In a competitive arena ruled by alpha-dogs and kings, the guest verse carries a legendary level of significance in the rap game: it has the power to make careers (like Nas’ appearance on “Live at the BBQ” and AZ’s opening verse on “Life’s a Bitch”), alter hip-hop’s pecking order (see Eminem on “Renegade,” Kanye West on “Run This Town”), tease a forthcoming reign (a la The Notorious B.I.G. on “Flava In Ya Ear,” Lil Wayne on “We Takin’ Over”), or remind listeners of a legend’s past dominance (i.e. JAY-Z on “Diamonds From Sierra Leone,” André 3000 on “Int’l Players Anthem”).
When it comes to the greatest feature killers in hip-hop history, some guest stars enforce their dominance by bodying lead artists on their own shit, while others are known for their ability to transform subpar songs into chart-topping smash hits; this group, especially, is proof of the Midas touch: everything they touch turns to platinum.
There’s nothing in hip-hop more exciting than witnessing a rapper have the juice, the stretches when it feels like they’re operating in a constant heat-check. And so, it’s time we honor these legends by ranking the 15 best guest rapper hot streaks since 2000.
15. Ja Rule (2002)
Essential Features: Jennifer Lopez’s 2001 hit, “I’m Real,” “Ain’t It Funny,” Fat Joe’s “What’s Luv?,” Irv Gotti’s “Down 4 U,” Mary J. Blige’s “Rainy Dayz”
We all remember the famous line from JAY-Z’s 2002 single “Excuse Me Miss”: “The only dudes moving unit－Em, Pimp Juice, and us.” Of course, Jigga’s failure to mention Ja Rule in the same breath as the greatest rapper of all-time (himself), the best rapper alive (Eminem), and the most popular rapper on the planet (Nelly), was not done by mistake. At the time, Irv Gotti’s Murder Inc. was the only threat to Roc-A-Fella’s title as the most powerful label in the rap game, and Ja Rule was busy cementing his case as the King of New York.
Entering 2002, Ja was the hottest rapper alive. Over the preceding two years, he became one of the top-selling hip-hop artists on the back of two multi-Platinum LPs (2000’s Rule 3:36 and 2001’s Pain Is Love), and four top 10 hits on Billboard’s Hot 100 (“Between Me and You,” “Put It On Me,” “Livin It Up,” “Always On Time”) as a lead artist. But it was as a guest rapper where he shined; and in 2002, Ja strengthened his hold on the pop charts with scene-stealing guest spots on three of the year’s biggest tracks: back-to-back No. 1s with J. Lo, “I’m Real” and “Ain’t It Funny,” and a collaboration with Fat Joe (“What’s Luv?”) that peaked at No. 2 on the Hot 100.
14. Quavo (2016)
Essential Features: Travis Scott’s “Pick Up the Phone,” Lil Yachty’s “Minnesota (Remix),” Kanye West’s “Champions,” Young Thug’s “F Cancer,” 2 Chainz’ “Good Drank”
If a guest rapper hot streak is equal parts quantity and quality, it’s obvious which end of the spectrum Quavo sits at; and in 2016, no rapper was more prolific than Huncho. Over that calendar year, he guest-starred on nearly 50 tracks, alongside the likes of hip-hop A-listers who proved to be no match to him.
Following his spectacular verse on Young Thug’s “F Cancer,” that January, Quavo set out on a spree of stellar features: he kicked-off Kanye’s posse cut “Champions” with a spectacular cold open; closed the best hip-hop song of Summer ‘16, Travis Scott’s “Pick Up the Phone,” with the track’s winning verse; handled hook duties on DJ Mustard’s underrated anthem, “Want Her;” contributed fantastic but overlooked guest verses to Meek Mill’s “The Difference” and Ty Dolla Sign’s “Long Time;” outshined 2 Chainz and Gucci Mane on the former’s “Good Drank;” helped raise Post Malone’s clout with his guest appearance on “Congratulations;” and had the best verses on star-studded remixes (Lil Yachty’s “Minnesota” and YFN Lucci’s Keys to the Streets”).
By the close of 2016, Quavo had minted himself not only the leading man of Migos but a star in his own right.
