Over the past few years, Young Thug has cemented his status as the best pop guest rapper alive. Similar to previous rappers who’ve worn the pop feature crown (late-’90s Ma$e, early-’00s Ja Rule, late-’00s Lil Wayne), Thug’s made his mark in pop-rap with a spree of stellar guest spots. But whereas his predecessors hijacked songs on the strength of scene-stealing rap verses, Thugger does so by way of his unique, infectious melodies.
If you’ve followed Young Thug’s pop-leaning journey over the past five or so years, there’s a good chance you’re familiar with his soundscape—where anything and everything can be a refrain, melodies are stacked on top of melodies, and micro-hooks are hidden inside of hooks. As such, it’s hardly surprising that Thug has swiped so many songs out from under pop stars with such ease. The only surprising thing, then, is that the masses don't wholly recognize his pop sensibilities.
With no disrespect to the shining pop moments peppered throughout Thug’s solo catalog (“Keep In Touch,” “Love Me Forever,” “Killed Before,” “High”), his greatest pop gestures have come in the form of features. These records are where Thugger proves that he can rap over anything and sound at home, where he shows more range than most pop artists, and where he understands song structure better than anyone.
In praise of Young Thug, the perfect pop guest rapper, here are Pop Thugger’s 10 best features.
10. Wyclef Jean ft. Young Thug, “I Swear” (2016)
Sparkling as bright as the aquamarine waters of the South Pacific, “I Swear” sounds like it belongs in a Royal Caribbean commercial—only with Wyclef’s crooning and Thugger’s warbling in place of your standard voiceover. Backed by surfy synth splashes, the ATL rapper’s voice feels like sunshine on the skin and sounds like waves crashing on the beach. It’s a forgotten gem in the Pop Thugger canon, and more importantly, proof positive that a half-assed Young Thug feature is more entertaining than most rappers’ best guest spots.
9. DJ Snake ft. Young Thug, Jeremih & Swizz Beatz, “The Half” (2016)
After Young Thug snapped on 2015’s song of the summer, Jamie xx’s “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times),” the EDM floodgates opened, leading to his collaboration with superproducer DJ Snake. An underrated deep cut from the French DJ’s 2016 album Encore, “The Half” might not have owned summer 2016 like “Good Times” did the previous year, but the track proved Thug’s versatility in his ability to sound at home over any beat he raps on. Backed by EDM synth jabs and video game bloops, the ATL rapper outshined Jeremih with a closing verse that remains one of the bright spots on Snake’s half-baked album.
8. Jeremih ft. Young Thug, Chance the Rapper & The Weeknd, “Pass Dat (Remix)” (2016)
When Jeremih enlisted The Weeknd and Chance the Rapper to hop on the remix to his 2016 hit, “Pass Dat,” it wasn’t wrong to expect that Young Thug would take a backseat to the song’s other featured stars. Instead, Pop Thugger laced the R&B star with the track’s best guest spot, mimicking Jeremih’s cadence all while putting his own twist on the song’s catchy refrain with his unique vocals.
7. Usher ft. Young Thug, “No Limit” (2016)
Instead of trying to upstage the King of R&B on the strength of his unique vocals, Young Thug opted for ad-libs and a semi-generic rap verse on Usher’s 2016 radio staple, “No Limit.” This isn’t to say that the effort turned out to be a bad thing. In fact, on the heels of several unconventional guest appearances, Thug’s performance here was refreshing. As soon as he swoops in for the song’s closing spot, he steals the show by keeping in pocket which, for Thugger, means stacking melodies on top of melodies and switching gears multiple times throughout a 24-bar verse.
6. Post Malone ft. Young Thug, “Goodbyes” (2019)
On Post Malone’s recent single, Young Thug opens his verse by mimicking the pop star’s flow, but only for the first four bars. Five seconds later, Thug raises his voice 10 octaves and delivers the rest of his verse from this seemingly unnatural scale. Once he shows off this range—which we often forget he possesses—Thugger’s verse becomes heart-wrenchingly beautiful, if not unforgettable. The latest song to grab a spot in our top 10, “Goodbyes” reminds us that Young Thug is an unprecedented talent. And when it comes to the collection of crossover stars who’ve mastered the art of blending rapping and singing, he’s in a league of his own.
