The best guest verses of 2023

The FADER’s Vivian Medithi looks back on the year’s standout rap features.

December 01, 2023
The best guest verses of 2023 (L) Lil Yachty. Photo by Gunner Stahl (M) Niontay. Photo by Christopher Currence. (R) Central Cee. Photo by Jimmy Fontaine  

The art of the rap feature is competitive and collaborative in equal measure. A good guest verse isn’t just well-executed, but a way of opening up new facets of a song, whether it’s finding new pockets in the beat or complicating emotional motifs with shades of nuance. At its best, a feature doesn’t just turn heads and bring fanbases together — it’s the irrational delight of putting two and two together and ending up with five, a synthesis greater than the sum of its parts. In no particular order, here are the best guest verses of 2023.

Niontay on MIKE's “Mussel Beach”

“Ma look at your son I’m important,” Niontay crows at the beginning of his verse on “Mussel Beach.” As the verse progresses, not-quite locked into the end rhyme, that first line becomes more than a declarative, transforming from rallying cry into causative explanation. The money? Normal. The weed? Imported. The bitch? Nordic. And that’s all because Niontay is important.

That self-importance is balanced by humility (“Out west I could work with your budget”) and grace (“We gon fuck then keep it cordial”). And it isn’t all smooth sailing — “N****s popped and they mental disordered.” But not even the stress of the rap game can phase Niontay: “know what come with this and I love it n***a.”

Central Cee on PinkPantheress's “Nice to meet you”

When I first spotted Cench on the tracklist for Heaven Knows, I was a little apprehensive. That’s no hate to Central Cee — “Doja” is a breezy little ditty, and I was more than convinced of his skills by this L.A. Leakers freestyle — but rather a testament to the strength of the “Nice to meet you” snippet PinkPantheress teased over the summer. Plenty of skyscraping pop-rap collabs have fallen back to earth over an out-of-sync guest verse.

“Nice to meet you” lands firmly among the stars, somewhere between “Let Me Love You” and “California Gurls.” Zooming in on a defunct romance, Central Cee thematically syncs with Pantheress, even if she’s being an angel and he’s being a bit of a dog. Still, it’s not what he’s saying, but his flow which propels this verse forward. Cee’s propensity to skip syllables across the upbeat and stretch lines across measures where other rappers might opt to enjamb teases out new contours in Cash Cobain’s deliriously heady instrumental. If Drake’s cosign didn’t make it clear, “Nice to meet you” should reassure you: like PinkPantheress, Central Cee is a star on both sides of the pond.

ZelooperZ on Valee & MVW's "MetroPCS"

Picking a favorite Zelooperz verse this year is a nigh-impossible task: how could you possibly choose? Certainly there are other universes where I decided to write about “PlayDis!” or “Fried Ice Cream,” but just listen to how Zelooperz slurs onto MVW’s asthmatic instrumental here. “Metro PTSD-etroit, like its Iran,” he stutters, words smashing into one another as he mirrors Valee’s flow. Later on, he’ll admonish: “I just ate, I’m gaining weight, your pockets gastric bypass.” Even simpler ideas are rendered with new wrinkles, as when he flexes his gator shoes by moonwalking forward (Michael Jackson must be trembling in his grave). Just don’t make the mistake of telling Zelooperz he ought to feel happy about his success to date. “Saying I should smile more, I end up like a sabretooth.”

Lil Yachty on Veeze's "Boat Interlude"

Ganger is one of the best rap albums out this year and Veeze didn’t need any features to prove it. Where they do pop up, Lucki, Babyface Ray, and Lil Uzi Vert leave it all on the court, a mark of respect for his meticulous playmaking. Soaked in sludge, “Boat Interlude” leads the pack thanks to hellishly pitched-down verses by Veeze and Lil Yachty. While Yachty’s bars have been fairly dexterous since 2018’s Lil Boat 2, 2023 felt like a true culmination of the lyrical skill he’s been honing since the Michigan Boy Boat sessions. Yes, he’s still rapping about blowjobs, but instead of getting blown like a cello he’s “gettin’ necked up like a teen giraffe.” Holding out hope for a no-skips Yachty album might be a tad ambitious, but his music hasn’t been this exciting since his 2016 debut.

