Top 10 Kendrick Lamar feature verses
© Kevin Molano / Red Bull Content Pool
Let’s revisit some of his best feature verses to date.
Have you ever thought of what separates good rap artists from great artists? What truly is the defining trait that creates that threshold in which some artists fall beneath, and others rise to the top?
In defining great rap artists one of the most underrated aspects is the dynamic feature. The ability to hop on another artist’s song and enhance it beyond the original, while also staying true to your sound. To take a song to an entirely new level.
We’ve seen it from all of the past greats over the last 25 years. JAY-Z took standard tracks and made them events. Lil Wayne devoured rappers on their own songs and feasted on their popular instrumentals. Drake has become the modern cheat code to mainstream success, with the Midas touch to take an unknown regional rapper and launch him into the public’s ear.
Kendrick Lamar is one of the greats. Beyond capturing listeners with his own music, his features have comfortably perched him into the elite of this era. He’s gone toe-to-toe with hip hop’s most acclaimed lyricists (Pusha T “Nosetalgia”), then pivoted to creating unforgettable R&B vibes (Jhene Aiko “Stay Ready”), powered a pop hit to number one (Taylor Swift “Bad Blood”) and completely broke the internet before the phrase was truly a thing (Kendrick Lamar “Control”).
Over the last decade he’s become an essential figure in hip hop by combining elite lyricism, great social content, and a powerful intensity that never lets you forget any song he touches.
Ty Dolla Sign “LA” (2015)
An ode to the city of broken dreams that none other than King Kendrick calls his home. The beautiful story that is Ty Dolla Sign’s “LA” (also features Brandy and James Fauntleroy) is kissed by the incredibly vivid lyrics of Kendrick Lamar. Kendrick paints LA as more of a lifestyle, than an actual place. Whether it’s good or bad, there’s no other place where he’d rather beat his chest and rep.
Kanye West “No More Parties in LA” (2016)
The worlds of Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar merging feels like any rap fan’s dream come true. While Kendrick’s bread and butter on tracks are his powerful statements, “No More Parties” is a refreshing step away from all of that.
The braggadocio. The boastfulness. It hits all the accents of his first Billboard top 10 appearance “Fucking Problems,” with lusty lines revolving around other-worldly sex (“The head still good though; The head still good though, Make me say “Nam Myoho Renge Kyo,” Make a nigga say big words and act lyrical, Make me spiritual, make me believe in miracles, Buddhist monks and Cap’n Crunch cereal”). Kendrick feels more inspired on this one than the aforementioned “Problems.” Possibly due to the soulful backdrop produced by Kanye & Madlib that feels closer to Kendrick’s speed than a Noah “40” Shebib-produced club banger.
What may be the biggest testament to his incredibly good verse on the track however, is Kanye's verse. The hip hop legend had to run off for damn near 64 bars of vintage rhyming to clear the victory against his new age contemporary. How many greats have inspired one of the greatest? We’ll wait.
Jay Rock “Hood Gone Love It” (2011)
The “Hood Gone Love It” rolls back to the days when Kendrick Lamar was just a gleam in a blogger’s eyes. An unsung hero of lyricism. An underground, under-the-radar phenomenon that was only talked about in “real hip hop” circles. Living on Jay Rock’s "Follow Me Home," released two weeks after Kendrick’s critically-acclaimed Section.80, Kendrick Lamar kicks down the door like a man possessed.
Sans all the voice inflections that he would begin to incorporate later in his career, his verse on this song is purely a lyrical exhibition. He whips through the J.U.S.T.I.C.E League-production while vividly portraying the life a few steps from his doorstep (“And I live in the back of the jungle / Lions, tigers, bears, oh my / Hear the siren, walk up, (pow pow) drive-by”).
At the time, a star-performance feature from the buzzing Kendrick. Jay Rock would however pay it back in full one year later on “Money Trees.”
Isaiah Rashad “Wats Wrong” (2016)
It almost feels like when Kendrick Lamar begins the track introspective, you’re almost always in for a 10/10 verse. Period. While it isn’t necessarily a track from a chart-topping artist, K. Dot lends fellow-TDE artist Isaiah Rashad one of the best verses of his career.
“Depending on the way I feel, I might kill everybody around me / Might heal everybody around me, how the wind blow” might be the most telling lyric of this entire article.
It’s a given for a rapper that’s so heavily-influenced by the reflective raps of 2Pac yet still feature the combative, competitive bars of JAY-Z or Eminem. As good as Kendrick has always been, this verse that lands between the eras of "To Pimp a Butterfly" and "DAMN." is one of his best ever. It’s lyrical (“Pay me if imma be rhymin’ these homonyms”) and spiritual (“And I believe in Kool-Aid and God’s son / Do you believe that Black man is our sun?”), which is ultimately the essence of Kendrick Lamar.
