20 Songs Where Rappers Got Outshined by Guests (1991-2013)
In hip-hop, the guest feature can serve a wide variety of purposes and often many simultaneously.
There are times when the host rapper is playing armchair A&R with the goal of putting on a close friend who typically has few songs to his or her name. Other times, the complete opposite occurs -- some unknown comes on the scene with a verse or chorus from a buzzing or high-profile artist. There is also the posse cut, wherein an MC gathers everyone he or she can to contribute to (usually) a remix that gets decent radio play or Internet attention and then fizzles. And in some cases, a rapper is simply trying to get the right voice to add a specific element to a track that calls for more than just solo-dolo bars.
In addition to there being numerous variables within the structure of guest features, there are just as many different outcomes that can occur once the track is laid to tape. Does the guest fit the track? Is he or she phoning it in? Is the appearance even necessary? Or, even worse, did the guest completely outshine his or her host?
Indeed, we imagine that it’s not the greatest feeling when, as an MC, you release a track and everyone is going ham over the other rapper’s verse. This is what we like to call “when guest features go awry” or, if you like to quote Nas’ vicious Jay Z diss track ‘Ether,’ “getting murdered on your own s--t.” After hearing Kendrick Lamar absolutely obliterated the competition on Big Sean’s recent non-album cut, ‘Control,’ we looked back to other examples in hip-hop history when rappers got bodied by their guests.
Note: The following list is in chronological order.
During the recording of Main Source’s ‘Live At The Barbeque,’ you get the feeling that someone had to know they were witnessing the birth of a rap GOAT when Nas spit his verse at the age of 17. Armed with some of his rawest rhymes to date, the Queensbridge native loaded his bars with grimy, timeless quotables that are still relevant today. In about a minute’s time, he details snuffing Jesus when he was 12, kidnapping the president’s wife, being iller than an AIDS patient, and murdering police. And that’s not even the full extent of his fury. When he raps “I was trapped in a cage and let out by the Main Source,” you really believe it.
Beat drops generally signify the portion of a track when you sit down and listen up to ensure that nary a moment slips by your ear. Of course, that’s what rewind buttons were made for, and we’re willing to bet plenty of those were broken in 1992. Specifically, it’s nearly impossible to imagine anyone hearing Busta Rhymes’ bars on ‘Scenario’ and not pausing the tape to hear him rap again. And again. And a few more times. The sound of a dungeon dragon roaring never sounding this passionate and straight-up ill.
Considering Snoop Dogg wrote the entirety of ‘Nuthin’ But A ‘G’ Thang,’ the song’s inclusion on this list shouldn’t come as a surprise or be seen as sacrilege. Dr. Dre himself would probably tell you himself he’s not the most gifted rapper—OK, he definitely wouldn’t, but you get the point—and he’d also tell you that Snoop circa ‘92 was not to be trifled with. Case in point: One of his first appearances on a record remains one of his most memorable and finest, thanks in part to his remarkably smooth flow. Also, who reading this hasn’t recited this verse at least a dozen times?
In almost every example, the guest-rapper-murdering-his-or-her-host phenomenon is the type of thing that just makes the track an event. People remember the verse, quote it for weeks (or years, even), and the guest and host move on to new and different things. But for Craig Mack’s ‘Flava In Ya Ear’ remix, everything just went horribly wrong. You see, he enlisted the help of Rampage, LL Cool J, Busta Rhymes, and, most foolishly, The Notorious B.I.G. Biggie proceeded to not only steal the show but completely eradicate Mack’s career. Do you remember hearing from him after this remix dropped? We didn’t think so.
‘Snappin’ & Trappin’’ is the definition of a rapper coming out of nowhere and making a statement so heavy that you can’t help but pay attention. In this case, it was Killer Mike, an authoritative Atlanta rapper who, at the time of ‘Stankonia’’s release in 2000, was relatively unknown. That didn’t stop the larger-the-life MC from stomping his way onto the beat and besting his mentor, Big Boi, with rhymes so gruff it felt like he was attacking you. His name’s Killer Mike for a reason, and he certainly earned his stripes on the beyond-menacing ‘Snappin’ & Trappin’.’
No one can deny that Jay Z and Beanie Sigel brought their pain and angst to ‘This Can’t Be Life,’ an instant classic off Hov’s ‘The Dynasty: Roc La Familia.’ But it’s Scarface who truly captured the song’s title and, more importantly, its feeling of loss. As he detailed in his verse, the Houston stalwart was just about to hit the studio to record his bars. Before he got the chance to do so, he received a phone call from one of his close friends whose son had just died. It’s not often that you hear a rapper like Face wax lyrical about crying and coping with loss, so it’s infinitely much more compelling when it happens.
