There’s no question that 2015 was Kendrick Lamar’s year—with the release of To Pimp A Butterfly, Kendrick cemented his place as not just one of the most exciting artists in hip-hop, but one of the most riveting artists in music, period.
In 2016, Kendrick kicked off the year with untitled unmastered., a loose compilation album of unreleased tracks that still managed to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. Following the success of untitled unmastered., Kendrick has remained relatively quiet about a new project—J. Cole joint album rumors aside—but he’s remained active through a slew of fantastic guest spots.
From Kanye West to Funkadelic to Maroon 5 (huh?), Kendrick has stolen his fair share of tracks this year with the soul-shattering verses he’s known for, but he’s also been used more sparingly on tracks like Mac Miller’s “God Is Fair, Sexy Nasty.” With such an artistic range and a diverse feature list, it’s only fair to take a moment to appreciate Kendrick’s 2016 guest spots...and rank them, of course.
Here are all of Kendrick Lamar's 2016 guest spots, from least exciting to most incredible:
14. Maroon 5 - "Don’t Wanna Know" ft. Kendrick Lamar
Since we’re ranking these in reverse order, let’s go ahead and get this one out of the way. The newest feature from K-Dot is coincidentally the most underwhelming. Kendrick is no stranger to pop features—he’s worked with and held his own with Taylor Swift, Sia, Beyoncé—but this song and its accompanying feature feel forced in every way.
Kendrick offers a few measly, uninspired bars in the midst of one of Maroon 5’s most generic-sounding songs—which is saying a lot—and does little to save the track from itself. Can I just move on to the dope features now? Thanks.
Best Line: "Do he lay it down for you, touch your poona like this? / Matter fact, never mind, we'll let the past be /Maybe his right now, but your body's still me, woah"
13. Sia - "The Greatest" ft. Kendrick Lamar
Now this is a pop feature. Sia’s anthem of empowerment is about as radio-pop as it gets, but the message is powerful and so is Kendrick’s guest spot. While we still don’t get a full 16 from Kenny, the bars he does offer are pointed and rooted in personal experience.
Best Line: "I transform with pressure - I'm hands-on with effort / I fell twice before, my bounce back was special / Letdowns'll get you, and the critics will test you / But the strong'll survive, another scar may bless you, ah"
12. Mac Miller - "God Is Fair, Sexy Nasty" ft. Kendrick Lamar
When Mac Miller announced a Kendrick Lamar feature on his new album The Divine Feminine, listeners justifiably expected an all out lyrical showcase. That is not what they received. The song is still incredible, however, and the only reason it ranks so low is because of the sheer minimalism of Kendrick’s appearance, as appropriate as it may feel. Kendrick adds more vibe than content to this track and is a rare occurrence of a feature taking a sharp left turn for the better.
Best Line: "Heart to my dying light, bullet to your rose / Then I watch your petal fold / Don't you know your body been mine? / I know you know I know"
11. Mistah F.A.B. - "Survive" ft. Kendrick Lamar, Crooked I & Kobe Honeycutt
For the standout cut from Mistah F.A.B.’s Son Of A Pimp, Pt. 2, Kendrick returns to good kid, m.A.A.d city form, offering a heartfelt verse rich with imagery over a solemn instrumental by Tha Bizness. While Kendrick has spent the last two years experimenting with different flows and patterns, this is one of K-Dot’s more straightforward deliveries, allowing the focus to remain on his pensive lyrics.
Best Line: "Cause nine times out of ten, MAC 11's cry / And twelve died yesterday and if anyone divides / The six that carried you eventually lose they lives / True story"
10. BJ The Chicago Kid - "The New Cupid" ft. Kendrick Lamar
BJ and Kendrick are frequent collaborators, going all the way back to Kendrick’s Section.80, making the artistic chemistry on this track immediately apparent. Kendrick takes a slower approach to his verse, which blends his sing-song delivery with moments reminiscent of André 3000 and Lil Wayne.
Best Line: "This is a fairy tale, I know you very well / Fuck all your promises, I know what time it is / I'm just a realist, I am the realest / Reality is fatality cursed on the future for family, wife and some kids"
9. Funkadelic - "Ain't That Funkin’ Kinda Hard On You? (Remix)" ft. Kendrick Lamar & Ice Cube
Kendrick Lamar’s funk influence was made perfectly clear on TPAB, so this remix just made sense. While Kendrick’s verse is the perfect addition to the funk-filled track, it’s technically a re-hashing of his "untitled 02 l 06.23.2014." track from untitled unmastered. and is arguably less potent than the original incarnation.
Best Line: "Why you hate to work for it / The reason why I hate to wait for it? / See a nine to five was so jive turkey / But when Thanksgiving came that check didn’t hurt me / You plead the fifth, I read the fifth amendment / We both criminals with bad intention"
8. The Weeknd - "Sidewalks" ft. Kendrick Lamar
This track is one of the sharpest left turns I've heard from The Weeknd since my introduction several years ago. The Auto-Tune, the Black Keys-esque soundscape—Abel eschews all expectations on this track, and he brings Kendrick along for the ride for that extra "fuck what you thought this song was going to be." Kendrick absolutely delivers on this verse, displaying that playful proficiency that lets everyone know that he can do this shit with his eyes closed, one of the many reasons he's one of the greats. The only reason this appearance doesn't rank higher is a slight sonic incongruency. It was absolutely exciting to hear Kendrick go in over the plodding, bluesy instrumental, but I feel his appearance would've made a much greater impact on a different track on the album. Maybe that was purposeful, and even if it wasn't, Kendrick still shines regardless.
