The rap game is an arena ruled by alpha dogs, kings, and queens. Bragging rights aren’t measured only by chart success, album sales, and GRAMMY awards, but by head-to-head competition. When two rappers square up, or a few MCs are brought together for a posse cut, the stakes are set: whichever rapper spits the best verse wins the song, and in turn, gains the upper hand in the hip-hop kingdom.
A scene-stealing verse, or even back-to-back, career-defining features, no matter how iconic, is common. But when a rapper is able to string together a collection of legendary guest appearances, especially in the same year, they are granted the Midas Touch, a rare power in which a rapper is so hot—and in such high demand—that an eight-bar verse is enough to turn a subpar song into a chart-topping smash.
It’s fair to argue that the Midas Touch became a part of the hip-hop lexicon during Lil Wayne’s historic heat-check in the mid-to-late-’00s when a feature from the Best Rapper Alive practically guaranteed the headlining artist a Platinum plaque.
Over a four-year stretch from 2006 to 2009, Wayne constantly bodied his peers to take ownership of songs: he stole 2006’s “Make it Rain” and 2007’s “Duffle Bag Boy” merely by singing the hooks; did laps around rivals T.I., Rick Ross, and Birdman on 2007’s “We Takin’ Over,” and T.I., JAY-Z, and Kanye West on 2008’s “Swagga Like Us"; cemented his status as the best R&B guest star alongside Lloyd on 2006’s “You” and T-Pain on 2008’s “Can’t Believe It”; and, finally, outshined the then-biggest pop star alive, Akon, on 2007’s “Sweetest Girl” and 2008’s “I’m So Paid.”
Weezy’s four-year reign is the longest stretch any rapper has held the Best Guest Spot Rapper Alive title. Ever since gave up the belt in 2010, it’s changed hands each year this decade, with just two rappers capturing the crown more than once. And so, let’s give credit to the best-supporting rappers in the game, every year since 2010.
2010: Nicki Minaj
Essential Guest Spots: Kanye West “Monster,” Trey Songz “Bottoms Up,” Drake “Up All Night,” Usher "Lil Freak,” Ludacris “My Chick Bad”
The five best career-making verses in hip-hop history are (in chronological order): Nas on Main Source’s “Live at the BBQ,” Busta Rhymes on A Tribe Called Quest’s “Scenario,” Snoop Dogg on Dr. Dre’s “Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang,” AZ on Nas’ “Life’s a Bitch,” and Nicki Minaj on Kanye West’s “Monster.” Nicki’s verse, unlike the other four mentioned, was more of a coronation than an introduction.
She amassed enough clout bodying feature after feature during 2010 that, by the time she rapped “50k for a verse, no album out” on “Monster,” there was no reason to question whether or not she was being serious. If anything, she should’ve been charging more for her services.
Still, after running laps around Ludacris on “My Chick Bad,” stealing “Lil Freak” out from under the King of Pop (Usher), out-rapping hip-hop’s newly-crowned prince, Drake, on “Up All Night,” and turning in a jaw-dropping performance on Trey Songz’ “Bottoms Up,” Nicki waited until the final quarter of 2010 to unveil her best verse in a career-altering calendar year. And, while Nicki had proven that she could hold her own at the big boy’s table, no one could’ve predicted “Monster.” Eight years on, it remains not just the defining verse of Nicki’s career and the best guest spot in recent memory, but one of the greatest hip-hop verses this decade and one of the best guest spots in rap history.
Essential Guest Spots: DJ Khaled “I’m On One,” Waka Flocka Flame “Round of Applause,” Lil Wayne “She Will,” The Game “Good Girls Go Bad,” J. Cole “In the Morning”
Drake’s 2011 guest appearance blitz is by no means his greatest. It doesn’t match the firepower of 2012 (“Stay Schemin',” “Pop That,” “No Lie,” “Amen,” “Poetic Justice”), the commercial success of 2010 (“Right Above It,” “What’s My Name,” “Moment 4 Life”), or the sheer depth of both 2015 (“Blessings,” “100,” “Truffle Butter,” “R.I.C.O.,” “Where Ya At”), and 2018 (“SICKO MODE,” “Look Alive,” “Yes Indeed,” “Never Recover,” “Going Bad”).