Rapsody “Power” (2017)
One of the best songs of that year. Rapsody’s “Power” takes a look at the essence of power. The weight of it. The influence of it. What has it done and who has it benefited? While Rapsody’s tackles societal and cultural impact, Kendrick goes inward – as he tends to do on many of his best verses.
He surfs through internal takes on his legacy, his influence, his words, his past, his integrity, and eventually his ascension to fame (“My second LP had real niggas on POTUS lawn / My seven trophies is at my Granny's and Heaven arms”), but ultimately surrenders all of that to the true high power. It’s possibly one of the most meta verses of Kendrick’s career, but also one of the most potent and well, powerful.
DJ Khaled “Holy Key” (2016)
A DJ Khaled feature might be a rite of passage in hip hop. A true mark that you have made it. A commercial landmark where you’ve transcended beyond the small talk to the full-fledged conversation in hip hop. This isn’t Kendrick Lamar’s first appearance on a DJ Khaled album, but it’s absolutely his best (sorry “They Ready” fans).
Lamar, with his signature flow and style, scorches the earth beneath him in this verse. Over this Cool & Dre production and powerful Betty Wright chorus (RIP), every lyric feels cataclysmic. He kicks off the verse with talking about destroying everything he touches (“Everything I touch may disintegrate into dust”) and eventually leans into spirituality while still mentioning the universe, heavens, lucifer, zombies and spellcatchers. As with all Kendrick Lamar verses, he goes beyond the standard hip hop conversation by dropping gems, rhymes, and schemes that solidify him as one of the greatest rappers on earth. There’s a reason why Khaled touted this verse as the best on the entire Major Key album.
ScHoolboy Q “Blessed” (2012)
“Blessed” is still one of the finest songs of ScHoolboy Q’s career. It’s as reflective as it is inspirational. Motivational, even – offering listeners to take solace in the good things that they have and to make strides instead of dwelling in a world of negativity. Q delivers to equally potent verses of reflection before he passes the baton to Kendrick, who masterfully takes it home.
“Yes, my nigga, you’re blessed, take advantage, do your best, my nigga / Don’t stress, you was granted everything inside this planet, anything you imagine, you possess my nigga” is the greatest affirmation anyone who’s going through it could hear. It may not be as earth shattering as a few other verses we're mentioning, but it’s passion and poignancy perhaps make it as just as potent.
Nipsey Hussle “Dedication” (2018)
Nipsey Hussle’s "Victory Lap" may go down as one of the best hip hop albums of the last decade. It’s filled with stories of success, constant motivation, and the dreams of a visionary who’s proper purpose in his music was to spread knowledge and wealth to his people. That’s why this collaboration with Kendrick Lamar is so special. Lamar, also a testament to success through dedication, has become one of the biggest hip hop artists today through his own hard work and talent.
Kendrick’s “Dedication” verse is full of appreciation and admiration for Nipsey, in a way that’s rare in the ultra competitive environment of hip hop. The egos and hyper-aggressive bars are exchanged for bars of acknowledgement and gratitude for an artist like Nipsey who preaches about “flourishing from the streets to black businesses,” knowing it’s what so much of the Black youth needs to hear.
Big Sean “Control” (2013)
It was only a matter of time until we reached the verse that opened up the ground beneath hip hop and swallowed the entire game whole.
When it’s said and done, this will go down as the most infamous verse of Kendrick Lamar’s career. A verse that stopped the internet, a verse that pushed rappers to wake up from their lofty thrones and put pens to pads. That got Phil Jackson to react and Business Insider to proclaim that this is the only thing in hip hop that anyone’s talking about.
The verse stands as less of a diss and more of a declaration to rappers to step their game up. A seizing of the throne instead of waiting to be crowned. Kendrick Lamar was shooting at a high efficiency before this, but this verse is without a doubt his 81 point game.
Pusha T “Nosetalgia” (2013)
If the “Control” verse was the statement, Kendrick Lamar’s verse on “Nosetalgia” added the exclamation point on his incredible post-"good kid, m.A.A.d city" run. In fact, it may be like five.
"My Name Is My Name" is filled with heavyweights like Jeezy, Rick Ross, Kanye West, 2 Chainz, and Big Sean – not to mention Pusha T himself is a top shelf MC. However, Kendrick finds a way to smoke them all. He meets Pusha T on his own dark, gritty turf and excels at his own drug-dealing game, creating pure white poetry from tales of his own childhood.
Both artists delivered on this track, but it’s the combination of metaphors, stories, lyrics and dark intensity that keep you hung on Kendrick’s every word. He brazenly ends his verse with the incredible double entendre, “Go figure motherfucker, every verse is a brick. Your son dope, nigga!” and it was unanimous that hip hop officially found it’s new king.