The story goes that ‘Renegade’ was originally a collaboration between Eminem and Royce Da 5’9”, who work together as Bad Meets Evil. But for whatever reason, the Em-produced track landed in the hands of Jay Z for his classic 2001 album, ‘The Blueprint.’ He and the Detroit then proceeded to go tit for tat on the mic and, well, it’s one of the most referenced collaborations in rap history. You can thank Nas for that, as he famously dissed Hov by saying that “Em murdered you on your own s--t.” He sure did, but that’s undermining the fact that Jay’s performance on ‘Renegade’ was actually pretty good. The only problem: Eminem was flawless.
A year removed from introducing himself on Outkast’s ‘Snappin’ & Trappin’,’ Killer Mike teamed up with the ATLiens again on ‘The Whole World.’ And, once again, his verse was the heaviest statement on the track. While he only went up against Big Boi on ‘Snappin’ & Trappin’,’ Mike had his work cut out for him on ‘The Whole World.’ How do you top both Big Boi and Andre 3000? Simple: Douse that fire in your belly with gasoline and use your attention-commanding voice to grab the listener by his or her throat.
‘Guerilla Monsoon Rap’ is another instance of an MC somehow not only complementing but also upstaging his cohorts. Is Talib Kweli sharp on here? Sure. And Black Thought? Abso-f--king-lutely. But when it comes to sheer technical proficiency and flow modulation, few can go bar for bar with Pharoahe Monch. You can argue all you want that Black Thought toe-tagged this track off Kweli’s ‘Quality,’ but Monch’s delivery makes this one all his own. There’s a lot to be said about a rapper who can so easily weave in and out of a beat without sounding foolish or overly showy.
Despite stating at the jump that he’s been waiting for a track to explode on, it’s 50 Cent’s guest on ‘Patiently Waiting’ that’s packing the lyrical dynamite. To be fair, Eminem does burst into the instrumental, which he produced by the way, with a resuscitating-like vocal effect. And it uses it to his advantage, somehow topping 50’s track-ending snarl of “You shouldn’t throw stones if you live in a glass house/And if you got a glass jaw you should watch your mouth/ ‘Cause I’ll break your face.” All that bravado is well-placed and timed given his then-ongoing beef with Ja Rule. But it’s impossible to overlook Eminem when he’s able to combine his tenacity and technical prowess for a stellar dip into gangsta rap.
It’s devastatingly clear who “won” on a collaboration when one rapper’s lyrics are quoted ad nauseum. On Kanye West’s ‘Diamonds from Sierra Leone’ remix, his big brother (aka Jay Z) pulled the rug right out from under him. Tell me you haven’t quoted, paraphrased, or made a joke out of “I’m not a businessman/ I’m a business, man” and I’ll call you a liar. Hov’s bars might not capture the political angst of Yeezy’s, but there’s so much well-placed bravado that you probably forgot Kanye even spit by the time you hear “If you're waiting for the end of the Dynasty sign/ It would seem like forever is a mighty long time.”
Before the tragic passing of Pimp C in December 2007, he and his UGK teammate, Pimp C, released the final UGK album in June of that year in ‘Underground Kingz.’ The double CD arrived with its fair share of notable cuts and some superb guests, but nothing compared to the monster of a track that was (and always will be) ‘Int’l Players Anthem (I Choose you).’
It featured the Port Arthur, Texas heavyweights teaming up with Outkast, whose Andre 3000 and Big Boi book-ended the Willie Hutch-sampling jam with pure ATL swagger. Everyone showed up and showed off on the track, but it was Three Stacks who kicked it all off with a verse so memorable and quotable that you probably know at least a few people who can recite most, if not all, of it from memory. His wordplay is dense, potent, and sharp -- like a strong shot of caffeine that lifts you up, keeps you there, and gently guides you back down to earth. You do, after all, need to hear the rest of the track.
Label issues prohibited Andre 3000 and Big Boi from appearing together on the latter’s solo debut, ‘Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty.’ Well, sort of. Three Stacks was able to contribute as a producer, and he certainly made it count on ‘You Ain’t No DJ.’ The frenzied instrumental is a bass-heavy alley oop to Big Boi and his guest, quick-spitter Yelawolf. The proud Alabama native had a healthy buzz and his breakthrough mixtape, ‘Trunk Muzik,’ was ready for retail re-packaging. With that fire in his gut, Yela put his foot into the beat, twisted it around, and rapped like the blunted Mr. Hyde to Big Boi’s more laid-back Dr. Jekyll.