13. J. Cole (2018)
Essential Features: Royce Da 5’9”’s “Boblo Boat,” 6LACK’s “Pretty Little Fears,” Wale’s “My Boy (Freestyle),” J.I.D.’s “Off Deez,” 21 Savage’s “a lot”
If we were ranking our rappers based on the Midas Touch Efficiency scale－i.e. how many songs they hijacked divided by how many guest spots they amassed that year－J. Cole might be the only rapper who checks out at 100 percent. Last year, Carolina’s Finest stole all 12 songs he featured on by simply out-rapping his co-stars; an impressive feat considering he appeared alongside rappity rappers such as Royce Da 5’9,” Jay Rock, Wale, and J.I.D., among others. The reason he doesn’t rank higher: his 2018 run－which includes a handful of verses that will go down as the best features of his career－lacks a defining guest spot that will be remembered 20 years from now.
12. T.I. (2004)
Essential Features: Bone Crusher’s 2003 hit “Never Scared,” Ciara’s “Goodies (Remix),” Young Buck’s “Stomp,” 8Ball & MJG’s “Look at the Grillz,” Destiny’s Child’s “Soldier,” Lil Jon’s “Grand Finale”
In 2003, T.I. grabbed the torch from Ludacris－who had recently supplanted André 3000, who had held the crown from ‘94 to ‘02－as the face of Atlanta’s hip-hop scene on the back of his second LP, Trap Muzik, which produced an endless array of classics (“24s,” “Rubberband Man,” “Be Easy”). Arguably T.I.’s crowning moment of 2003, though, came on Bone Crusher’s “Never Scared,” which saw T.I.P. deliver one of the greatest verses of all-time.
Fresh off solidifying his tough-guy persona alongside Bone Crusher and Killer Mike, T.I.－the most underrated feature killer ever－peaked as both a guest rapper and solo artist in 2004. He displayed pop crossover potential by featuring on Ciara’s “Goodies” and Destiny’s Child’s “Soldier;” held his own against Twista on “Look at the Grillz;” and did laps around the competition on posse cuts like “Stomp,” “Grand Finale,” and “End of the Road.”
11. Kanye West (2009)
Essential Features: JAY-Z’s “Run This Town,” Clipse’s “Kinda Like a Big Deal,” Kid Cudi’s “Make Her Say,” Rick Ross’ “Maybach Music 2,” Drake’s “Forever”
If we were ranking the best two-year stretches for a guest rapper, Kanye’s run from 2008 to 2009 would slot near the top. In 2008, he carried Estelle’s “American Boy” into the top 10 of the Hot 100, bodied his feature on Young Jeezy’s “Put On,” and went toe-to-toe with the best rapper alive, Lil Wayne, on “Lollipop (Remix);” and yet, his spree of guest spots in 2009 is superior.
During the summer that would crest with his Taylor Swift-directed rant at the ‘09 VMAs, Kanye was red hot, out-rapping peers JAY-Z (“Run This Town”), Pusha-T (“Kinda Like a Big Deal”), Rick Ross (“Maybach Music 2”) and charting the course for hip-hop’s next generation (Drake, on “Forever,” and Kid Cudi, on “Make Her Say”), all while collaborating with R&B/Pop artists like Beyonce (“Ego (Remix)”), The-Dream (“Walkin’ On the Moon”), and Keri Hilson (“Knock You Down”).
10. Kendrick Lamar (2013)
Essential Features: A$AP Rocky’s “Fuckin Problems,” “1 Train,” ScHoolboy Q’s “Collard Greens,” Big Sean’s “Control,” Pusha-T’s “Nosestalgia”
Fresh off releasing 2012’s good kid, m.A.A.d city, Kendrick spent the next year cementing himself as the leader of the new school by running circles around his peers. After spitting the best verse on A$AP Rocky's “Fuckin' Problems,” he out-rapped a collection hip-hop’s breakout stars on “1 Train,” 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,” 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, and putting himself in the company of JAY-Z, Nas, Eminem, and André 3000.
9. Ludacris (2002)
Essential Features: Lil Jon & The Eastside Boyz 2001’s “Bia Bia,” Jermaine Dupri’s “Welcome to Atlanta,” Trina’s “B R Right,” Missy Elliott’s “Gossip Folks,” “One Minute Man”
It’s easy to overlook Ludacris’ earth-shattering run in the early-’00s, for it coincided with JAY-Z and Eminem’s respective apexes, not to mention Nelly and Ja Rule, who also peaked at the same time as Luda, and had an equally strong stranglehold on the radio and pop charts. Still, there was a three-year window from 2001 to 2003 when everything Ludacris touched went platinum.
