The first half of 2017 has been lacking outstanding guest verses. All the great lyricists haven’t been doing features so it’s been up to the less lyrical guys to step forward. With that in mind, this list isn’t ranked solely on who had the best bars. My criteria includes: quotability, flow, charisma, memorability, wheel-up value – and most importantly, personal preference. Another thing to note: this list is short of UK verses, mainly because all the guys who dropped albums (Nines, Stormzy) chose to go full-solo and not feature other MCs, nor has the work rate been up to scratch for other MCs such as Skepta, Wiley and Kano, all of whom dropped albums already. The UK’s solo work has been great, but not so much on the guest verse side. And even though there’s been plenty of underground features it’s all been within the drill wave.
So here’s my top 10 favourite guest verses of the year so far:
10. Travis Scott: “Kelly Price” (Migos)
Readopting the stop-&-start flow used on “beibs in the trap”, it’s a simple yet effective verse by Travis which fits the hypnotising beat well. Plus there’s a handful of quotables off the verse as well.
We been rockin’, geekin’, goin’ all night (skrt skrt)
Treat my Lambo like a Fisher Price, yeah, yeah
I can never let her spend the night
Woke up, cocaine all in my hair, thought it was lice, yeah, yeah
9. Quavo: “Portland” (Drake)
The first of quite a few guest verses off More Life that washed Drake on his own songs. Quavo smashed everyone on “Portland”, from the hook to the verse. It’s not just the flow that’s good, his rhyme’s not bad on here either, showcasing that he can use double rhymes which no one credits him for (“class rules”–”last move”).
(Quavo) Young nigga, I invented you
Ike Turner with the left hand (Ike)
Griselda Blanco with the trap moves
Gangland with the right hand
Undertaker with the tattoos
Never listen to the class rules
Switch it up, they bit the last move
8. Frank Ocean: “RAF V1” (A$AP Mob)
Who’d have thought the singer would wash all the rappers on the same song? Version 1 of “RAF” contains the better of Frank Ocean’s alternate verses. It’s a surprise but he raps very well, dropping references to how he’s freshly independent and cuts his own cheques (“Ain’t no middleman cut in my blessings”). Wouldn’t mind more 16s from him if they’re this good.
Ain’t no executives flexin’ my blessings
Ain’t no middleman cut in my blessings
I got all of this flick for the Lord’s worship
You ain’t slammin’, got the Asperger’s
I’ma drag that nigga, he deserve it
I’ma read his ass like a LaBeija
Anna Wintour cool with my mama
And it’s winter fool, need a bomber
7. Eminem: “No Favors” (Big Sean)
This verse is a blessing and a curse. Eminem does what he does best; he brings the wordplay, multisyllabic rhymes and rhyme patterns and the controversial one-liners. At some points it doesn’t sound like his bars and fast delivery match the beat but the lyricism is undeniable. Main problem is that he’s not sticking to the topic of the song so it doesn’t earn any points for content. If he stuck to the subject this could have been verse of the year.
So ahead of my time, “late” means I’m early
My age is reversing, I’m basically thirty
Amazingly sturdy, zany and wordy
Brainy and nerdy, blatantly dirty
Insanely perverted, rapey and scurvy
6. ScHoolboy Q: “Rockabye Baby” (Joey Bada$$)
Here’s an example of a guest verse that actually stays on topic. Q comes in and owns “Rockabye Baby” with the conscious bars. Probably the most thought-provoking bar of the verse is “Getting millions, influencin’ white children / And oddly, we still ain’t even”. The verse is telling of the racial climate of America which matches Q’s aggressive delivery.
No phone call accepted in weeks
Your son picked up on your beef, real shit
From gettin’ lynched in field into ownin’ buildings
Getting millions, influencin’ white children
And oddly we still ain’t even
Still a small percentage of blacks that’s eating
Same routines, the same dope fiends
5. Kendrick Lamar: “Mask Off (Remix)” (Future)
Kendrick Lamar and Future. It’s an odd pairing, but Kendrick shows that he rap on virtually any beat. Kendrick always comes through with the strangest delivery on a lot of verses, but manages to make it work because he’s Kendrick. It’s refreshing to hear him on his braggadocios shit (“Kung Fu Kenny with the Midas touch”) and reminding everyone that he’s still running the game. “Everybody who didn’t pay respect / Gotta ‘fess up now and pay your debts”.
Platinum, platinum, platinum
Gotta look at self and ask what happened
How y’all let a conscious nigga go commercial while only makin’ conscious albums?
How y’all let the braids on TV?
How y’all let the hood at the table?