Rappers like Danny Brown and ScHoolboy Q have a knack for jacking the limelight with their guest verses based on the energy they bring to the track alone. But when one of them decides to spit a meme-worthy lyrics, it’s pretty much a wrap. That’s what happened on ‘Brand New Guy,’ one of many standouts off A$AP Rocky’s ‘LiveLoveA$AP.’ While the Harlem rapper is most at home over the screwed, hazy instrumental, it’s ScHoolboy who takes over the track with the following line: “While you gone? S--t, Netflix on your couch.” That’s about as ice cold (and imaginative, really) as raps about “stealin’ your girl” can get.
On paper, you’d be right to assume that Mr. Muthaf--kin’ eXquire wouldn’t have the strongest verse on ‘Oh Hail No.’ For one, he’s going up against highly formidable rhyme-slingers in host El-P and fellow guest Danny Brown. Even more poignant is the fact eXquire gets the least amount of time on the mic compared to his cohorts. But he makes it count and then some. In just 30 seconds, he spits so fast and so eloquently that he sounds possessed. And he’s not just delivering some rapping-for-rapping’s-sake hellfire. Dude raps up his own style in these lines alone: “Maybe I’m lost in the grind, haunted by all I desire/ Forcibly caused to be normal, bonded and tossed in the fire.”
There are many ways you can body the other MCs on a track. You can bring more energy, passion, punch lines, quotables, etc... compared to everyone else. Or, if you’re feeling sinister, you can throw out verbal darts at your nemesis and make damn sure that no one else remembers the rest of the track. That’s what Drake did on Rick Ross’ ‘Stay Schemin’’ while responding to some perceived shots fired by Common on ‘Sweet.’ Sure enough, the (somewhat) thinly veiled disses led to a short-lived feud, with everyone remembering more about Drizzy’s ‘Stay Schemin’’ verse than anything else. Well, OK, Com’s “Canada Dry” line was pretty funny.
Kendrick Lamar getting washed on his own track? Say it ain’t so! Oh, hip-hop heads, it be so. On ‘good kid, m.A.A.d. city’ loosie, the Compton rapper enlisted the help of perpetually bonkers Floridian Gunplay. And it became clear that this was his track as soon as the rolling percussions and stark synthesizers hit. The Maybach Music Group rapper is in his element here, spitting about letting his life loose in the booth with his hand on his heart facing the hood. They let the beat drop during his track-closing verse for a reason, man.
When Danny Brown is at his most lucid, he’s damn near unstoppable. And on ‘Terrorist Threats’ off Ab-Soul’s ‘Control System,’ the Detroit rapper was clear-eyed and hungry. You might be reciting his exclamation of “EXTRA PILLS!” once the song’s over, but the message within Brown’s bars are what will resonate the most. Once he comes down from his high, he spits viciously about being broke, tired, and paranoid and everything that crosses his mind. You can’t hear these rhymes and not feel some kind of way afterward: “Can’t get a job if they drug test me/ Got a ni---a stressed depressed/ Got a feeling in his chest/ And the world’s stripped of happiness.”
Want to know how to spark a rap discussion in 2013? Call out rappers by name with a delivery so gruff, so energetic that you sound like you’re about to burst. At least, that method worked for Kendrick Lamar, who straight-up bodied Big Sean’s ‘Control.’ Truth be told, Sean and the other guest, Jay Electronica, had serviceable verses in their own right.
But there’s Kendrick, plopping himself in the middle with a thunderous, nearly endless series of rhymes. He places his own plaque next to those of Andre 3000, Eminem, Nas, and Jay Z as the best out right now, dubs himself the king of New York, and proceeds to rattle off a list of MCs he’s got love for but is “tryna murder.” Who exactly does he want to compete with, you ask? Pusha T, Meek Mill, Big K.R.I.T., Wale, J. Cole, and plenty more. S--t just got real, y’all.
What's that? A guy who mostly sings completely washing one of the most technically strong rappers to debut in the past few years? Yes. Frank Ocean might not have the most refined flow and, as a result, got a little sloppy on 'Sunday,' but he still stunted all over the 'Doris' track. The main reason for this is the fact he addressed his very public beef with Chris Brown and their run-in earlier this year. "I mean he called me a faggot/ I was just calling his bluff," Ocean raps matter-of-factly, adding later that he received a "[s]tanding ovation at Staples" and got his "Grammys and gold." That is how you win a beef and own a track.