In fact, Drake’s features in 2011 are largely forgettable, and rescued by the fact no one else had a particularly memorable year either, save one: his throne-snatching opening verse on DJ Khaled’s “I’m On One.” It remains the best feature of his career, and is the exact moment when Lil Wayne’s prophecy from one year earlier on “Money to Blow” (“We gon’ be alright if we put Drake on every hook”) rang true, paving the way for Drake to claim that “every song sounds like Drake featuring Drake,” on 2013’s “5AM In Toronto,” without sounding even the slightest bit cocky.
2012: 2 Chainz
Essential Guest Spots: Kanye West “Mercy,” Nicki Minaj “Beez in the Trap,” Juicy J “Bandz a Make Her Dance,” The Game “Ali Bomaye,” G.O.O.D. Music “The Morning”
You could make a legitimate argument that Drake was the Best Guest Spot Rapper Alive in 2012, and for good reason: After closing out 2011 with his magnum opus, Take Care, Drake ran the rap game in 2012 solely on the strength of features, including five of the best in his career (“Stay Schemin',” “Pop That,” “No Lie,” “Amen,” and Poetic Justice”). And yet, his banner year was overshadowed by a rapper who was operating in Steph Curry Heat Check mode: 2 Chainz.
The artist formerly known as Tity Boi’s rise couldn’t have been predicted. In March 2012, Kanye broke the internet by dropping “Mercy,” the first single off G.O.O.D. Music’s forthcoming compilation album, Cruel Summer. Alongside Kanye, Big Sean, and Pusha-T, 2 Chainz’ inclusion on the track might have been puzzling. But it only took one listen of “Mercy” for every hip-hop head on the planet to wonder how we’d ever lived without him.
After exceptional verses from Big Sean, Pusha, and Ye, no less, 2 Chainz made his grand entrance, offering up a string of undeniable punchlines that described the coloring of his coupe and chain as mayonnaise and Akon, respectively. Even at a time before Instagram captions and memes had the culture in a stranglehold, 2 Chainz lyrics were inescapable. More than anything, though, in just 16 bars and one verse, a solo rap career had taken off in real time.
2013: Kendrick Lamar
Essential Guest Spots: Big Sean “Control,” Pusha-T “Nosestalgia,” ScHoolboy Q “Collard Greens,” A$AP Rocky “1Train” & "Fuckin' Problems”
Fresh off releasing 2012’s good kid, m.A.A.d city, Kendrick spent the next year cementing himself as the leader of the new school by running circles around his peers. After spitting the best verse alongside Drake and A$AP Rocky on “Fuckin' Problems,” he out-rapped a collection hip-hop’s breakout stars on “1Train,” arguably the best posse cut of the decade, which served as an unofficial introduction to rap’s rookie class with verses from Rocky, Kendrick, Joey Bada$$, Yelawolf, Danny Brown, Action Bronson, and Big K.R.I.T.
Both verses, along with Kendrick’s infectious display on Schoolboy Q’s “Collard Greens,” merely set the stage for what arrived that summer, which has gone on to define Kendrick’s career, if not the last decade in hip-hop. That moment, of course, is Kendrick’s verbal spectacle on “Control,” which saw the hottest rapper alive drop the mic on the entire rap game by claiming the King of New York title, challenging his peers (J. Cole, Big K.R.I.T., Wale, Pusha-T, Meek Mill, A$AP Rocky, Drake, Big Sean, Jay Electronica, Tyler, The Creator, and Mac Miller), and putting himself in the company of JAY-Z, Nas, Eminem, and André 3000.
