable with all 11 rappers, and three dope Freshman rap cyphers. (Also in the book we cover the phenomena behind all these rappers’ relatives who are rapping and the recent explosion of White rappers.)

Okay, the issue is almost over. Yeah, we still gotta promote it. And I’m sure folks are gonna ask us about Vado (that’s cool). But after that I need a serious vacation from Freshmen. ’Cause the past four months have been one hell of an experience. And I’m sure the haters are gonna be a trip also (that’s also cool). As I said, I stand by this issue wholeheartedly.

Peace, Love, and Weed,

Vanessa Satten

More From XXL