Inside of this stretch was 2002, the year Luda solidified his status as the best guest rapper on the planet. Operating at the peak of his powers, the then-King of the South brought his rowdy attitude to every feature, cementing Atlanta as Hip-Hop’s Southern Mecca on “Welcome to Atlanta,” with a verse that remains arguably the greatest of his career; rapping circles around Missy Elliott for the second time in a row on “Gossip Folks;” and proving that no one in the rap game was immune to his wrath, not even Trina, who witnessed Luda steal her track right out from under her, on “B R Right.”
8. Eminem (2000)
Essential Features: The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Dead Wrong,” Dr. Dre’s “Forgot About Dre,” “What’s the Difference,” Outsidaz’ “Rush Ya Clique,” The Madd Rapper’s “Stir Crazy,” Xzibit’s “Don’t Approach Me”
After asserting himself as the hottest rapper alive on the back of his proper debut album, 1999’s The Slim Shady LP, Eminem already had the juice; but at the turn of the century, he raised his game to another level with a run of features that put his peers on notice. If the rest of hip-hop hadn’t already accepted his position in the rap game’s pecking order, they did during the first quarter of 2000, as Em offered up a handful of guest verses that, in hindsight, represent the beginning of his apex－which would culminate in his magnum opus that spring, The Marshall Mathers LP.
7. 50 Cent (2004)
Essential Features: Lil Kim’s 2003 hit, “Magic Stick,” The Game’s “Westside Story,” “How We Do,” “Hate It or Love It,” Eminem’s “Encore”
It’s impossible to overstate 50 Cent’s impact on pop-culture in 2004. His stranglehold on hip-hop began with his 2003 debut studio album, Get Rich or Die Tryin, but it the following summer when he proved he was no one-year wonder. Sure, we knew 50 was a walking hit－as evidenced by his chart-topping singles “In Da Club” and “21 Questions”－but we didn’t know if his Midas touch extended beyond his work as a solo artist until the summer of 2003, when he resurrected Lil Kim’s dormant career with “Magic Stick;” equipped with a catchy hook courtesy of Fif, the song climbed to No. 2 on the Hot 100.
From there, 50 became the most powerful co-sign in hip-hop, as he single-handedly made The Game a household name by guest-starring on the Compton rapper’s first three singles－“Westside Story,” “How We Do,” and “Hate It or Love It”－the last two of which peaked inside the top five of the Hot 100. Sure, his catalog of features in 2004 isn’t as great, let alone prolific, as many other MCs in our top 15, but its legacy is undeniable: in 2004, a guest appearance from 50 had the power to give any no-name rapper a Platinum plaque.
6. JAY-Z (2000)
Essential Features: Ja Rule's 1999’s album cut “It’s Murda,” Mariah Carey's “Heartbreaker,” Timbaland's “Lobster & Scrimp,” Mya’s “Best of Me (Part 2),” Memphis Bleek’s “Is That Your Chick,” “Do My…,” Amil’s “4 Da Fam,” Scarface’s “Get Out”
JAY-Z entered the new millennium as the best rapper alive (for the first time in his career) after escaping the shadow of Biggie, and supplanting his closest rival DMX, with back-to-back No. 1 albums (1998’s Vol 2… Hard Knock Life and 1999’s Vol. 3 Life and Times of S. Carter). And yet, he saved some of his best flexing for guest verses, an endless array of stellar features in which he out-rapped his biggest threats (Ja Rule, on “It’s Murda,” DMX, on “Blackout”), all while showing off his pop sensibilities next to the Queen of Pop, Mariah Carey, on “Heartbreaker,” which earned him his first No. 1 record.
Entering heat-check territory, Jay continued his hot streak in 2000. Although the year lacks a verse that’s worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as some of his greatest features－a la “Diamonds Are Forever,” “Blackout,” “Young G’s,” “Guess Who’s Back,” “Go Crazy”－it’s the best guest run of his career for a different reason: It represents the GOAT at the absolute peak of his powers, at a moment when Jay was so hot that he could make songs by Roc-A-Fella artists like Memphis Bleek and Amil can’t-miss records off the power of one verse.
5. Drake (2012)
Essential Features: Rick Ross’ “Stay Schemin,” French Montana’s “Pop That,” 2 Chainz’ “No Lie,” Meek Mill’s “Amen,” Kendrick Lamar’s “Poetic Justice”
While a few rappers have produced hot streaks that are more iconic, thus rank higher in our top 15, arguably no rapper has delivered a spree of guest spots more consistently excellent than the stretch Drake strung together in 2012.
