While collaboration among peers has always been a staple of hip-hop, it’s been interesting to watch how much more important guest features seemed to become over the past decade. Where once a feature verse was a mark of respect between colleagues or simply a fun treat for fans, these days artists can hardly put out a project without a few features designed to stimulate streaming algorithms and cross-pollinate fan bases.
However, that doesn’t mean that some rappers aren’t still taking pride in popping up on their peers’ projects. Plenty of MCs take up the friendly challenge of outrapping their hosts on their own songs, like Eminem on Jay-Z’s Blueprint standout “Renegade” or Kendrick Lamar’s scene-stealing verse on Big Sean’s otherwise uncontroversial 2013 loosie “Control.” Those moments may be few and far between, but you might find a few less explosive gems sprinkled among the wealth of releases in 2019.
And while it’d be easy to just write “J. Cole” 14 times, there were still plenty of standout verses throughout the year from other names including DaBaby, Cardi B, Chance The Rapper, Megan Thee Stallion, and more.
Don’t forget, though, that debating these things is half the fun. Feel free to offer your own suggestions in the comments below, because there are surely even more than the ones just listed here. Here are the best rap features of 2019.
Dishonorable mention: Eminem on Boogie’s “Rainy Days,” because “Like a shepherd having sex with his sheep, f*ck what you herd” is the absolute worst punchline I have ever heard in my life — and if you’re being honest with yourself, it’s the worst one you’ve ever heard, too.
14. Lil Tjay on Polo G’s “Pop Out”
Let’s face it: Lil Tjay doesn’t exactly have the top pens in hip-hop shaking in their boots. But the 18-year-old New Yorker does have an unflinching honesty about the high stakes of street life. “Lost my brother, seen him die and I just seen him graduate” might be the line that sticks the longest — it’s the sort of image that keeps you up at night.
13. Nicki Minaj on Megan Thee Stallion’s “Hot Girl Summer” also feat. Ty Dolla Sign
Say what you want about Nicki’s behavior for the last year or so, when can still fire off some eyebrow-raising one-liners when she tries and for the first time in a long time, she actually feels compelled to try. It makes you wonder where she’d be if she’d embraced a little friendly competition instead of stopping all those bags. The best bar: “Who unfollowed me? Like who don’t follow me? / ‘Cause even in your new b*tch, I can see a lot of me.”
12. Young Thug on Post Malone’s “Goodbyes”
Thug’s got better verses, but this one just has a sticky quality that keeps that “I wanna slice you and dice you” bar jumping into heads at the most random times. That’s effective songwriting 101 — always make them remember you.
11. J. Cole on Young Thug’s “The London” also feat. Travis Scott
Even trying to keep from just going berserk on J. Cole verses from this year, this one is a standout if only because it’s the first time Cole sounds like he’s actually having fun since Jay-Z forced him to put out “Work Out.” Puttin’ something on your sonogram instead of your IG is also one helluva flex.
10. Dreezy on Hitmaka’s “Thot Box Remix” also feat. Mulatto, Young MA, Chinese Kitty, and DreamDoll
This is why you came: The controversial take. How could Dreezy possibly have one of the best verses of the year on a song that apparently praises “thots?” By filling that verse with equal parts dexterity and wit that contrasts and complements the raw, raunchy content. Dreezy starts out with bruising, staccato boasts and hits the brakes mid-flow to deliver a jaw-dropping one-liner that doubles as a role-reversing power play. Dreezy won’t be slept on for too much longer.
9. Cardi B on DJ Khaled’s “Wish Wish” also feat. 21 Savage
Although both rappers are technically “featured” on this song, it’s Cardi B who delivers the most punishing punchlines. “Whatever you do, sis, keep it cute, sis,” she rhymes, before spitting the knockout blow. “Leave that beefin’ shit at Ruth Chris or end up toothless.”
