Abe Beame wishes you a belated Happy Valentine’s Day.
A few weeks ago, we explored the roots of Hip Hop Soul, the genre spawned from Puff Daddy’s experiments cross breeding Rap and R&B. While that post focused on the singing side of the equation, it’s time to pay respect to the elusive art of the rapper guest verse. While often taken for granted, effectively writing and performing on a single that will be embraced primarily by teenage girls is no easy feat. As a partial scheme to amass precious page views and partly to get a well-rounded sampling of the sub-genre, here are my top ten all-time favorite guest verses on R&B songs.
10. Sunshine Anderson ft. Jadakiss- “Heard It All Before Remix”
You can look at this song as a metaphor for Jadakiss’ somewhat disappointing career. There are few rappers who make R&B cameos more often than Jada, and few rappers less suited to doing it (with the possible exception of Young Jeezy). On one hit wonder Anderson’s summery, uptempo breakup jam, Jadakiss has no reason to belong here, contributes a verse that couldn’t have less to do with Anderson’s song, and yet fucking kills it.
9. Akon ft. Styles P- “Locked Up”
Akon’s first hit was a sad, contemplative, borderline countryish tune about incarceration, an unlikely smash within the genre. So who better than Styles, the introverted, stoned philosopher and unsung hero of the Lox, to come through with a detail heavy classic? You can almost smell the bullpen in the Tombs, hear the angsty conversations concerning who’s catching an ACD and who’s going to the island — the heavy-hearted pay phone calls home.
8. Destiny’s Child ft. T.I. & Lil Wayne- - “Soldier”
T.I. is good too, but a largely un-tattooed, coherent Wayne steals the show on this bouncy DC track about fucking hood dudes. He’s brief, punchy and has the thematic benefit of being on a song that caters to a more traditional Hip Hop verse.
7. R.Kelly ft. Nas- “Money Makes the World Go Round”
There are a few very good Nas and Kelly collaborations, most of them about getting money. This is my personal favorite. Nas has tons of largely forgotten, trying-too-hard guest verses from the Escobar era, he’s another guy who you could probably file under “Has No Business on an R&B song” but this was around the time when he badly wanted the crown in New York and seemingly was willing to jump on anything that would raise his profile (I see you, Allure). I like this one because it’s one of the rare appearances where he seems comfortable.
6. Neyo ft. Kanye West- “All Because of You”
This was mixtape-only cut from Kanye’s great Can’t Tell Me Nothin, but it happens to be one of his best verses. There’s a knowing, ear-splitting grin running through his performance and one can only assume he and his ex-fiancé were having a good week. It’s also a safe bet that Rhymefest wrote this, but Kanye spits it marvelously. His verse on Beyonce’s “Ego” also just missed the cut here.
5. Mariah Carey ft. ODB- “Fantasy Bad Boy Remix”
One of Diddy’s earliest masterstrokes that made it onto my homage to his R&B meddling, this was sheer charisma, For readers born after 1990, it’s difficult to explain the brain-snapping context of this collaboration. To see a then strictly good girl, traditional R&B diva like Mariah Carrey roller blading around Russell Jones, the filthiest member of the Wu-Tang Clan fresh off his amazing, inebriated solo debut, was and still is almost too much to process. The combination made no sense. The guest rap verse was still a fairly novel thing, and Diddy had a hell of a muse in his production, the “Genius of Love” sample was tailor made for a rap cameo. Even without Dirty’s great verse late in the song, that introduction will live for as long as people throw house parties in Brooklyn.
4. Justin Timberlake ft. TI- “My Love”
T.I.’s witty braggadocio is a marvel of metronomic perfection. There’s only the regrettable “Chop Me Up” with Three 6 Mafia to consider, but Clifford Harris gets the distinction of having the best verse on the R&B album of the decade, matching Timbaland and Timberlake step for step with a handful of breathless bars that cultural anthropologists will point to when they try to explain “swag” to future generations.
3. Total ft. Biggie- “Can’t You See”
A virtuosic and pioneer verse, without which the two songs at the top of this list wouldn’t exist. Biggie goes ape shit, his verse has virtually nothing to do with a fairly blandly written song about a crush, but the mood is king and Big, Total and Puff all make stellar contributions on this lead single off a fantastic soundtrack for a movie about stealing cars in Newark. Every bar is memorable, but Biggie absolutely crushes his introduction. Drawing in the listener is a key for any rapper aspiring to truly make their mark on a cameo, and it was one of the many areas in which Christopher Wallace was the greatest of all time.
2. Usher ft. Ludacris- “Yeah”
You could make an incredible list consisting of nothing but Luda cameos. Pound for pound, there is no rapper that truly understands what makes for a great guest verse then goes out and nails it every time. This is his most famous and for good reason. Lil Jon is at the top of his game and so is Usher, but for my money Chris’ brief visit is the highlight. Energy and technique go without saying when discussing Luda, but his catchy couplets go beyond ear worm, not just the phrasing but the melodies he works into the mini verse almost leave listeners incapable of not rapping along. If you were in a club for at least twenty minutes between 2004-2008, you understand completely.
1. Mya ft. Jay-Z- “Best of Me”
No fireworks at the top of this list, just a very accomplished performance by Shawn Carter, flexing muscle at the height of his powers on this DJ Clue-engineered classic. This was around the Dynasty/Blueprint era and it comes off that way. He steals the show, relegating Mya to an afterthought on her own song. The name brands are specific enough to play as universal, not his typical platinum Maybach bullshit, but a pair of Tar Heel Jordan’s you’d buy for a slide. His two verses are things of economic, effortless, supremely confident, beauty. But more so than any other verse on this list, Jay-Z wrote to the concept without playing himself. He actually leaves the listener with a few pearls amidst the punchlines. Substance+Style. Aspiring MCs: this is how it’s done.