Ten years ago, Kendrick Lamar called out some of the rap game’s finest — Big Sean, Wale, Jay Electronica, Meek Mill, A$AP Rocky, Mac Miller, Big K.R.I.T., Tyler, the Creator, Pusha T, Drake and J. Cole — in a blistering verse on “Control.” The verse was both an invitation and a challenge, sparking a frenzied renaissance of competitive spirit that revived the essence of hip-hop.
But who’s kept their flame burning brightest since that game-changing verse? Who’s ascended to the top of the rap game, and who’s fallen off? A decade since the Compton rapper’s “Control” verse dropped, the seismic ripples are still being felt — there’s still a Cold War going on between Kendrick and Drake, and the big 3 (Kendrick, Drake and Cole) are still jostling for the top position.
With one verse, the West Coast rap phenom took aim at his contemporaries and set a new bar for excellence. From Big Sean’s steady rise to Pusha T’s masterpieces — dropped few and far between — and Jay Electronica’s mystique, the careers of those rappers mentioned have taken intriguing paths over the past decade.
So let’s get into it. From Big Sean, A$AP Rocky, and Meek Mill, to Drake, J. Cole and Big K.R.I.T., we rank the 11 rappers mentioned on the “Control” verse, a decade on.
12. Meek Mill
Best album since 2013: Championships (2018)
A decade on from “Control”, Meek Mill has not changed much. It’s got to the point where you can predict the sound of every new project; the Philly MC rarely steps outside his comfort zone, delivering standard album after album. Flexing his riches over a range of booming trap beats, it would be an overstatement to call his work bad, but it’s far from unique. Reaching his peak with Championships back in 2018, it seems like Meek has been trying to recreate the magic of his debut ever since, rehashing the same braggadocious themes and commercial trap production without taking any risks to evolve his sound. He’s had a few shining moments, like the fast-paced banger “Going Bad” with Drake, but as harsh as it sounds, Meek is at his most compelling when he’s passing the mic over to somebody else. From Dreams Worth More Than Money all the way to Expensive Pain, Mill’s discography sounds like the same project repackaged over and over, recycling all the same ideas without adapting to the times. When his debut album dropped, Meek Mill was viewed as rap’s next superstar, but looking back now, it seems like he’s squandered that potential.
11. Jay Electronica
Best album since 2013: A Written Testimony (2020)
Rewinding to the early 2010s, Jay Electronica was a lyrical monster. Packing each verse with intricate rhyme schemes, mind-boggling wordplay, and clever metaphors, he was in the upper echelon of lyricists, and remains a master wordsmith today. The problem with Jay isn’t his talent, but his work ethic. Dropping a single here and a feature there, the MC pops out of the shadows every once in a while to deliver a verse of the year contender, but that’s it. Dropping the one-two punch of A Written Testimony and Act II: The Patients of Nobility (The Turn) in 2020, it’s clear Jay’s lyrical talents have never faded, but he seems unbothered with using those skills. From 2013 to now, his career has mostly been radio silence, wasting his chance to be in the GOAT conversation because of his uneventful output. That being said, Jay’s features continue to amaze. Joining Kanye for “Jesus Lord”, teaming up with Westside Gunn for “Free Kutter”, and dominating some Swizz Beatz production on “Khalas”, the Louisiana MC has been on a phenomenal feature run, stealing the show from countless rappers with his lyrical masterclasses. As talented as he is, it’s disappointing that New Orleans rapper hasn’t done more with his abilities.
10. A$AP Rocky
Best album since 2013: At. Long. Last. ASAP (2015)
Taking long breaks between each project, A$AP Rocky always brings quality, but fans have to wait years for him to bring anything at all. In the time between “Control” and now, Rocky cemented himself as one of rap’s royalty with strong releases like AT.LONG.LAST.A$AP and Testing, perfectly blending the dreamy sounds of the cloud rap scene with the hard-hitting punch of contemporary trap. But as excellent as those projects are, two albums in 10 years leaves a lot to be desired. Focussing more on his fashion career and personal life with Rihanna, music seems to have taken a backseat in Lord Flacko’s life. But that’s not to say he isn’t still a menace on the mic: whether he’s rapping alongside Black Thought on Cheat Codes or gliding over some Metro Boomin production for the latest Across the Spider-Verse soundtrack, his consistent features always command attention. In the lead up to his fourth album, Don’t Be Dumb, hype around Rocky’s music has never been louder. Five years after Testing, there’s no reason to be skeptical about his new project, because Flacko has delivered on every album thus far. Dropping music whenever he feels like it, Rocky’s catalog feels bare, but his consistency is undeniable.