5. The Weeknd ft. Young Thug & A$AP Rocky, “Reminder (Remix)” (2017)
When we look back at this decade in music, we will remember Drake as the rapper who alternated between singing and rapping better than anyone. As for the artist who best merges the genres of R&B and hip-hop, that would be The Weeknd. As such, it’s incredibly impressive that Young Thug hijacked the remix to the Toronto singer’s hit single, “Reminder,” by beating him at his own game—the intersection of pop and rap. Even more, Thugger was able to accomplish this feat on the song’s opening verse, using his opponent’s flow to boot. As a result, you can’t listen to this track without wondering about the heights Thug would have already reached if given a platform as big as The Weeknd’s.
4. Frank Ocean ft. Young Thug, “Slide On Me (Remix)” (2017)
Right when we thought Frank Ocean cemented his status as the king of pop-rap, Young Thug gave us second thoughts on the remix to “Slide On Me,” a standout track from Ocean’s 2016 visual album, Endless. Hitting the internet nearly a year after the album was released, Thug’s verse reminded us that, when it comes to stretching the boundaries of hip-hop, he’s worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as Frank. In tapping into his familiar croons and jazz-like melodies, the ATL rapper spends the first half of his extensive verse discussing the ways people have underestimated him throughout his career. The highlight, though, comes during the second half, right around the 1:20 mark. He mirrors Ocean’s delivery, then settles into a braggadocious rap flow, before closing his verse by going back to the same cadence he opened with. If the ‘Young Thug Has More Range Than Most Pop Stars Club’ used this song when trying to land new members, the bandwagon would be full.
3. Calvin Harris ft. Young Thug, Pharrell & Ariana Grande, “Heatstroke” (2017)
Released a month after “Slide”—the instant classic first single from Calvin Harris’ 2017 album Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1—“Heatstroke” didn’t stand a chance in the shadow of the Frank Ocean-led, Migos-featuring pop posse cut. Was “Slide” a better song? Yes. But there’s simply no denying that “Heatstroke” was home to the superior guest appearance. For as great as Frank’s hook, Quavo’s bridge, and Offset’s star-making verse are on “Slide,” Calvin Harris got the absolute most out of Young Thug, who swiped “Heatstroke” out from under the superproducer, not to mention a pop star (Ariana Grande) and hook killer (Pharrell), with two perfect, warbling verses. That Thug came this close to topping his career-defining pop feature (Jamie xx’s “Good Times”) on another summer anthem, tells you everything about his potential: No pop song, EDM beat, or cast of superstars is capable of outshining Pop Thugger when he’s in his bag.
2. Swae Lee ft. Young Thug, “Offshore” (2018)
Don’t complicate matters: While Swae Lee made a name for himself by dropping club banger after club banger as one-half of Rae Sremmurd, his debut album, 2018’s Swaecation, is bubblegum pop, and its centerpiece, “Offshore,” is pure yacht rock. In other words, yes, Young Thug’s shape-shifting verse on “Offshore” qualifies as a pop feature. More than anything, though, it contains arguably the best guest spot of his career—right up there with his features on T.I.’s “About the Money,” Meek Mill’s “We Ball,” and Drake’s “Sacrifices”—if not his greatest verse period. Either way, Thugger’s two-minute-plus guest spot is a perfect example of the rarefied air he breathes when given complete control over ear candy production like this one.
1. Jamie xx ft. Young Thug & Popcaan, “I Know There’s Gonna Be Good Times” (2015)
The final version of “I Know There’s Gonna Be Good Times” is nothing short of perfection. However, the Popcaan-less original leak—which hit the internet one week earlier in May 2015—is superior for one glaring reason: Young Thug’s verses are flipped. And so, you knew you were listening to an instant classic as soon as Thugger opened the song with his amazing line, “I’ma ride in that pussy like a stroller.” Even more, it felt like you were witnessing a rising talent become a full-scale pop star in real-time, as the ATL rapper leveled up with each subsequent warble. Five years on, “I Know There’s Gonna Be Good Times” remains the moment that hip-hop birthed the genre’s latest crossover megastar: Pop Thugger.