Kendrick Lamar has a habit of bodying people on their own tracks. He has, as The New York Times T Magazine put it, a “complicatedly calculated number — something around 200 — of collaborative songs with other artists,” and on pretty much every single one of these, he manages to completely obliterate the opposition.
This is no mean feat. Kendrick has rapped (and often lyrically sparred) with the likes of Eminem, Kanye West and A Tribe Called Quest on beats, as well as an arsenal of other ludicrously talented artists. But enlisting the help of K.Dot for a guest feature often inadvertently results in him making a “guest feature” his own, such is the power he wields on the microphone.
By now, most artists are probably getting wary of this, such is the consistency and calibre of the Compton rapper’s flow, bars and dogged determination on his guest feature slots. Starting out as a hungry, largely unknown rapper on verses alongside Ab-Soul and Jay Rock before he dropped his phenomenal, breakthrough album good kid, m.a.a.d city, Kendrick’s features have matured into the stuff of legend; spitting over everything from jazz and funk beats to pop-tinged trunk rattlers.
Sure, Kendrick has a host of rather lazy features alongside the likes of Maroon 5 and Taylor Swift where he’s evidently just looking to add zeroes to his bank account (or do his record label a favor). But for the most part, his back catalogue of guest verses is undeniably brilliant. Before he drops DAMN. – his most highly-anticipated album to date – we ranked “the greatest rapper alive’s” 20 best guest verses. And no, “F*ckin Problems” does not feature. Don’t @ me.
20. Jay Rock – “Traffic Jam (Easy Bake Remix)”
Starring alongside fellow Top Dawg Entertainment star SZA (who also has her debut album dropping through the label imminently), Kendrick unloads a load of ‘plosive B alliteration before some trademark bars reflecting on life in LA.
19. Flying Lotus – “Never Catch Me”
One of the most jazz-inflected verses Kendrick has spat on finds him in schizophrenic form over Flying Lotus’ funk-fuelled brilliance. Kendrick’s not trading bars with anyone else here, but he’s spiting over one of the most sonically invigorating beats in recent memory.
18. Game – “The City”
This track makes the cut as it’s arguably the track that pricked the ears of hip-hop heads towards Kendrick. He ends the track showcasing his idiosyncratic flow at its most hungry, as the two LA rappers combine for one of the best track’s off The Game’s The R.E.D Album.
17. Drake – “Buried Alive” (Interlude)
Much like he did on More Life with the likes of Skepta and Sampha, Drake lends the entirety of a track, “Interlude,” to Kendrick for him to fully exert himself over. Kendrick ponders over his inevitable ascension to fame in a way that Drake could only dream of.
16. Thundercat – “Walk On By”
The genius that is Thundercat’s “Walk On By” sees Kendrick’s long-time collaborator lay down a sparse beat for him to reflect on the unsavory methods of survival people have to go through all over the world. Speaking from experience from his upbringing in Compton, Kendrick’s sombre bars reach out and resonate with his international audience.
15. ScHoolboy Q – “Collard Greens”
A track which dominated the airwaves back in 2013 as it still does on Los Santos Radio on GTA V, Kendrick’s verse features him spitting in Spanish on one of his most infectious (if overplayed) guest features in his back catalogue.
14. Kanye West – “No More Parties In LA”
The two rap titans reflect on the sins of a city that has touched their lives in hugely different ways. The original version didn’t contain a K.Dot verse, but it’s a welcome addition to the now-iconic track – with Kenny’s tempo matching the fast-paced party environment of the city he grew up in.
13. Ab-Soul – “Turn Me Up”
A visibly young and audibly hungry Kendrick spat on this back in 2010. It’s when TDE starting making major moves in the game, and for many, represents a halcyon period for hip-hop. The beat on this is so timeless too.
12. Travis Scott – “Goosebumps”
One of the foremost examples of Kendrick completely outweighing another rapper with a feature, “Goosebumps” finds Kendrick in high-octane form on one of the surprise features (and best tracks) on La Flame’s album. His high-pitched squealing, “Put that pussy on a pedestal,” towards the end of his verse is sick.
11. Eminem – “Love Game”
This is a really weird beat on a pretty unexceptional Eminem album, but finds two of the best lyricists in the game going toe-to-toe – and on very fine-form. One of the few people that can actually match him bar-for-bar, this lyrical duel is one fans of both rappers definitely relish.