9. Big Sean
Best album since 2013: Dark Sky Paradise (2015)
A decade ago, it would have been laughable to rank Big Sean above Jay Electronica and A$AP Rocky, but the Detroit MC has improved in every way possible. Back in the early 2010s, whack bars and goofy cadences were the backbone of Sean’s style, surviving off his ear for brilliant beats and keen ability to curate talent. Nowadays, however, Big Sean is up there with Detroit’s finest. Taking notes from Kendrick and Drake, it seems like Sean has learned a lot from the sharp lyricism of the Compton rapper and the pop rap excellence of Drizzy, crafting his own brand of commercial rap with the lyrical prowess to impress every listener. Slowly sharpening his skillset over the years, Detroit 2 is a testament to his abilities, where the MC’s swaggering flows, introspective bars, and witty sense of humor are unleashed to their fullest potential. Hopping on songs with Larry June, Migos, Aminé and more, Big Sean no longer brings down tracks; he elevates them. Becoming more mature with his pen game and laidback in his delivery, the Detroit native has evolved beyond what anyone could have expected, but he still hasn’t reached the level of some of the other MCs Kendrick name-dropped on “Control”.
Best album since 2013: The Album About Nothing (2015)
Wale’s career has been a rollercoaster of commercial success and critical disappointment, and vice versa. When “Control” dropped, the Washington-born rapper was at his commercial peak, celebrating the success of his gold-certified album, The Gifted, despite many fans feeling underwhelmed by the mainstream polish of the project. A decade later, Wale isn’t doing the same numbers, but that hasn’t stopped him from dropping some of the most inventive projects of his career. The Album About Nothing was a refreshing return to form for the MC back in 2015, bringing back the sitcom-style humor of his mixtapes but with a hungrier performance than ever. Going full-on pop rap with the dreamy highlights of Shine, and showing off his commanding mic presence on the explosive bangers of Folarin II, every new Wale project supports his title as one of the most versatile MCs in the mainstream. Never settling for one sound, hopping back and forth from mainstream radio fodder to gritty conscious rap, he may not top anyone’s lists of best rappers, but there’s no denying his dedication to experiment. As his sales have dropped, Wale’s creativity has spiked, building a rich, diverse discography few other mainstream rappers would be brave enough to replicate.
7. Big K.R.I.T.
Best album since 2013: Cadillactica (2014)
Over the past decade, Big K.R.I.T. has grinded his way to the pantheon of Southern legends. By the time “Control” released, the Mississippi native was already a mixtape master with K.R.I.T Wuz Here and Return of 4Eva, and his reputation only grew after he ditched Def Jam and went independent. His first album as an independent artist was 4Eva Is a Mighty Long Time, a double-disc epic of Southern excellence with all the lyrical depth, versatile flows, and confident deliveries Krit had made his brand. A true contender for album of the decade, Krit struck gold with his first independent release, and things haven’t slowed down since. Dipping his toes into neo-soul with Digital Roses Don’t Die and dropping a feast of Southern bangers with Full Court Press, Justin Scott is up there with the most consistent MCs to ever hold the mic, bringing charisma, creativity, and an endless flow of rhymes to every project. Although he hasn’t topped 2012’s 4eva N a Day yet, Krit is still in a far stronger position than he was a decade ago. Not every new project is an album of the year contender, but that’s not to say they aren’t excellent. Rarely missing the mark, you can always rely on Krit for quality music.
6. Mac Miller
Best album since 2013: Swimming (2018)
In 2013, Mac Miller was one of the best rappers alive, and he hadn’t even reached his peak yet. With GO:OD AM in 2015, The Divine Feminine the year after that, then Swimming in 2018, Mac quickly went from having a decent catalog to one of the best of the 2010s, rarely missing the mark with his slick blend of pop rap and neo-soul. That’s not even mentioning his mixtapes, with innovative classics like Faces cementing Miller as one of the greatest rap artists of his time. Striking the right balance between playful humor and deep introspection, Mac’s evolution through the 2010s was nothing short of legendary. While not every mixtape stuck the landing, the rapper’s prolific work ethic and boundless imagination were enough to look forward to any new project. However, you can’t bring up the Pittsburgh MC without mentioning his tragic passing. Just a month after Swimming dropped, Mac passed away, taken from the world just as he was reaching his creative peak. While Circles is a brilliant sendoff for the artist, it’s a shame knowing how many colorful ideas and creative concepts we will never get to hear.
5. Tyler, the Creator
Best album since 2013: Call Me If You Get Lost (2021)
In 2013, when Kendrick sent shockwaves through the rap world with his “Control” verse, Tyler, the Creator was already a divisive figure, heralded as a creative genius by some and maligned for his controversial lyrics by others. But being named in that verse, along with a collection of the game’s most respected MCs, was a nod to the Odd Future rapper’s undeniable influence and his raw potential. From that moment, Tyler began to flourish as an artist, transitioning from the raw and aggressive style of Goblin to the more refined, exploratory sounds of albums like Flower Boy. By 2021, Tyler’s metamorphosis was complete with the release of Call Me If You Get Lost, an album that both celebrated his hip-hop roots and showcased his growth as a songwriter, producer, and overall artist.