2014: Young Thug
Essential Guest Spots: Rich Gang “Lifestyle,” T.I. “About the Money,” Tyga “Hookah,” Travis Scott “Mamacita,” Rae Sremmurd “Throw Some Mo”
Thugger’s mainstream breakthrough came at the tail-end of 2013 when he dropped “Danny Glover” right as he was riding high on the back of his first big mixtape, 1017 Thug, released that spring. But it wasn’t until the top of 2014 that Young Thug made his ascent. After his trademark warbling broke through to radio via Tyga’s “Hookah” And T.I.’s “About the Money,” Thug set the rap game on fire with the catchiest, most unexpected rap anthem of the decade: “Lifestyle.”
Calling “Lifestyle” a Young Thug feature seems ridiculous until you remember the hip-hop landscape it arrived in. When Birdman dropped the track as the first single from his supergroup, Rich Gang (comprised of Thug and Rich Homie Quan), the former was rising, sure, but the latter was already established as hip-hop’s hottest rookie thanks to top-10 single “Type of Way.” And so, if anything, “Lifestyle” was a Quan song featuring Thug, that is, until you heard it. With just one listen, it didn’t matter if you couldn’t decipher Thug’s ad-lib-laden language; like everyone else, you couldn’t help but attempt to sing along.
Essential Guest Spots: Big Sean “Blessings,” The Game “100,” Future “Where Ya At,” Nicki Minaj “Truffle Butter,” Meek Mill “R.I.C.O.”
The greatest calendar year in Drake’s decade-spanning reign is 2015, in large part because he owned the entire year, front to back, by submitting one of the most impressive 12-month runs in hip-hop history. He surprise-dropped the best rappity rap project of his career, If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, in February, put Meek Mill in a casket and defended his legacy with “Back to Back”－the best diss record since either “Takeover” or “Ether,” no less－in July, linked up with the second hottest rapper alive, Future, for What a Time to be Alive, in September, and watched “Hotline Bling” evolve from a hot leak to a chart-topping single by Halloween.
And yet, Drake’s greatest accomplishment of 2015 could be that, despite dropping two full-length projects and participating in the most important hip-hop beef since Nas-Jay, he still had time to put forth one of the best guest appearance runs of his career. Of the many great features Drake released that year, four are equally significant in hindsight: “Blessings,” released that January, gave us our first taste of the Villainous Drake that would highlight IYRTITL; in late June, “100” found a subdued Drake contemplating the feud that was set to pop off in one week’s time, before “R.I.C.O.” poured gasoline on the simmering flame; then, in July, “Where Ya At” gave us our first taste of the most unexpectedly brilliant collaborative album pairing in recent memory.
2016: Kendrick Lamar
Essential Guest Spots: Kanye West “No More Parties in LA,” Danny Brown “Really Doe,” DJ Khaled “Holy Key,” Beyoncé “Freedom,” Travis Scott “goosebumps”
Sure, 2013 features his best two guest appearances (“Control” and “Nosetalgia”), but 2016 is, bar for bar, the greatest feature run of his career. In fact, it’s not only one of the most consistent by any rapper this decade, but also one of the most diverse, as Kendrick contributed his vocals to 15 songs, ranging from deep cuts from album-of-the-year contender Beyoncé (“Freedom”), to prepackaged radio cuts from Sia (“The Greatest”) and Maroon 5 (“Don’t Wanna Know”), onto 2016’s mainstream breakout stars The Weeknd (“Sidewalks”) and Travis Scott (“goosebumps”).
Unsurprisingly, Kendrick saved his best verses for hip-hop’s elite. In between killing Kanye on “No More Parties in LA,” in January, and A Tribe Called Quest’s “Conrad Tokyo,” that November, Lamar offered up the best guest spots of the year during the summer of 2016. First, he bodied his Black Hippy counterparts on ScHoolboy Q’s “That Part” remix, then did laps around rival lyricists Danny Brown and Earl Sweatshirt on the former’s “Really Doe,” before ending the year with his best verse of 2016, crossing over Big Sean’s post-“Control” corpse on DJ Khaled’s “Holy Key.”
