Kendrick Lamar is rightfully notarized as a slayer of beats. The world knows him as a rapper’s rapper, the lyricist embraced by all those who consider themselves lyrical. His stature as one of the best breathing is why expectations are heaven-high each time he resurfaces with a new song, album, or guest verse.
Since changing his name from K.Dot to Kendrick Lamar, the Compton royalty has been a generous collaborator with contemporaries not bound by genre or stature. Bars have been gifted to Taylor Swift and Tech N9ne, Fredo Santana and Maroon 5, Flying Lotus and Imagine Dragons. The list is long and always growing.
2017 was a big year for Kendrick—DAMN.‘s domination blasted him into a new atmosphere of success and prominence—but he also stayed busy on the feature front, appearing 12 times as a guest on various songs. Excluding Jeezy’s “American Dream” and U2’s “Get Out of Your Own Way,” in which Kendrick’s contributions were relegated to brief outros, it was only right that we figured out which features were best.
Based on the caliber of his bars, how they were delivered, and the lasting impression of each verse, here are all of Kendrick Lamar’s 2017 guest verses, ranked.
10. Mike WiLL Made-It — “Perfect Pint” ft. Kendrick Lamar, Gucci Mane & Rae Sremmurd
In addition to their excellent efforts on DAMN., Kung Fu Kenny and Mike Will cooked up another collaboration that can be found on Mike’s Ransom 2 album. Kendrick appears with a calm, relaxed demeanor, completely different from the explosive energy that surges through records like “DNA.” and “XXX.” Floating with ease, his entire verse is like watching a black belt perform warm-up exercises before a serious competition. The way Kendrick can weave Shawty Lo homages with casual braggadocio is what makes the little moments rewind-worthy. Overall, “Perfect Pint” is a comfort zone verse that doesn’t attempt to wow with zealous flair but with easygoing effortlessness.
9. DJ Kay Slay — “Cold Summer” ft. Kendrick Lamar, Mac Miller, Kevin Gates & Rell
Strictly based on his vocal tone and lyrical approach, Kendrick fans will quickly realize that his verse “Cold Summer” verse isn’t brand new. Kay Slay likely acquired the vocals somewhere between Section.80 (2011) and good kid, m.A.A.d city (2012). Still, there’s a nice nostalgia about a younger, less animated Kendrick who was still pulling much of his inspiration from the local surroundings. One striking lyric that is still grabbing: “She said, ‘Nigga I’m hopin’ you make a way out, before I make this Mac-11 do it for me.’” The mad city imagery that would turn Kendrick from promising emcee into storytelling king makes this one worth a visit and then a revisit.
8. N.E.R.D — “Kites” ft. Kendrick Lamar & M.I.A.
What Kendrick brings to “Kites” is the electricity of a rapper with no creative restrictions. The entire verse is transformative: flows are switched, delivery is altered, and the bigger message is never lost in the constant transitions. It can be dizzying how much he’s able to pack into a verse; he’s a wizard when it comes to word construction with the intent of creating a bigger picture. “Kites” is one of Kendrick’s best puzzle pieces this year, and the back-and-forth with Pharrell is one of many highlights.
7. N.E.R.D — “Don’t Don’t Do It!” ft. Kendrick Lamar
In the last minute of “Don’t Don’t Do It!” Kendrick suddenly materializes in a frantic storm of breathless bars. This is the hurried lyricism of a man with not a minute to waste; a man with a message he must relay with all the air in his lungs. Inspired by the murder of Keith Lamont Scott, Kendrick’s approach captures the anxious anxiety of witnessing another life taken by police brutality. Placing Kenny at the end closes the record in strong, sincere frustration.
6. Rich The Kid — “New Freezer” ft. Kendrick Lamar
By far Kendrick’s most fun verse of 2017. How can you not get a little giddy as he raps about milly rocking when the direct deposit hits? Or the thought of his childish grin as he paints a picture of desire for his own set of Tia and Tamera twins? “New Freezer” is all swagger and stunting, bragging and boasting. Instead of delivering bars to make heads spin, Kendrick thrills by dabbling in trap while moonwalking across the beat. The entire verse shows how an intricate stylist can work within the trap medium. Kendrick is able to do it all, while other rappers aren’t able to quite do it like Kendrick.