4. Pusha T
Best album since 2013: It’s Almost Dry (2022)
Things have never been better for Pusha T. When “Control” released, Push was still finding his feet after the breakup of Clipse, dropping solid solo projects like My Name Is My Name, but never quite capturing the same magic of his 2000s output. Fast-forward to 2023, and it’s a whole different story. Teaming up with Kanye for the concise DAYTONA, Push’s coke-laced street rhymes and Ye’s gritty production turned the project into a masterpiece. Returning four years later with It’s Almost Dry, King Push delivered yet another masterwork, with the rugged delivery, witty rhymes, and swaggering bravado to make every line hit hard. Even on his features alone, Pusha T is one of the best rappers alive. Stealing the show from Freddie Gibbs on “Palmolive” and tearing up the mic on Cordae’s “Nightmares Are Real”, every performance from the Clipse MC has been a lyrical spectacle. Beefing with Drake on top of his albums, the generational song “The Story of Adidon” remains one of the best diss tracks in rap history. Cooking up nothing but pure magic over the last decade, Pusha T’s streak of masterpieces is showing no signs of stopping.
Best album since 2013: If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late (2015)
Drake was on top of the world back in 2013, and in 2023, nothing has changed. Dominating charts for a decade straight, Drizzy is a hit-making machine who refuses to let anyone take his spot as biggest rapper alive. With a record-breaking 296 songs on the Billboard Hot 100, the Toronto native is a commercial powerhouse whose infinite success might never be replicated. Ever since the blockbuster success of Views, Drake has been bigger than ever, flooding radio stations worldwide with hits like “Passionfruit” and “Hotline Bling”, but losing the tight, concise structure that made his older albums so compelling. With records like Scorpion, More Life, and Certified Lover Boy, it feels like Drake is trying to recapture that ‘lightning in a bottle’ moment that was Views, delivering bloated projects in the hopes that one will become another worldwide smash-hit. But don’t get it twisted – not all his albums are as consistent as If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, but Drake still has plenty of lyrical tracks up his sleeve. From “7am on Bridle Path” to “Champagne Poetry”, the MC knows how to write a bar, but his commercial hits far outweigh his lyrical moments. Delivering hit after hit, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Champagne Papi was still on top in 2033.
2. Kendrick Lamar
Best album since 2013: To Pimp a Butterfly (2015)
Earning his spot on the list of best rappers of all time, every new album from Kendrick strengthens his title as a GOAT contender. When he stole the show from Big Sean on “Control”, K-Dot was high off the success of good kid, m.A.A.d city, and even today, it remains one of his strongest albums. That’s exactly what keeps Kenny from the top spot – after a five year wait between DAMN. and Mr Morale, his new album is yet another masterpiece, but to say it’s on the same level as his older work would be a stretch. Mr Morale doesn’t feel as narratively tight as good kid, nor as ambitious as To Pimp a Butterfly or as addictive as DAMN.. He continues to rap on an elite level – with countless flows and cadences, as well as some deeply introspective bars – but compared to what came before, it just doesn’t have the same impact. Whether it’s his beat choice or weaker hook-writing ability, K-Dot hasn’t lost his edge, but his new music isn’t as flawless as his 2010s run. After departing from his longtime home, Top Dawg Entertainment, the future’s looking bright for Kendrick as he looks to build up his own label, pgLang, but for now, he isn’t the best rapper alive.
1. J. Cole
Best album since 2013: The Off-Season (2021)
After decades of honing his style, in 2023, J. Cole is finally on top of the rap game. His feature run through the 2020s has defined him as one of the best feature rappers of all time, stealing the spotlight from Lil Durk, BIA, Benny the Butcher, and many more with his incredibly consistent verses. Switching up his accent to match the themes of “LONDON” and spitting some of the smoothest flows of his career on the Griselda crossover “Johnny P’s Caddy”, no two Cole features are the same, putting his all into each performance to make sure every artist gets an S-tier verse from the Dreamville titan. In 2021, Cole dropped his best album to date – on The Off-Season, he raps like his life depends on it, unleashing his fullest potential with some of the most dynamic flows and technically mesmerizing verses he’s ever spit. Nowadays, outrapping Cole isn’t just difficult; it’s downright impossible. He was a formidable MC back when “Control” released, but he wasn’t half as consistent or motivated as he is now. From The Sideline Story to The Off-Season, the level of lyrical maturity and technical prowess Cole has gained is nothing short of legendary. The best rapper alive right now, you would need to be a dedicated hater to deny his greatness.