Essential Guest Spots: Gucci Mane “Met Gala,” Future & Young Thug “Patek Water,” Juicy J “Flood Watch,” Calvin Harris “Slide,” Ski Mask the Slump God “With a Vengeance”
Over the second half of 2016, Quavo, already the face of Migos, became the hottest guest star in hip-hop, by way of scene-stealing verses on Kanye’s posse cut “Champions,” Travis Scott’s then-biggest hit “pick up the phone,” and Lil Yachty’s breakout single “Minnesota,” among others. But 2017, from the jump, belonged to Offset. After crafting the hook and opening verse for Migos’ No. 1 smash “Bad and Boujee,” Offset was thrust into the spotlight, where he would establish himself as the most in-demand feature thanks to a collection of show-stealing guest verses.
Surprisingly, though, the verse that would kickstart his guest appearance blitz came on Calvin Harris’ 2017 song of the summer, “Slide.” Alongside the smoothest voice in music (Frank Ocean) and Quavo, Offset needed just 16 bars to display his pop sensibilities which, in turn, made him an A-lister in the process. From there, he solidified himself as the hottest rapper in hip-hop’s current Mecca, out-rapping the forefather of Atlanta, Gucci Mane, on “Met Gala,” before stealing “Patek Water” out from under the biggest ATLiens of his generation, Future and Young Thug, on their joint album SUPER SLIMEY.
Essential Guest Spots: Travis Scott “SICKO MODE,” BlocBoy JB “Look Alive,” Lil Baby “Yes Indeed,” Migos “Walk It Talk It,” Bad Bunny “MÍA,” Meek Mill “Going Bad,” Lil Baby & Gunna “Never Recover”
Fresh off surpassing The Beatles for most Hot 100 top-10 singles in a calendar year, Drake submitted his best heat-check performance of 2018 with his opening verse on Meek Mill’s “Going Bad.” By sending stray shots at Sir Paul (“I got more slaps than the Beatles"), Drake practically spoke his next hit into existence, as the song debuted at No. 6 on Billboard’s Hot 100 to give him his 13th top-10 song of the year.
While Drake’s dominance in 2018 will be remembered for the success of Scorpion, which produced three straight Hot 100 No. 1s (“God’s Plan,” “Nice For What,” and “In My Feelings”), and four more top 10 singles (“Nonstop,” “I’m Upset,” “Don’t Matter to Me,” and “Mob Ties”), his guest appearance blitz has been equally impressive. Even for someone who’s amassed enough features to fill a greatest hits project, Drake’s never thrived in a supporting role as he did in 2018.
Of his 10 guest spots last year, five of them peaked inside the Top 10 of Billboard’s Hot 100 (“Look Alive,” “Yes Indeed,” “Walk It Talk It,” “MÍA,” “Going Bad”), and four climbed into the Top 20 (“Never Recover,” “Flip the Switch,” “No Stylist,” and “Bigger Than You”). And yet, the track which has the best Drake feature this year—and is arguably the best Drake song of 2018, no less—is one on which he’s an uncredited vocalist, which is a moot point given that Drake bodied “SICKO MODE” while batting in both the lead-off and clean-up spots.
If you packaged Drake’s best guest spots of 2018 with Scorpion’s six singles, you’d have a 12-track album of straight hits—the Thriller for hip-hop’s king of streaming. Thankfully, Apple Music and Spotify will allow this hypothetical LP to live on forever.
- “God’s Plan”
- “SICKO MODE”
- “Look Alive”
- “Yes Indeed”
- “Never Recover”
- “Mob Ties”
- “Going Bad”
- “Walk It Talk It”
- “Nice For What”
- “In My Feelings”