8. DaBaby on Megan Thee Stallion’s “Cash Sh*t”
Without a video or single promotion, this album cut from Megan Thee Stallion’s standout mixtape, Fever, linked the two rising stars, catalyzing their respective ascents into the spectacular supernova that had fans saying both were snubbed by the Grammys for Best New Artist recognition. Sex with DaBaby sounds like kind of a brutal experience, but he shows a flair for hilarious hyperbole here and coins one of the raunchiest sex verses of the year.
7. Megan Thee Stallion on Maxo Kream’s “She Live”
Meg has a bunch of standout verses this year, but had the best on-track chemistry with DaBaby and fellow Texan Maxo Kream. The rib-shattering beat also sounds like it could have come straight from her own catalog, which may be why she sounds so smooth spitting her bodacious boudoir bars: “Work that tongue just like a serpent,” she sneers, “I’m makin’ his toes coil.” Not “curl,” but “coil.” No wonder Trey Songz couldn’t keep his thirst to himself.
6. Chance The Rapper on YBN Cordae’s “Bad Idea”
Chance got a bad rap this year — pun intended, not sorry — for his overly sentimental, overproduced album (for what it’s worth, I loved it), but he proved he still had the juice to turn in smart, introspective verses at the drop of an embroidered “3” hat. This one gets the nod over his appearance on Guapdad’s “Gucci Pajamas” because YBN Cordae had the best rap album of the year in my opinion.
5. Leikeli47 on Rapsody’s “Oprah”
The masked rapper gets one of the strongest looks of her career to date and makes excellent use of it, showing off a variety of flows and my favorite bar of the year: “You would hate what I f*ckin’ make / Just to pop out and I don’t even show my face.” It’s simple, but stacked, oozing with confidence and just outlandish enough to make you wonder: What does she f*cking make on her appearance fee? Whatever it is, the price is likely going way up in 2020.
4. Smino on Doja Cat’s “Won’t Bite”
It’s time for Smino to get his just due as one of the most inventive, innovative wordsmiths in the game today. Who else would think to utter “Higher than a hallelujah, hot as halitosis” on a come-on, sex song? Who else, short of Young Thug could slip so smoothly from melodizing to spitting like a fully automatic weapon in the span of just 16 bars, let alone break down his game right down to the vocal tone? It’s Smino and Smino only.
3. Vince Staples on Dreamville’s “Rembrandt… Run It Back” with J. Cole and JID
Vince Staples inexplicably manages to completely reinvent flow in the space of less than 30 seconds, shifting gears from a lackadaisical flow to a stutter-stepping semi-automatic spurt, trading in street dreams for political prophecy sprinkled with his signature gangsterisms in less time than it takes to sit through the pre-roll ad on a YouTube video. An expert in concision, Vince’s sharp observations cut to the bone.
2. Saba on Dreamville’s “Sacrifices” with EarthGang and J. Cole, also feat. Smino
There goes Smino again, going off as only he can, but it’s Saba’s verse that steals the show, with its off-kilter cadence, elaborately-layered metaphors, and subtle Pivot Gang plugs that prove he’s quickly become one of the most skilled and accomplished lyrical technicians in the game today. When he says, “I thought I’d call ’em out altogether / Rather than waste the amount of bars it’ll take for me to call ’em out by name,” you can’t help but feel bad for anyone being called to compete with Saba’s unparalleled pen game in a battle of wits.
1. J. Cole on 21 Savage’s “A Lot”
There was no way that this list could be considered valid if this verse didn’t appear on it in this exact placement. There was just no other selection that defined 2019 the way this one did — on it, J. Cole declares his intention to put the entire rap game in a stranglehold for the next 12 months. That’s exactly what he did. The beat is perfect. The stream-of-consciousness flow is masterful. The grace for the incarcerated Tekashi 69 shows Cole’s empathy and his NBA shout-outs to Markelle Fultz and Dennis Smith Jr. are tiny peeks into Cole’s thought process and his love of home. But the part that truly hammers home how special J. Cole and this verse truly are is the final couplet: “They say that success is the greatest revenge, tell all your friends / Cole on a mission, cementin’ the spot as the greatest that did it before it all ends.” He’s well on his way.
Some of the artists mentioned above are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.