Nicki Minaj on Sexyy Red's "Pound Town 2"

Sexyy Red’s “Pound Town” was already an undeniable hit well before Nicki decided to hop on the track. Nicki’s more traditionally lyrical approach is indeed at odds with Sexyy Red’s blunted bars, but the gap between their styles shrinks and collapses on “Pound Town 2” as Nicki pivots between baby voiced staccato and bassy growls.

Historically, Nicki approaches heavier instrumentals, as on “We Go Up” or “Chiraq,” with a hyperaggressive posture, more violent and sawed off than her album cuts. This doesn’t always equal a slam dunk performance (“Welcome to the Party [Remix]”), but she attacks these verses with theatrically overt menace, as if to convince you by word alone that she really will “flip 100 bricks [and] get back all my licks.” The tough talk is naturally undercut by a few silly disses (“his exes is rinky-dink”) and a little lascivious imagery (“I ain’t talking about chicken when I jerk it with my tits”); even when anointing a fellow female rapper, Nicki Minaj will never be a mere supporting actress.

Fivio Foreign on Swizz Beatz's "City Sound Like"

“[Swizz Beatz is] GOATed,” Subjxct 5 told The FADER last year. “That’s a lost sound, so a lot of people hear those beats and be like, ‘Ah, fuck that.’ Swizz went so crazy that you really can’t take nothing away from him.”

While you could characterize his instrumental for “City Sound Like” as dated, you could also characterize it as timeless, in the sense that Swizz will probably be making beats that sound like this in another 10 years too. Even if you don’t want to give him any credit, there’s still something bizarrely fun about hearing Fivio Foreign and Bandmanrill over a beat that wouldn’t sound out of place on a mid-2000s playlist. As part of a Hip-Hop 50 tribute EP, this type of anachronistic juxtaposition is practically mandatory.

Fivio Foreign is a plainspoken drill rapper and an unfiltered tweeter, which can give off the incorrect impression that he’s unserious or unthoughtful. His wordplay on “City Sound Like” is particularly inspired, syllables sprayed across the track like bursts of semi-automatic gunfire as he details his closet. “Got a thousand-dollar sweater but I still ain’t gon sweat her,” Fivio smirks. But the pinnacle of this verse has to be the bar where Fivio discusses sitting down with Eric Adams in 2022 to discuss violence and drill music. “They blame us for the killings, I sat down with the mayor/if you listen to lyrics, then I’m like ‘Answer the prayers.’” Two short lines that contain an entire world.

Rounding out the Top 30

Vayda on “WETTER;” Lil 2 Dow on “Beyond the Glory;” FLEE on “Big Mad Skit;” Sexyy Red on “MMM HMM;” Luh Tyler on “mr. skii;” Los & Nutty on “Luh Tyler Flow;” Kwame Adu on “NO ROMEO NO MATRIX (SWZSXX);” 454 on “Supa Bowl LVIII;” Moh Baretta on “feelbadcorps;” Foushee on “pRETTy;” A$AP Ant on “Wasabi;” Pasto Flacco on “WTW;” Babyface Ray on “Penthouse Views;” Rob49 on “TOPIA TWINS;” Ice Spice on “Boy’s a liar pt. 2;” Destroy Lonely on “FOREVER, PT. 2 (JEZEBEL);” Chief Keef on “All The Parties;” Lil Tjay on “Gangsta Boo;” Cardi B on “Put It On Da Floor Again;” Lil Baby on “Real Type;” Shawny Bin Laden on “It Get Deep;” Jay Electronica on “balloons;” QP KO on “2 MISSED CALLS;” Drake on “Parade on Cleveland.”


Rap Column is a column about rap music by Vivian Medithi and Nadine Smith for The FADER.


The best guest verses of 2023