Kendrick Lamar’s solo hits are anthemic but his features are equally impressive and at-times overlooked. In the past decade, Cornrow Kenny has been guaranteed to boost any song’s quality and is almost as likely to outshine his peers.
Peep eight times he stole the show with stellar bars.
Big Sean f. Kendrick Lamar & Jay Electronica — “Control” (2013)
Hardly anyone considers “Control” Big Sean’s song, and some may even have forgotten that Jay Electronica is on it. That’s because Kendrick’s verse is so blistering that all of Hip Hop stood up and took notice. He made bold statement after bold statement, declaring himself king of both the East and West Coasts before calling out several of his peers by name. “I got love for you all but I’m tryna murder you niggas,” he declared.
His adversarial verse prompted several responses from the competition. It’s funny how one verse can fuck up the game.
Dr. Dre f. Kendrick Lamar & King Mez — “Darkside/Gone” (2015)
As Dr. Dre’s latest muse, Kendrick appeared multiple times throughout Compton, the Good Doctor’s (possible) final album. Here, K-Dot pops up on the “Gone” part of the song, proclaiming mo-money-mo-problems rhetoric as he laments conflict with those in and out of the game. Dre and Mez provide strong verses in their own right, but Kendrick’s assured flow over those rain-drop piano keys makes him the clear standout.
He just couldn’t help himself.
Beyoncé f. Kendrick Lamar — “Freedom” (2016)
Lemonade is one of the best albums of the past decade, of any genre, and it was Beyoncé’s show. She didn’t need much help. Still, the choice to feature K-Dot on the triumphant “Freedom,” was a wise one. He matches her uncontainable energy with a flow that is bursting to pop as he counts down from 10 Hail Marys to six cop cars. By the time he reaches the end of the verse, he has circled back around to a prayer that seamlessly leads into Bey’s explosive hook.
DJ Khaled f. Betty Wright, Big Sean & Kendrick Lamar — “Holy Key” (2016)
Big Sean absolutely snapped on the first verse of this cut, apparently determined to pay Kendrick back for being outshined on “Control.” He does a fine job, too, until it’s Kung Fu Kenny’s turn. “Everything I touch may disintegrate into dust,” Kendrick spits to open his verse, raising the stakes to biblical proportions in a way only he can. The rest of the verse follows suit with raps about the universe and the fourth dimension.
By the end, his assertion that he was “the only one in the Matrix” was well earned.
Future f. Kendrick Lamar — “Mask Off (Remix)” (2016)
Like the rare sequel that is better than the first movie, the remix to this ghostly trap gem leaves little reason to listen to the original. That’s largely because of Kendrick’s scene-stealing verse, which finds this sex-obsessed insomniac marrying the downcast mood of this Metro Boomin’s production.
Prince lived through him.
Lil Wayne f. Kendrick Lamar, “Mona Lisa” (2018)
The long-awaited Tha Carter V was mostly forgettable. Shining bright amidst the mediocrity, though, was “Mona Lisa.” Wayne spends the first two verses impressively intertwining deceit and lust, but the mood deeply darkens when Kendrick raps the third verse. In an ironic twist, he catches his girlfriend cheating on him with Weezy, driving him to desperation and suicide.
Kendrick’s conviction ensures the vibe is chilling until his very last bar.
Maybach Music Group f. Kendrick Lamar — “Power Circle” (2012)
Let’s be real: this track falls short. Rick Ross wastes a triumphant beat with corny, unbelievable quips like “the square root of a kilo is ME,” and Gunplay’s verse is forgettable. Stalley and Wale give fine turns, and Meek’s verse is just OK. However, when Kendrick hops on the track for the final verse, his pristine bars shine a light on how lacking MMG was as a crew, and how bright Mr. Duckworth’s future was. He takes us to a world so bleak that even men of the cloth fall prey to crack.
And yet, when the smoke clears, Kendrick Lamar is the last one standing.
A$AP Rocky f. Action Bronson, Big K.R.I.T., Danny Brown, Joey Bada$$, Kendrick Lamar & Yelawolf — “1Train” (2013)
This is what you call a posse cut. Released in 2012, seven of the illest young MCs got together to show and prove over a dramatic Hit-Boy beat. They all excelled, but Kendrick, who batted second, was a cut above the rest. He never failed to entertain, whether he was sounding out firing off shots (“doo-doo!”), metaphorically eating MCs he had beef with (“mmm-mmm”) or thickening his voice around the words “banana clip.”
Armed with a verse like this, nothing could stop him. Not even dropping off a cliff like a vulture.