5. Vince Staples — “Yeah Right” ft. Kendrick Lamar & KUČKA
The first collaboration between Vince Staples and Kendrick Lamar did not disappoint. The bass rattles with the force of a Leviathan shaking the ground, monstrous and robust. As Kendrick’s verse begins, the beat breathes, and he’s rapping his signature double-time in near silence. As the bass returns, the verse becomes more animated and vigorous, their intensities begin to intertwine as one. The verse is a short one, it comes and goes swift as Speedy Gonzales on the hunt for fresh cheese, but each line proves this is Kendrick in his zone. How he closes is the final act of beheading: “I don’t fair fight but I bear fight / Lookin’ for my next roadkill for the headlight / Hangin’ on my last four kills for the highlights / My life, hiii life, high five, bye, bye.”
4. Future — “Mask Off (Remix)” ft. Kendrick Lamar
I didn’t like Kendrick’s “Mask Off” verse upon first listen. On such a nonchalant, easygoing single, he brings a whirlwind to a house party. He’s like the tornado Frank Ocean swears ruined his room in “Thinkin Bout You.” Revisiting months later, there’s a newfound appreciation for Kenny’s technical penmanship, witty lyricism, and the enthralling stream-of-consciousness. Imagine Kendrick in mixtape form similar to Lil Wayne. It wasn’t supposed to elevate a hit, “Mask Off” was just a platform for him to spazz and fill one of the year’s biggest songs with some of his most memorable lines of 2017. From Prince living through him to a conscious rapper going commercial, “Mask Off (Remix)” isn’t just a whirlwind, it’s also a victory lap.
3. SZA — “Doves In the Wind” ft. Kendrick Lamar
“Doves In the Wind” is Kendrick’s most eccentric guest appearance of 2017, fitting of one of the most unconventional great songs of the year. He follows SZA’s lead, giving tribute to vaginas, but from the male perspective. He raps about pussy with such passion, playing with various deliveries and vocal pitches―animated, lively, and humorously executed. It’s another great example of Kendrick’s greatness not being strictly what is said, but how he says it. He can be lyrical, obviously, but mostly he knows how to be captivating and make each verse a charming listen. Women appreciation at its finest.
2. Thundercat — “Walk On By” ft. Kendrick Lamar
Thundercat’s “Walk On By” isn’t Kendrick being a wizard of lyricism or a master of many styles. He takes a step back, reverting to being a storyteller who would rather bewitch listeners with his imagery than enchant by showcasing his prowess for otherworldly delivery. His tone is a somber one; it feels as if he’s truly reminiscing through the mazes in his mind. It’s easy to be pulled in by how he admits to the days of bagging dimes, reflecting on how unfamiliar faces inspired plots and conspiracies, and the immature thoughts that plagued him as a youth. The verse is a return to the Compton of old, what Kendrick used to see, a world he’s no longer apart of but which he can never truly be removed from. In many ways I compare it to JAY-Z’s “Drug Dealers Anonymous” verse and how Thundercat, like Pusha did Jay, returned Kendrick to a familiar place that is much darker than his current, brighter days.
1. Rapsody — “Power” ft. Kendrick Lamar & Lance Skiiiwalker
Rapsody’s “Power” features the kind of Kendrick Lamar verse that will have him in the hip-hop halls as a master of the craft. The wordplay, style, and overall execution is a level of artistry that should be the benchmark others strive to reach. Every single line is a bar worth dissecting, a lyric worth quoting, or a reason to debate why Kendrick should be revered as a writer. He understands the power of imagery, crafting vignettes that stick in our mind long after the verse ends. How he can mention homelessness and later brag about standing on the White House lawn, how he mentions Jamaica and adds patois to his dialect, adding the full effect of his travels to the verse, how he can admit to a past of shooting at people and juxtapose it with his present as someone who shoots movies―there’s so much to unpack and hear in a state of awe. This is Kendrick’s cramming at its best, filling the canvas with words you must stare at. Naturally, he had to return the favor to Rapsody who murdered her verse on To Pimp a Butterfly‘s “Complexion,” but I’m certain she didn’t expect him to gift her his best guest verse of 2017.
For your convenience, we have added all 10 songs to a Spotify playlist.
By Yoh, aka Editorial Killer Yoh, aka @Yoh31