There's literally no better way for a rapper to make a track list pop than to call in Kendrick Lamar. In his three years since becoming hip-hop's most wanted, the Compton MC has run circles around top-notch rappers on their own tracks, brought out the best in lackluster beats and made even the most basic bottom-feeder pop newsworthy.
So many artists have come forward with nothing but effusive praise for Kendrick in the studio, a hallowed place in which the MC seems to reach his final rap Saiyan form.
"He loves the music — you can tell when you hear Section.80," famed jazz composer Robert Glasper once said, describing the breadth of Lamar's talent. "That's the great thing about Kendrick Lamar — he balances everything out so well. When you want the gangster, there's the gangster in there. There's the backpack [rap] sound. There's the jazz sound."
Lamar's verse on Maroon 5's "Don't Wanna Know" felt like watching Cornel West make a cameo on the Big Bang Theory, as Mic wrote previously, while his verse on Eminem's "Love Game" put a star and triple underscore around the fact Em has no clue what he's doing in the booth anymore.
Here's a sampling of 12 of the hit maker's best features, starting with the verse equivalent to Jesus flipping the tax collector table in the temple.
1. Big Sean feat. Jay Electronica, Kendrick Lamar, "Control"
This is hip-hop
And them niggas should know what time it is
And that goes for Jermaine Cole, Big K.R.I.T., Wale
Pusha T, Meek Millz, A$AP Rocky, Drake
Big Sean, Jay Electron', Tyler, Mac Miller
I got love for you all, but I'm tryna murder you niggas
Tryna make sure your core fans never heard of you niggas
They don't wanna hear not one more noun or verb from you niggas
With "Control" Kendrick Lamar used another MC's track to challenge nearly the entire hip-hop world to a lyrical duel. It sparked dozens of responses and wild haymaker disses but none of them shone brighter than Lamar's. It set the tone for what's at stake in inviting Kendrick Lamar to spit on your track — he might try to figuratively murder you on it.
2. Danny Brown feat. Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul, Earl Sweatshirt, "Really Doe"
Life is like an appetite of truth and dare, I double dare ya
Life to end in vain before the end is near
See I can hear you crying
Silence sittin' in the dark
Holdin' crosses 'cross your heart
Sin is such a work of art
Watch out for the love lost
The result of a favor Lamar owed to Danny Brown for not putting the Detroit MC on his To Pimp A Butterfly, "Really Doe" is another track that really belongs to Lamar, not the rapper whose name appears as the top biller. Brown was big enough to admit it to Zane Lowe in a September interview.
"Really, I didn't do it. Kendrick did it," Brown said. "I was just trying to figure out what I was going to do with it. He went to the studio and heard it and just took it. Then he came back and he had a hook on it, a bridge. ... So, it's really his song."
3. Schoolboy Q feat. Kendrick Lamar, "Blessed"
As the record spinning, you was hearing angels entertain
Every pun intended, that was wicked, coming from your brain
Recognize you listened and you didn't hit the block again
That's because the minute after you had knew you would be slain
Open up another chapter in the book and read 'gain
Story of a gun-clapper really tryna make a change
Schoolboy Q and Kendrick Lamar go way, way back. They have multiple collaborative tracks to their name, in addition to all their Black Hippy posse cuts, but "Blessed" is the cream of that crop. On the meditative, memorial cut off Q's Habits & Contradictions, Lamar spits directly to Q, congratulating him for leaving the streets behind and focusing on his music.
4. Drake feat. Kendrick Lamar, "Buried Alive (Interlude)"
Looking in the mirror, I'm embarrassed
I'm feeling like a suicidal terrorist
React like an infant whenever you are mentioned
Mind over matter never worked for my nemesis
Before starting their long chain of backhanded, subliminal disses, Drake and Kendrick Lamar were once so tight, Drake deigned to give Lamar an entire song on Take Care. Five years later, the two MCs could not represent more diametrically opposed sides of rap: Lamar standing for integrity and creative metamorphosis and Drake for compromise and pop chart domination.
5. BJ the Chicago Kid feat. Kendrick Lamar, "The New Cupid"
As I play out the Commodores, my faith destroyed
My heart don't work, I'm unemployed
The feeling is void, don't know what I need
Some pussy, some paper, some counseling
Maybe some Henny, some weed
I'm looking for you, I'm checking for her
"I love hearing Kendrick on soulful music," BJ the Chicago Kid told Genius about their collaboration. "I don't get to hear him on soulful music enough."
"The New Cupid" is one of Lamar's rare forays out of the pop and hip-hop realms, and it shows just how flexible his style is. His flow matches the easy crawl of the soul instrumentals, giving him plenty of space to play with refrains and structure.