Now y’all don’t even know how to rate him
4. Devlin: “Holy Grime” (Wiley)
Devlin – a forgotten British wordsmith who has the talent to go bar for bar with any MC. Often labelled “the Eminem of the UK” he delivers one of the best UK verses of the year over booming grime instrumentation, offering the whole package of flow, lyricism and delivery. Him and this song (and Wiley) aren’t considered relevant to the current UK scene, however Devlin is true grime when he wants to be whether anybody’s listening or not.
This one ain’t free but it’s the liberty
Street divinity, me and Will’s tyranny
And this one’s willin’ me to rise like Pyrenees peaks and I’m lyrically
In the sky and then I’m ridin’ through infinity
Forever after, Devz be the master
Hit ’em with the Corleone ting, Godfather of grime
Don’t charter to ride through parts of
This precinct when it gets darker
Gettin’ off like Dahmer, I come and I kill it
A Dagenham’er strapped with a bunch of lyrics
That bang harder, where the fuck’s the gimmicks? There ain’t nada
I’ve got the heart and spirit they can’t harbor
Silly men pass the limit and then scarper
When it comes on top with the urban legend, I get ’em like Carter
3. Giggs: “No Long Talk” (Drake)
Another More Life guest verse that outshines Drake’s. Giggs owns “No Long Talk”, of which the beat easily matches his deep delivery. The “Man gets” motif of bars are heavily memorable and only Giggs is capable of making you repeat the lines word for word and feel the energy and aggression for yourself. Giggs switches his flow three times across the 24, renewing your interest and keeping things fresh. The cadence with the double rhymes (see below) literally flows so smoothly that you automatically have to rap along and engage in the aggression (“MAC-10 and the spesh flies and the TEC slide”).
I’m on the best side, got the TEC lined
In the whip, on the left side, on a death ride
MAC-10 and the spesh flies, and the TEC slide
Nutty shit like somethin’ just climbed out the X-Files
Textbook, like it’s old school, like in textiles
Lighty, lookin’ healthy and she gets smiles
Home time, grab a quick drink and she gets wild
Sexy, and I rate that and her sex style
2. Giggs: “KMT” (Drake)
Fuck what the Americans say, Giggs came through with the most quotable 16 of the year (and becomes the fourth feature on this list to spin Drake out his OVO Jordan 12’s). Every bar is a quotable as Giggs raps in a catchy rhyme scheme. The flow is signature Giggs, its notable usage being on 2016’s “Whippin’ Excursion” (“Grab it and swerve it, turn it, grab it and burn it”). It pops off at shows, especially for the closing bar (“Batman, da-nana-da-na”) which is a remix of his line off Jme’s “Man Don’t Care”. It sounds like a simplistic verse at first, but if you know Giggs then you know that he has a way of making it work.
(Also, see my post on “Why Giggs’ “KMT” Verse Isn’t Whack“)
Bringin’ that dirty-dirty, bringin’ that certi
Mizzy with the quick extension, ringin’ off thirty
I’ve got bitches in the merky, swervin’, lookin’ all curvy
And you already know I love them breasts, lookin’ all perky
Lookin’ all Christmas gift-wrapped, lookin’ all turkey
Spen jumped out the Ghost in a suit, lookin’ all churchy
Fingers all itchin’, twitchin’, lookin’ all jerky
Whippin’ that white girl, cookin’ that Cersei
I was pushin’ that dark shit, pushin’ that charcoal
Now this is that big bad, this is Gustavo
Look at them jokers, look at that arsehole
Man are gettin’ bread now, and this is that hard dough
Clap man, dominant murder
I’m a black man, government earner
Could’ve just slapped man, but he wanted it further
1. Young Thug: “Sacrifices” (Drake)
Rounding off the (More Life features) list is none other than Young Thug. The master of modern rap creativity. Thinking back to 2013’s “Lifestyle”, I couldn’t have ever imagined that I would have crowned him Best Guest Verse of the Year, but here we are. The most striking thing about the verse is how clear Thug’s annunciation is. His delivery is the clearest I’ve ever heard it. Just like Giggs the repeatability of the bars is what’s so infectious. That aside, let me explain why this verse isn’t just catchy but is technically brilliant. The “I’m talkin” motif is incredibly effective as Thug pairs up the motif with basic yet quotable wordplay and the contrasts he creates between every bar (“Growin’ up I was a running back / You never made me ran once”). There’s an abundance of similes and homophones (“I’m talkin Rolls like a belly”), the simplicity of which makes the bars so memorable and quotable.
This is why it’s on top of my favourite guest verses of 2017 – so far.
Like the President, I kill ’em neat
I’m talkin’ neat like freak
I’m talkin’ neat like fleek
I’m talkin’ neat like a geek
You come with beef, I eat a B
I’m talkin’ B’s, spellin’ bee