Use Your Features Wisely

What’s the best guest feature in rap history? Most people would probably mention a verse from guys like Nas, Andre 3000, Jay Z or Snoop Dogg.  Today, fans have direct access to an unlimited supply of information and more often than not they are able to get a look at the track listing of an album prior to the release. From tweets, Facebook posts, IGs and hordes of emojis, new information gets some fans unbelievably hyped. Two great artists could come together on the same track to create the anthem for a generation, they could be releasing the next hottest song getting played in the club, or maybe they will make the perfect song to make you prescribe your girl to Plan B. Some collaborations seem great on paper but end up not working out so well. To listeners, features hold a heavy weight.

Artists are also able to show inconceivable versatility by combining styles with an artist in a different genre. Take for example this collaboration between Atlanta legend Big Boi and the new age Swedish pop group Little Dragon. Through a brutally slow beat and melodic echoing vocals, the two opposite artists are able to come together to create something beautiful. Some collaborations never cease to amaze such as Madlib & MF Doom, Jay Z & Kanye West, A$AP Rocky & ScHoolBoy Q, or Flying Lotus & Thundercat. Other artists make the major mistake of allowing their features to completely outshine them on certain tracks. In a recent example, this phenomenon can be seen throughout Travis Scott‘s freshman album Rodeo. There are many tracks in which the features are the highlight and Travis is almost left out of mind, nearly causing him to decrease in status as a rapper.  Taking a look at tracks like “On Dis Side,” Quavo‘s feature is incredible; the classic Migos adlibs and his seamless flow transitions leave Travis sounding like a tripped out codeine fiend. This is also the case on “3500”; while Travis and Future deliver one of the best hook/chorus combos of the year, 2 Chainz still has one of the best verses on the album.

Drinkin’ breast milk out a lean cup
Tity Boi’s my alias
Real niggas my radius
Trill niggas on the song with me

Additionally, The Weeknd and La Flame collaborate extremely well on”Pray 4 Love.” The Weeknd is able to beautifully execute loud climactic hooks while Travis delivers these few yet deep, passionate, grungy verses. While Travis has never been known to be a great lyricist, it’s inexcusable to be consistently upstaged on your debut album. With all of these artists out performing Travis on his own album, was it any surprise we gave the album a underwhelming 6/10?

Other features have also allowed artists to achieve an instant God-like level in the ears of many listeners. On Kanye’s “Monster,” Nicki Minaj is of a whole different caliber than everyone else on the track, this verse illustrate Nicki at her best.  J Cole is also a shining example of proving he can spit killer guest bars; on “Looking For Trouble” he drops a verse of G.O.A.T. status for G.O.O.D. Music. Even Kanye understood the weight of this verse, allowing Cole to go last and dropping the beat off at the end, reinforcing the passion flowing through his words. Cole isn’t even involved with the label, and despite this being his only collaboration with Yeezy, he still completely flames everyone else on the song.

Of course, we can’t talk about upstaging features without mentioning the most obvious example of this; Kendrick Lamar on “Control.” Even though the track was released by Big Sean and also features Jay Electronica, when people talk about “Control,” their contributions to the track are always left out of the conversation. Although neither of them deliver bad verses, this only adds to the explosion caused by K-Dot “pushing the button.” Cases like this can be hard to come by, but when they are, they’re legendaryEven on one of the best rap albums of all time Illmatic, AZ gave us one of the top moments on the album by delivering a better verse than Nas while also giving one of the catchiest hooks in rap history.

Life’s a bitch and then you die //

That’s why we get high //

Cause you never know when your gonna go” 

This is one of the greatest underdog guest verses ever recorded a track. Even Talib Kweli ranked it on his top 25 verses of all time! Obviously Nas was able to stay more relevant in the long run, but this doesn’t take away from the spectacular showcase by AZ.

While some artists completely get outperformed on their own song, many times a good artist is able to use their features to completely boost them into a whole new sound. Take the new Mac Miller album; the collaboration between Mac and Miguel  on “Weekend” is absolutely ridiculous. Even with Miguel’s voice being one of the smoothest in R&B right now, Mac is able to match his level and come out as an equally strong artist; showing incredible growth from the 23 year old rapper. Artists like Ghostface Killah also have the ability to perfectly blend with the jazz style of BADBADNOTGOOD ; while Schoolboy Q is able to play off the popular folk singer Lissie‘s cover of “Pursuit of Happiness” and deliver a smash hit with his track “Hands On The Wheel.”

The kings of this “style blending” right now are easily Kendrick and Drake. Kendrick released a jazzy, funky, old school rap album with To Pimp A Butterfly that still stands the test of competition to be the best album of the year.  In just the past few months, Drizzy has shown his ability to flow as the better artist over beats designed for Fetty Wap, D.R.A.M.Future, and The Game. This goes back to Drake’s ability to both rap and sing just as well as any other artists in their respected genre. As a result of these innovative choices, both of these artists rest easy on the top of the game.

While a feature can be either the best moment of an artist’s career or a terrible mistake, it is interesting to see how flexible artists are. Some are able to display unthinkable strength in many different styles, while others fall flat on their face when challenged to create a new sound. With features being the brightest moments on albums like Rodeo and even on some of the greatest albums of all time like Illmatic, it is crucial that artists should never get themselves greatly outperformed on their own track or sound like an out-of-place fool on someone else’s. Great artists always sound like that line was meant to be said, or that new beat was produced with their voice in mind. Most importantly, people are supposed to hear what a great artist is saying, so use your features wisely.

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