6. A$AP Rocky feat. Kendrick Lamar, Big K.R.I.T., Joey Badass, Yelawolf, Action Bronson, Danny Brown, "1 Train"
We outlawed then I bogart, any pros that got 'proached at
With a toe-tag, get broke off, in the projects with a skateboard
I roll past and I blaze y'all like, "doo doo!" I hate y'all
When the beef cooked, I ate y'all like, "Mmm mmm,"
Let's play ball in a ballpark with all sharks and a blindfold
If any posse cut is to feel complete and representative of hip-hop's major powers today, it's got to include Kendrick Lamar. A$AP Rocky's "1 Train" was perfectly crafted to stoke arguments in blog and rap forums among alt rap hip-hop heads. Lamar's verse is definitely top three on the cut, perhaps top two. That Big K.R.I.T. is tough competition, though.
7. SZA feat. Kendrick Lamar "Babylon"
6AM on a Friday morning, my darkest hours
Them heartless hours
My apartment is lost in a coffin
I'm dead to the world like I popped me a couple downers
Down & Out on my luck
Salt water all on my tux and I call, she don't pick up
The first lady of Top Dawg Entertainment, the imminently talented SZA, scored a Kendrick verse for "Babylon" on her album Z. Throughout his verse, Lamar plays with the Biblical themes of crucifixion and Babylon to share the anxieties and tribulations that haunt him at 6 a.m. Friday mornings. They're feelings he'd build out in more detail on To Pimp A Butterfly's startling "U." Consider "Babylon" a more soothing pregame.
8. Travis Scott feat. Kendrick Lamar, "Goosebumps"
I'm reliving moments, peeling more residual
(I can) buy the building, burn the building, take your bitch, rebuild the building just to fuck some more
(I can) justify my love for you and touch the sky for God to stop, debating war
With some of his more recent rap verses, Kendrick Lamar has tried a very different approach than his usual tongue-twisting straight 16's. On Travis Scott's "Goosebumps," for example, Kendrick pulls out some extra-lyrical coos and sidesplitting quotables. It helps Lamar's verse stand out on an album absolutely inundated with features.
9. Kanye West feat. Kendrick Lamar, "No More Parties in L.A."
Make me say "Nam Myoho Renge Kyo"
Make a nigga say big words and act lyrical
Make me get spiritual
Make me believe in miracles, Buddhist monks and Cap'n Crunch cereal
Lord have mercy, thou will not hurt me
More important than the actual words Lamar arranges for his verse on Kanye West's "No More Parties in L.A.," is the effect his presence seems to have on the Chicago icon. The Life of Pablo is far and away one of West's laziest lyrical efforts, but on "No More Parties in L.A." West raps like there's something at stake. Chalk that up to having to go toe-to-toe with Kendrick Lamar. No tribe called check-a-ho or bleached asshole rhymes are going to cut it here.
10. Dr. Dre feat. Kendrick Lamar, Justus, Anderson .Paak, "Deep Water"
They liable to bury him, they nominated six to carry him
They worry him to death, but he's no vegetarian
The beef is on his breath, inheriting the drama better than
A great white, nigga, this is life in my aquarium
When all is said and done, Dr. Dre's biggest contributions to hip-hop may not lie in his bars or his beats, per se, but in his ability to identify and nurture talent. Dre helped introduce the world to Eminem, Snoop Dogg, Anderson .Paak and Kendrick Lamar. On Compton, it's clear Dre's has been getting a little writing help from Kendrick Lamar as well. Where else would all those internally rhyming, double-time runs on "Deep Water" have come from?
11. A$AP Rocky feat. Kendrick Lamar, Drake and 2 Chainz, "Fuckin' Problems"
Kill 'em all, dead bodies in the hallway
Don't get involved, listen what the crystal ball say
Halle Berry, hallelujah
Holla back, I'll do ya, beast
A blatant radio spin grab, Kendrick Lamar manages to turn his 16 bars on this extremely basic track into a pretty enjoyable listen. He doesn't sound nearly as comfortable rapping about booties and Benzes as the other rappers on this track who have made their names doing just that, but his bars are clever enough to work.
12. Eminem feat. Kendrick Lamar, "Love Game"
I'm in the mirror with this look on my face, curious
Why you ain't fucking with me
You cut me deep as a Caesarean
You know I want you bad as a Benjamin, I'm delirious
I want you bad as the head shattered on George Zimmerman
Eminem's affinity for Looney Tunes-esque cartoon violence and sardonic declarations of lust came to a head on "Love Game," off The Marshall Mathers LP 2. It's a shame that out of all the tracks he could have put his dedicated disciple Lamar on, he chose the wacky and utterly confused "Love Game." Lamar brings a technically impressive verse, to match Slim Shady's blitzkrieg flow, but says essentially nothing in the process. That's really what guesting on a late '10s Eminem track is all about.