The past five years (that’s September 2008 to September 2013, when we’re being strict about it) have been as interesting as any such stretch in rap history. The genre wasn’t exactly revolutionized as much as it has modernized. 2008 and 2009 were transitional years, when we ironed out the kinks of the new age of hip-hop—the Rap Internet age, highlighted by shifting cultural values and a greater emphasis on independence and niche.

Things that seemed impossible in 2003 started happening with regular frequency: Rick Ross survived being exposed as a corrections officer and beefing with 50 Cent, the once “producer who wants to rap” Kanye West became the “nucleus” of pop culture, Jay Z found a way to become the first rapper in his 40s who was still on top of the game. Meanwhile, newcomers like Drake, J. Cole, and a host of other promising talents emerged, boasting a new aesthetic, one that idolized Kanye West and discarded much of the gangster rap baggage that had defined hip-hop in the ‘90s and early 2000s.

As we previously did with beats and verses, we explored the best rappers of the last half-decade to see how the changes in rap’s cultural landscape were reflected in who we thought were the best MCs. Check out The 10 Greatest Rappers of the Past 5 Years.

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