The 20 Best Hip-Hop Guest Verses of All Time
Hip-hop has always mixed competition with collaboration, and nowhere is that more evident than on one of rap's most beloved traditions, the guest verse. Emcees appear on one another's tracks to show support and form alliances — but they're also engaging in a friendly battle of oneupmanship. Newcomers lend their bars in the hopes of seizing the spotlight; old pros drop by to reassert their relevance; and everyone, like skaters sharing a half-pipe, is eager to show off some tricks and earn the approbation of their peers.
Guest verses have produced some of the greatest moments in rap history, from Snoop's "G" thang arrival to Busta's dungeon dragon roar. But which cameos deserve canonization? We narrowed the field down to the 20 we consider the greatest, but encourage you to continue the conversation in the comments section. After all, the only thing hip-hop fans love more than the music itself is arguing about it.
20. Foxy Brown on Nas’s “Affirmative Action” (1996)
Featured on Nas’s sophomore album, It Was Written, this posse cut introduced The Firm, a supergroup originally made of Nas, Foxy Brown, AZ and Cormega (the latter of whom was replaced by Nature on The Firm’s album). The track is a sausage fest until Brown’s mathematical verse torches her cohorts. Her deep, sultry voice blankets the production like a bass drum. “Sittin' on top of 50 grand in the Nautica Van,” she raps. Calculating how “dope” she is, as she adds and subtracts, her elastic flow spirals, unfolds and demands a rewind, or a recount. Her verse could be part of a “stay in school" campaign if she wasn't using her math skills to count kilos. — Tracy Jones
19. Rakim on Jay Z’s “The Watcher 2” (2002)
A sequel of sorts to Dr. Dre's "The Watcher" from his 2001 album, this was supposed to be Dre and Hova's show. But one of the greatest of all time, Rakim, steals the whole thing with a third verse that, in under 40 seconds, serves as a master class in internal and compound rhymes. "My brain contains graphic thangs/It turn traumatic teens into addicts and fiends," he spits, with cunningly deployed drug imagery that one can only hope sent many teens out in search of Don't Sweat the Technique. — Andy Hermann
18. Raekwon on Doom’s “Yessir!” (2009)
A short montage from a black godfather, Raekwon’s verse is like a character sketch from a Donald Goines novel. Some lines are narrative fragments that create a kind of contextual scene. It’s as if the listener gets dropped into the middle of a plot: “Heard the young policeman died,” Rae recalls. The Wu-Tang Clansman has made a career of reeling out audio gangsta flicks. Here, the Chef’s lyrical aroma pulls ears to his kitchen, while he’s jabbing, “Yo, get the fuck away from the ropes, man.” — T.J.
17. Andre 3000 on UGK’s “Int’l Players Anthem” (2007)
Three Stacks has murdered many a guest verse, so it's difficult to pick just one. But no one ever used his charismatic vocals more cleverly than Bun B and Pimp C, who cast him as a reformed player stepping to the altar as the ironic intro to their ode to pimp life. "I apologize if this message gets you down," he texts to an ex-girlfriend, breaking the news that he's off the market. "Then I CC'ed every girl that I'd see-see 'round town." Only Andre could make exchanging vows sound like the most pimpin' move of all. — A.H.
16. Jay Z on Dead Prez’s “Hell Yeah (Remix)” (2004)
In 2004, Jay Z was already lauded as a billionaire, and keeping-it-real Dead Prez were presumably averse to that. “We together on the same track now, baby, whatchu gone call us now,” Jay taunts. It seems like an odd couple collaboration, until Jay attacks systematic racism and white appropriation, and weaves a tale of going from selling crack to getting profiled in his wealthy suburban neighborhood. “Y'all don't like that do ya?" he asks his new neighbors. "You fucked up the hood nigga right back to ya.” — T.J.
15. Busta Rhymes on Chris Brown’s “Look at Me Now” (2011)
Produced by Diplo and Afrojack, the slow, squiggly beat on "Look at Me Now" invites anyone rapping over it to play with multiple time signatures — even Brown has a go at some double-time bars. Then Busta blows by him like a Ducati passing a skateboard. After serving up a flop with his last solo album, 2009's Back on My B.S., Busta had something to prove, and he delivered with a flurry of motormouth rhymes so dazzling that most people don't even remember anymore that, oh yeah — Lil Wayne was on this track, too. — A.H.
14. Notorious B.I.G. on Craig Mack’s “Flava in Ya Ear (Remix)” (1994)
It’s a 16-bar master class on how to abbreviate cinematically elaborate rhymes. It’s also the flash before the furious sound of Biggie blowing up. Puff Daddy’s Bad Boy Records dropped Ready to Die shortly after this track, leaving Craig Mack, Puffy’s other rising star, mostly forgotten. Some speculate that Big’s verse was dissing Mack when he says, “You're mad 'cause my style you're admiring/Don't be mad, UPS is hiring.” The “Flava” remix was instantly canonized as a posse cut classic. — T.J.
13. R.A. the Rugged Man on Jedi Mind Tricks’ “Uncommon Valor” (2006)
Sinfully slept-on rapper R.A. the Rugged tells a haunting story from his father’s perspective, Staff Sgt. John A. Thorburn. While fighting in Vietnam, Thorburn got exposed to Agent Orange. He survived the war, but the dangerous chemical’s lasting affects spread to his family. “Two of my kids born handicapped/Spastic, quadriplegia, micro cephalic/Cerebral palsy, cortical blindness — name it, they had it,” R.A. raps. It’s a harrowing account and an overlooked record that’s more relevant today than ever. — T.J.
12. Bun B on Jay Z’s “Big Pimpin’” (1999)
At the height of his Jigga Man powers, Jay Z was hard to upstage. But Bun B, arguably the greatest rapper ever to come out of Texas, has made a career out of making other emcees sound like guests on their own track, and he steals the show here with his Lone Star drawl as he scolds illiterate rappers to "step up your vocab." Honorable mention to his late partner in UGK, Pimp C, whose own verse includes the immortal line, "No record 'til whitey pay me." — A.H.
11. Q-Tip on Mobb Deep’s “Drink Away the Pain (Situations)” (1995)
As a crafty way of talking about the entertainment industry, Q-Tip’s abstract poetics turned clothing lines into people pulling off a heist. In 1995, black fashion brands like Karl Kani, Cross Colours and PNB were popping. At first, high-end labels Tommy Hilfiger and Timberland weren’t fond of getting adopted by the “urban” demographic, but by 1998, corporations successfully co-opted hip-hop culture, choking out most of the black clothing lines of that time. It gives new meaning to Tip’s prophetic verse, “Damn, all we want is a piece of the pie” and makes it all the more apt that, at the end of his tale, Guess takes the whole slice. — T.J.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Los Angeles, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.