10. Ab-Soul – “Black Lipped Bastard” (Black Hippy Remix)
Starting his verse with a triple entendre, “Look inside my parkin’ garage and see a collage / Of every person I despised since the moment I turned five,” Kendrick outweighs his TDE affiliates over the ominous Willie-B beat.
9. Beyonce – “Liberation”
Just as Beyonce seeks to liberate black women on Lemonade, Kendrick speaks for black men throughout the invigorating track. The two linked up at the BET Awards last year for a stirring rendition of the track, where you can fully gauge the song’s weight.
8. ScHoolboy Q – “Blessed”
Q dedicated this track to a friend of his who had recently lost his son, and enlisted Kendrick to lend his supporting vocals to the track. He duly delivers, with an inspiring, motivational slew of bars zipping about on themes like love, death and the afterlife.
8. Fredo Santana – “Jealous”
Quite simply, Kendrick absolutely kills this verse – and is far superior to Fredo Santana on his own song. While Fredo sounds sluggish over the 808-Mafia produced beat, Kendrick absolutely obliterates it. Switching between a variety of flows, Kendrick flows about going from perilous hedonism to self-motivation in his short time on mic.
7. ScHoolboy Q – “That Part” (Remix)
Again, Kendrick undeniably has the best verse on the record. With the whole song based around boasting, Kendrick does so the best – and every single one of his 24 bars rhymes with each other!
6. Isaiah Rashad – “Wat’s Wrong”
Many people’s favorite track from Top Dawg label-mate Isaiah Rashad’s excellent album The Sun’s Tirade, Kendrick full flexed his ability to craft a technically outstanding verse. Juxtapositions, narrative switches, homonyms, double entendres and the alliteration help make the verse a standout.
5. DJ Khaled – “Holy Key” ft. Big Sean
Kendrick absolutely snaps on “Holy Key.” Not only a classic example of Kendrick sparring with another rapper to compete for best verse, Kendrick also seems to be audibly triggered by having to rap alongside Big Sean after their link up on their epoch-defining collaboration on “Control.”
Sean seems to bring out the best in Lamar. He recently continued sending subliminal disses for Sean on both of his excellent new tracks “The Heart Part IV” and “HUMBLE.,” and plied against Sean here, he absolutely murders Khaled’s beat.
4. Danny Brown – “Really Doe”
Danny Brown should be applauded for getting one of the best feature line-ups on a track in 2016. Recruiting Earl and Ab-Soul to feature alongside Kendrick would only result in one thing: Kendrick firing on all cylinders as well as laying down a stern hook.
3. A Tribe Called Quest – “Conrad Tokyo”
The idea of A Tribe Called Quest and Kendrick Lamar on a track together is the archetypal collaboration for any hip-hop purist. Last year, we were blessed with hearing a phenomenal album from Tribe – which initially didn’t list any features. Hearing Kendrick coming in after Phife on the genius that is “Conrad Tokyo” remains legitimately goosebump-inducing every time you listen – and remains up there with one of Duckworth’s most powerful and politically charged verses to date.
2. Pusha T – “Nosetalgia”
Kendrick properly digs deep on “Nosetalgia.” Trading coke bars with Pusha, who has sold coke most his life, Kendrick goes brutally candid rapping about growing up watching his father as a washed-up cokehead during the crack epidemic of the ’80s. “Go figure, mothafucka, every verse is a brick, your son dope, nigga,” sees Kendrick flipping the “dope” lexis to describe his own rapping ability. Absolutely exceptional.
1. Big Sean – “Control”
Inexplicably, the only good rip of the track on YouTube has a picture of Jeremih as the accompanying picture for “Control.” But there can be no mistaking who delivered the best verse on a track which still haunts Big Sean to this day.
Kendrick Lamar sent the internet into meltdown with his “Control” verse, which marked a veritable shift in the art of hip-hop dissing. Hijacking the track of Sean, his bold claims, aggressive spitting and plethora of name-drops showcased Kendrick was taking no prisoners. It also sparked a chain of response track and interviews from rappers on the defensive – looking to prove themselves and step up to Kendrick’s new benchmark.
As Rolling Stone point out, K.Dot gained 200,000 Twitter followers after this verse – and for good reason. He utterly laid waste to all his competition and changed the game on “Control,” the track which solidified his place at the top of the rap game.
For more of our features, check out Kodak Black’s 10 best tracks right here.
- Photographer: Joey Ungerer