By 2012, Drake had already fulfilled the prophecy Lil Wayne put forth on Birdman’s 2009 single “Money to Blow”－“We gon’ be alright if we put Drake on every hook”－as he killed hooks on “I’m On One,” Rick Ross’ “Aston Martin Music,” Timbaland’s “Say Something,” and Wayne’s “She Will,” among others. But it wasn’t until 2012 that he started killing rappers on their own shit. As if his career-making verses on “Stay Schemin” and “Pop That” weren’t enough, Drake made the hottest up-and-coming stars in the rap game bow down, as he hijacked 2 Chainz’ “No Lie,” Kendrick’s “Poetic Justice,” A$AP Rocky’s “Fuckin Problem,” and Meek Mill’s “Amen.”
4. André 3000 (2007)
Essential Features: Rich Boy’s “Throw Some D’s (Remix),” UGK’s “Int’l Players Anthem (I Choose You),” Devin the Dude’s “What a Job,” JAY-Z’s “30 Something (Remix),” DJ Drama’s “The Art of Storytellin’ Part 4”
By 2007, we were seven or so years removed from André 3000’s apex, which began with 1996’s ATLiens, peaked with 1998’s Aquemini, and ended on 2000’s Stankonia. Even worse, it was four years since André’s last great project (2003’s The Love Below), and only one since OutKast dropped the confused mess of an album that was Idlewild. In other words, it was safe to argue that André was declining, if not on the verge of being completely washed; this, of course, made his revival in 2007 that much more pleasurable.
Over the course of that calendar year, André had the juice, but more importantly, for the first time in years, he was rapping his ass off. The 31-year-old legend unexpectedly popped up on remixes to a pair of the year’s biggest hits, “Walk It Out” and “Throw Some Ds,” bodying up-and-coming southern hip-hop acts, Unk and Rich Boy, respectively; waxed poetic alongside Snoop Dogg on Devin the Dude’s “What a Job;” made light work of JAY-Z on the remix to “30 Something,” a cut off his 2006 LP Kingdom Come; then, of course, submitted the greatest feature of his career－if not the best verse he’s ever laid to wax, period－on UGK’s “Int’l Players Anthem,” with a cold open that remains one of the greatest guest spots in rap history.
3. Nicki Minaj (2010)
Essential Features: Ludacris’ “My Chick Bad,” Usher’s “Lil Freak,” Trey Songz’ “Bottoms Up,” Drake’s “Up All Night,” Kanye West’s “Monster”
Nicki 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 R&B (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.
2. 2 Chainz (2012)
Essential Features: Kanye West’s “Mercy,” “The Morning,” “The One,” Nicki Minaj’s “Beez in the Trap,” The Game’s “Ali Bomaye”
The rise of the artist formerly known as Tity Boi 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.
Following his star turn on “Mercy,” 2 Chainz continued his hot streak by contributing scene-stealing features to two more cuts off Cruel Summer (“The Morning,” “The One”); going toe-to-toe with Nicki Minaj on “Beez In The Trap,” which featured some of the best rapping of Minaj’s career, no less; and opening “Ali Bomaye” with a cinematic verse filled with slick wordplay (“Gentleman attire, in threads that won't expire / I'm in a class of my own, my teacher got fired”).
1. Lil Wayne (2007)
Essential Features: DJ Khaled’s “We Takin’ Over,” Lloyd’s “You,” Playaz Circle’s “Duffle Bag Boy,” Birdman’s “Pop Bottles,” Wyclef Jean’s “Sweetest Girl”
In 2007, you couldn’t turn on the radio without hearing Lil Wayne’s free-flowing, metaphorical wordplay. Even more, the age-old quantity vs. quality discussion was deemed irrelevant by his ability to hijack songs from A-listers on every guest spot imaginable.
He single-handedly revived Birdman’s "recording career" with a scene-stealing verse on “Pop Bottles;” pushed Playaz Circle, and more importantly, 2 Chainz, into the mainstream with his hook on “Duffle Bag Boy”; displayed his unparalleled skill to mesh with Pop/R&B Artists, by way of Lloyd’s “You” and Wyclef & Akon’s “Sweetest Girl”; and solidified his case as the “Best Rapper Alive” on DJ Khaled’s posse cut, “We Takin’ Over.”
By the end of 2007, Lil’ Wayne was undisputedly the hottest MC in hip-hop, but more importantly, the best feature killer in the history of the rap game.