Best Line: "I reminisce my life innocence / Or life innocent / Or life intimate, with fame / Light limo tint / With light women, dark women in it / Awe Kenny, good game / She wanna hang with a Starboy / The sun and the moon and star, boy / Astronomer, anonymous / I line 'em up, grind 'em up, there's nine of us"
7. Travis Scott - "Goosebumps" ft. Kendrick Lamar
Travis has proven time and time again that he’s able to pull exciting, unorthodox features from the guests he chooses for his projects, and Kendrick’s appearance on “Goosebumps” is no different. Kendrick bounces along the beat with quirky ease interspersed with some incredibly funky falsetto delivery. Just like a good guest feature should do, Kendrick’s verse supplements the track perfectly and turns a good song into a great one.
Best Line: "Peter, piper, picked a pepper / So I could pick your brain and put your heart together / We depart the shady parts and party hard, the diamonds yours / The coupe forever / My best shots might shoot forever like (brr)"
6. Isaiah Rashad - "Wat's Wrong" ft. Zacari & Kendrick Lamar
After two years between projects from Isaiah, the TDE emcee delivered with a thoughtful, vibe-centric album that contained some perfectly placed features. Among them is Kendrick Lamar on “Wat’s Wrong,” who kicks off his verse with a more orthodox delivery before throwing listeners a curveball and introducing a pattern we’ve yet to hear from K-Dot.
It seems like Kendrick just keeps inventing pockets like Stephen Curry does shakes and they keep getting more inventive and more entertaining as he goes.
Best Line: "And I believe in Kool-Aid and God's son / Do you believe that Black man is our son? / I made enough residuals to hide some / I gave enough, my niggas know I divide some / I told Zay, I'm the best rapper since twenty-five / Been like that for a while now, I'm twenty-nine / Any nigga that disagree is a fuckin' liar / Pardon me, see my alter ego was Gemini"
5. A Tribe Called Quest - "Conrad Tokyo" ft. Kendrick Lamar
18 years after the release of their last album The Love Movement, A Tribe Called Quest returned this year with one of the strongest comebacks I've ever witnessed. On We got it from Here..., ATCQ managed to remain rooted in the sounds and vibes that made them such a force in the '90s, while still incorporating new influences and inviting contemporary voices to the party. One of those voices belongs to Kendrick, of course, and on "Conrad Tokyo," Kendrick sounds right at home with the legendary Native Tongues representatives. With Kendrick appearances, there's no guarantee that you're getting the version of Kendrick you were expecting, which is one of the most exciting facets of his artistry. You might get "vibe" Kendrick, you might get "tear the instrumental to shreds" Kendrick. Hell, you might only get "funky hook" Kendrick, like we saw on Mac Miller's latest album. On "Conrad Tokyo," we get a solid mix of "vibe" and "tear the instrumental to shreds," a perfect union of the past and present over an instrumental on which Kendrick sounds completely at home, both a testament to his versatility, and the clear influence he's taken from the Native Tongues movement in his own career.
Best Line: "Toleration for devastation, got a hunger for sin / Every nation Obama nation, let the coroner in / Crooked faces, red and blue laces for the color of men / Just embrace it and die alone, song of Revelation"
4. Danny Brown - "Really Doe" ft. Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul & Earl Sweatshirt
So far, Danny Brown’s “Really Doe” is arguably the posse cut of the year. Danny, Kendrick, Soulo and Earl all drop insane verses over a sinister instrumental courtesy of Black Milk, but Kendrick’s off-kilter delivery sets his feature apart from the rest, even if Earl may have taken the crown lyrically. Kendrick also handles hook duties for the song, perfectly tying together four fire verses with tongue-in-cheek braggadocio.
Best Line: "My zoo cannot fit the cages / This booth is not used to fakin' / My crew just love confrontation / I chewed the face off the laces / I moved the weight from the waitress / I chef the pot that made poison / I cooked then kicked all the patients"
3. Kanye West - "No More Parties in LA" ft. Kendrick Lamar
Man, Kendrick was on one here. Kendrick begins his verse by trading bars with Kanye before going all the way in with a swagger that mirrors the headliner's vibe and a delivery that almost sounds Lupe Fiasco-esque. On “No More Parties in LA,” Kendrick reminds listeners that although he loves to experiment, he can still body a beat the old fashioned way.
Best Line: "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 get spiritual / Make me believe in miracles, Buddhist monks and Cap'n Crunch cereal / Lord have mercy, thou will not hurt me"
2. Beyoncé - "Freedom" ft. Kendrick Lamar
Holy shit, this record. Everything about this record. It should be clear by this point that when Kendrick is really feeling the concept of a track, he puts his all in. This soulful cut from Beyoncé’s Lemonade produced one of Kendrick’s best verses of 2016, not to mention an incredibly powerful performance at the BET Awards.
Best Line: "Ten Hail Marys, I meditate for practice / Channel 9 news tell me I'm movin' backwards / Eight blocks left, death is around the corner / Seven misleadin' statements 'bout my persona / Six headlights wavin' in my direction / Five-O askin' me what's in my possession"
1. DJ Khaled - "Holy Key" ft. Kendrick Lamar & Big Sean
Considering Khaled is essentially a feature-hunter by trade, it makes sense that he managed to lock down Kendrick’s most fire verse of the year (so far, at least). The Major Key standout features an initially calm and collected Kendrick before his energy hits a crescendo mid-verse and goes into turbo mode with the fluctuating inflections that only Kendrick could pull off.
Best Line: "The universe and the heavens work in my DNA / Kendrick said "Fuck Mother Earth," that's PSA / The land of the wicked, the foundation of Lucifer's spirit / Walking zombies and spellcatchers, I pray for forgiveness / Uncle Bobby and Paul June is lost again / The underworld and the fourth dimension, my family's in / The big money, the fast cars, my life produced"
Editor's Note: This ranking will be updated throughout the remainder of 2016, should Kendrick decide to bless another artist with a guest verse.