[Originally appears in XXL's April 2011 issue, on newsstands nationwide on March 15.]

With an abundance of new artists buzzing hard right now, the 2011 Freshman class includes one more member than usual, making 11 picks total this year. The recession is over!

It would be cliché to state that choosing 10 Freshmen was tougher than usual this year. But if it were merely cliché, there wouldn’t be 11 of the brightest young stars in hip-hop on the cover of the fourth annual XXL Freshmen issue. With an abundance of new talent, XXL couldn’t help but expand his year’s class. Rap’s recession is over. So we’ve splurged and picked 11.

The hype has grown since our inaugural Freshmen issue, in 2007, and since last year’s class selection, we have been overwhelmed with pitches. (Seems that being an XXL Freshman has become an honor.) But this year, during the selection process, we spotted a problem: In the past, some years had been hard getting the list up to 10; in 2011, the difficulty was getting the number down to 10.

We realized we had more new rap talent to pick from for the 2011 Freshman class than previous years. So we decided to make an exception and chose an extra Freshman this year, because it was clear that 10 just wouldn’t be enough.

The new Freshmen assembled in late January to participate in the photo shoot and a roundtable discussion. We also made them rhyme, of course. (Check XXLMag.com for the video of the Freshmen Roundtable, cyphers, freestyles and more interviews.) It’s a daunting task to pick out the possible stars of tomorrow, get them all in a studio with stylists, barbers, makeup artists, cameras and a whole bunch of industry folk, and then keep that a secret. But we did it. We present our 11 Freshmen for 2011.

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