The first version of this list read like Kendrick Lamar’s CV: his verse on Schoolboy Q’s Collard Greens, his verse on A$AP Rocky’s Fuckin Problems (that spawned a million Tumblr posts if I remember rightly), his verse on Jay Rock’s Hood Gone Love It… I could go on. In the end, I managed to narrow it down to one Kdot verse, which freed up some room for other amazing collaborations.
This collection is entirely objective, personal and biased, but I hope it inspires your own guest rap verse Spotify playlist or at least an exploration of other hip hop collabs – it’s a defining feature of the genre.
Kendrick Lamar on Big Sean’s ‘Control’
This is the Kendrick Lamar verse I chose to keep on this list. Not because I necessarily think it’s his best but because it rocked the boat so much in the hip hop world when it was released. On it, Lamar names himself the best rapper ever basically, reeling off a series of names including Big Sean, whose track it is, and Jay Electronica who also features on this track. Famously from the fertile hip hop ground of Compton CA, Lamar also names himself King of New York “I’m Machiavelli’s offspring, I’m the king of New York, king of the coast, one hand, I juggle them both” invoking Biggie’s famous “I’m the real King of New York” and goading retaliation from rappers across the continent.
Talib Kweli on Kanye West’s ‘Get Em High’
Kweli is often called the conscious rapper. He makes music that is thoughtful and soulful and as such he has garnered HUGE respect in the industry. Not just for being talented but for being genuinely good. In this track, he’s self-referential: “you mean Talib, lyrics stick to yo rib?” He writes tracks that are nourishing, soul food. This track is sick, definitely overlooked on the Kanye West classic album College Dropout album and Kweli’s feature is snappy, funny, clever and well produced.
Nicki Minaj on Kanye West’s ‘Monster’
Even Ye admitted that Minaj’s verse on Monster was the best part of the track and it’s even been said that it’s the best part of the entire record… either way, it’s widely recognised as being Minaj’s best verse ever. This is a song that features a smorgasbord of amazing artists and Minaj just wipes them out basically.
Cardi B on Bruno Mars’ ‘Finesse – remix’
Bardi’s bars on this track are so cool and vintage hip hop-py sounding. Her look; a kind of sexy Sesame Street/Fresh Prince mash-up in the video (which actually is a Living Colour homage), emphasises the classic hip hop vibes but the track really showed us what we were getting ourselves in for with Cardi B. She was featured on various other tracks when this came out too and all of them were awesome specifically because she guested on them (G Eazy’s No Limit and Migos’ Motor Sport).
Busta Rhymes on A Tribe Called Quest’s ‘Scenario’
Notable for helping to launch the career of Busta Rhymes, this verse on ‘Scenario’ is still instantly recognisable among hip hop fans today, not just for the iconic line “roar roar like a dungeon dragon”, but for the incredible lyrical flow that Busta uses throughout. Scenario is a great example of a guest verse, and compelling evidence of Busta being one of the fastest rappers of all time.
Snoop Dogg on Dr Dre’s ‘Nuthin’ but a “G” Thang’
This was a breakout track for Snoop and it’s a stone cold classic. EVERYONE knows it, the beats, the lazy drawling Snoop-specific rapping, the massive flat bumping cars in the video- perfect contemporary classic hip hop vibes.
Angel Haze on Ellie Goulding’s ‘Life Round Here’
Ellie Goulding really knows her way around a cover track- in fact she covered Get Em High (the Kweli and West track mentioned earlier) but this is the best. Haze takes on Chance the Rapper’s section but it’s rewritten and it’s amazing: fast, clever, disorientating. This cover is better than the original imho, and I thought the original was excellent.
Chance the Rapper on Kanye West’s ‘Ultra Light Beam’
I know we already had a couple of Kanye West tracks, but I think his ability to invite and nurture appropriate guest stars on his tracks is one of his great strengths not only as a musician but as a producer too. Ultra Light Beam is the standout track on The Life of Pablo and Chance the Rapper’s verse is absolute perfection on an already transcendent track. (Local Natives also did a nice cover of this for Spotify, but it’s not as good as the original.)
Eminem on Dr Dre’s ‘Forgot About Dre’
Eminem is genuinely one of the most clever lyricists ever. His verses are always full of extended metaphors, bizarre yet genius rhyme schemes, and break-neck pacing. Dre was a mentor for him when he started his career and this track is a perfect example of how important the guest verse can be. By endorsing Eminem on this track, Dre legitimised Eminem- til then, despite releasing the amazing Slim Shady LP, he wasn’t taken seriously. Dre made it clear that he was here to stay.
Kanye West on Estelle’s American Boy
One word: ICONIC. Ye’s amazing ability to weave cultural clues into his lyrics is one of the things that I like so much about him. There are millions of aspects to his career and art that I find amazing, but the lyric ‘Ribena, I know what you’re drinking’ is sublime. Also, the scene in Gavin and Stacy where James Cordon and Sheridan Smith, playing brother and sister, rap the entire verse is a masterpiece and without America Boy, it wouldn’t exist.