Best Guest Features of 2018 (Staff Picks)

Our entire staff picks their favorite feature of 2018.
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Best of 2018: Best Guest Feature

Say what you like, 2018 has been a marked year for music. While critique is very serious business, we are also human and what we like is all the more special than the critical appraisal of an album. For the next month, every day, you will find our staff picks for our favorite facets of music from best features to worst songs and everything in-between, based solely on what strikes us as diehard music fans first, and critics second. It's been an incredible year for hip-hop.

These are our favorite guest features of 2018.

Anderson .Paak ("Black Hole" by Chris Dave and the Drumhedz)

It’s criminal how overlooked the self-titled debut from Chris Dave and the Drumhedz went this year. An acclaimed drummer who’s worked with everyone from Beyoncé to Adele, Chris Dave recruited a laundry list of talents to join him on the album, and none were more impressive than Anderson .Paak’s contributions on “Black Hole.” Tip-toeing over the blistering percussion with more precision than Odell Beckham Jr. trying to stay inbounds, .Paak’s devastating vocal performance raises the energy to another level for an infectious song that’s impossible to forget. —Kenan Draughorne

Elton John ("High" by Young Thug)

"High" might be considered a "remix" of Elton John's 3x Platinum hit "Rocket Man (I Think It's Going to Be a Long, Long Time)," first released in 1972, but that designation doesn't do the song justice. Thanks to the production expertise of Stelios Phili, who tweaked, manipulated, and rearranged John's original vocals in ways that will make your head spin, "High" truly feels like an organic collaboration between the English singer, pianist, and composer and the Atlanta-born author of Slime Season. "Young Thug, who I love and have met, he dropped a track, a remix of ‘Rocket Man.‘ And I don’t usually play my own stuff on this show but this is so cool and so good," John said in an interview this past September on his Beats 1 show. "These things are the great surprises in what I do. Sometimes you hear something that you never knew was going to happen or never thought was going to happen in a million years." What a great surprise indeed. —Z

Future

"East Atlanta Love Letter" by 6LACK

I am seemingly one of the few Future fans who has always been more intrigued by his feature work than his solo efforts, and 6LACK’s “East Atlanta Love Letter” is my guest appearance fever dream. Draped over one of the year’s best “This sounds like a Bryson Tiller song but is actually interesting” productions, Future’s self-aggrandizing harmonies about finding no one better than him are the surest bet in hip-hop for success. There is always a consistent pain buried deep within his lyrics, no matter who or what his verse is intended for, and there’s no one I’d rather hear love advice from than this deeply imperfect man. —Matt Wilhite

"King's Dead" by Jay Rock

In a year somewhat lacking in remarkable guest spots, it was Future who claimed the feature-killing title in 2018. From his nimble flow on Rae Sremmurd’s “Buckets” (“I drink that lean everyday like it’s a Coronaaaaaaaa”) to the blunt force of his admissions on Doe Boy’s “10 Piece” ("I done popped a bean, man I can’t eat shit”), Future’s drug-addled assists have stolen the spotlight all year (see also: “East Atlanta Love Letter,” “No Question,” “Zone 6 (Remix)”). Only one guest spot was sensational and contentious enough to rip hip-hop into dueling camps, though. The “la di da di da” heard ‘round the world. —Brendan Varan

J. Cole ("Off Deez" by J.I.D)

Although J. Cole put out one of his finest works this year, KOD, I returned to it far less than his streak of song-stealing features. Lending his talents to a number of artists—including Bas, Rapsody, 6LACK, Royce da 5’9”, and Jay Rock—J. Cole was most in his bag when reminding everyone how he got this far, while also sticking to the themes of addiction that he explored with more nuance on features than his own album. Although the crown could go to many of Cole's verses, I’ll hand it to “Off Deez” for his ability to keep up with protégé J.I.D and letting other MCs know they are “homonyms, sounding the same.” It’s a book nerd’s dream diss. —Ben Taylor

JAY-Z ("What's Free" by Meek Mill)

There’s an art to JAY-Z’s unparalleled ability to boast about his capitalistic accomplishments while delivering motivational, hustler-inspired Ted Talks. He’s been bragging longer than I’ve been breathing, and the years of practice have perfected a vocabulary icy as an Arctic snowstorm. The saying "God's in His heaven, all's right with the world" exemplifies how it feels to hear the legendary Brooklynite rap on Meek Mill’s “What’s Free.” When he’s in the scrupulous bag of lyrical musing there’s nothing left to say but, Hovi’s home. —Yoh 

Coming through with a buzzer beater at the very last second to steal this distinction, JAY-Z’s "What's Free" verse was an emphatic reminder from the GOAT himself that he can still walk on water whenever he so chooses. Boasting social commentary, clever wordplay, and making the song’s other verses feel irrelevant by comparison, Hov’s contribution here accomplished everything a great scene-stealing verse should, adding to his incredible track record of lapping other artists on their own songs. As if this weren’t enough, Jay’s lyrics also generated an endless amount of speculation, creating an incredible moment online where thousands of people were combing through them simultaneously, looking for clues to decode. —Hershal Pandya

Saba/Smino ("Ace" by Noname)

Okay, so, I'm cheating and picking two verses, but I am the First Lady and I make the rules. It's difficult to imagine any other feature beating out Smino opening this song saying "Little heathen in Heathrow," which is exactly what I imagine will happen when Yoh and I finally take our joint writer vacation and never check Twitter again. Smi sounds like the steady glug of taking down a bottle of Merlot. Saba raps until his lungs collapse, and then just keeps rapping. Smino Grigio, Noname, and Saba are the best rappers. —Donna-Claire Chesman

Valee ("Still Got Money" by Z Money)

Valee turned out to be Chicago’s not-so-secret weapon throughout 2018, but nowhere was this more evident than on his victory lap of a verse on Z Money’s Chiraq Mogul. Valee graces beats like someone who had half a mind not to show but brings all the bars in the world if they do: “Hope you don't run up on me, I'm dumpin' like I'm Humpty / I'm tied up like a drawstring, I'm in some slides, no shoe strings.” His flows skip to different beats of the drum and he elongates words in ways that few rappers did before him. Who else sounds confident and sleepy at the same time? Even though Z Money’s verse is strong, he shouldn’t have let Valee go first. —Dylan "CineMasai" Green

Young Thug ("Offshore" by Swae Lee)

To quote another SR3MM song, Young Thug transforms into a perplexing pegasus on Swae Lee’s “Offshore”: you can’t always make out what he’s saying, but my God, does he take flight. With that said, there is one line that’s impossible to ignore during Thugga’s epic, two-minute and thirteen-second verse, and it’s the most graceful threat this current administration has confronted yet: “I’d slap the shit outta Donald Trump any day.” Andy James

070 Shake ("Ghost Town" by Kanye West)

Throughout this past summer’s G.O.O.D. Music Wyoming Sessions series of releases, 070 Shake solidified herself as the clear winner, becoming a fringe household name with her stellar appearances on multiple albums. Far and away, her best performance is found on ye inclusion “Ghost Town,” where she delivers a powerful closing verse that adds to the song’s themes of freedom and liberation. Her voice is harrowing yet gorgeous, backed by a triumphant drum line. On an album marred by inconsistencies, 070 Shake’s presence is a steadying force, and nowhere is this more apparent than in her captivating display on “Ghost Town.” —Stephen Barston

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