Two years ago, when the second-annual XXL Freshmen cover debuted, some folks were surprised to see a White rapper featured prominently on the cover. Sure, Pennsylvania’s Asher Roth had earned a huge buzz, with a hit DJ Drama and Don Cannon mixtape, The Greenhouse Effect. There was also his big single, “I Love College,” making the radio circuit, and he had recently signed a deal with Steve Rifkind’s SRC Records, after being courted by most of the major record labels. It made sense to most hip-hop heads for Asher to get placement on the front of the 2009 Freshmen cover. Yet some questioned his positioning, while others wondered if it could be the sign of a new day for White rappers. After all, it isn’t very often that an MC of the Caucasian persuasion garners enough of a buzz to get on the cover of a hip-hop magazine. But Asher’s hype was well-warranted, and, not surprisingly, comparisons were being made to arguably the best White MC in the hip-hop history books, who’s also arguably the best rapper in those same books: Eminem.

Fast-forward two years, and Roth might not have become the next Eminem, but he potentially opened the door for other White MCs, without even realizing it. This year’s Freshman-class cover contains two White rhyme slingers: Alabama’s Yelawolf and Pittsburgh’s Mac Miller. Worlds apart in lyrical style, content and age, both MCs have garnered solid followings while knocking down invisible barriers that, despite time, have remained partially still standing. Right now, there are more potentially relevant White MCs emerging than at any other moment in hip-hop’s history.

In addition to what’s been accomplished by Yela and Mac, Machine Gun Kelly (see page 39) has created a noteworthy movement, beginning with the fans in his hometown of Cleveland and steadily swelling to the rest of the country. There’s also the Boston-bred Sam Adams, who had the No. 1 album on the hip-hop/rap iTunes chart in March 2010 and has toured heavily since. Yonkers, New York, native Outasight inked a deal with Asylum/Warner in December 2009 and is prepping his album now. Connecticut’s Chris Webby’s December 2010 mixtape, Best in the Burbs, crashed the servers upon its release—a first for the popular music download site. Thee Tom Hardy, from North Carolina, is signed to 9th Wonder’s indie label, It’s a Wonderful World Music Group/The Academy. Other White MCs bubbling include Rittz, Wax, Mac Leathal, Action Bronson, Spose and Macklemore. The increased trend is apparent. But why now?