Ranking Lil Wayne's Best Guest Verses in 2016: Critic's Picks
Another year has come to a close, and still the world is no closer to Lil Wayne releasing Tha Carter V. But protracted label issues aside, there's still plenty in the tank for Lil Wayne, who inarguably held the title of best rapper alive for a few years in the mid-late-2000s before losing the magic dust at some point after Tha Carter III's release. With his solo releases gathering dust on the shelf and a nagging sense that his best days are behind him, Weezy's been written off by many despite his track record of always bouncing back and delivering when it matters.
But that didn't stop him from quietly having a great year in 2016, popping up with dozens of guest verses on projects by artists from Jeezy and Yo Gotti to Solange and Ariana Grande -- and evening sneaking in almost an album's worth of verses on Collegrove, ostensibly a 2 Chainz album that was, in reality, a joint effort between the two. With 2016 almost -- finally! -- in the rearview mirror, here's a look at Lil Wayne's 20 best guest verses of the year, from his collab with Chance the Rapper to his contribution to the Suicide Squad soundtrack and just about everything in between.
20. Hodgy feat. Lil Wayne, "Tape Beat"
This truthfully isn't the greatest song or the greatest Wayne verse of all time; it's a little too dreamy in a directionless way, and Wayne -- who at times lives and dies by how much he's allowed to play off the production -- echoes that feel with his verse. It's also not especially creative lyrically -- "F--- the pigs all day, even the guineas" isn't his high water mark, to say the least -- but we're going to include it here just for the casual boast "I could cheat Roger Clemens," which is just excellent.
19. 2 Chainz feat. Lil Wayne, "Rolls Royce Weather Every Day"
First of all, what the hell is this beat? It's almost like a string quartet got caught in a garbage disposal. But anyway, Wayne keeps his flow steady and deliberate, which can sometimes mean he isn't really pushing himself, but here it adds to the swagger of his verse, with him stunting on everything from inferior rappers to ungrateful snitches and flashing his deep pockets and Nike connects. Not a great verse in a vacuum, but it works.
18. YG feat. Lil Wayne, "Trill"
The loose, spare cut for Red Bull's #20Before17 series kicks off with Weezy in his lackadaisical pocket rapping easily about weed, women and wealth with an inspired Shaquille O'Trill flip tossed in for good measure. It's a classic feel for Wayne, meaning it's clever and he flows well, rapping over Boi-1da's beat effortlessly. The song itself is more of a vehicle for YG, however, and Wayne spends the vast majority of the track playing hype man for the West Coast MC. A solid if unspectacular showing.
17. Yo Gotti feat. Lil Wayne, "Bible"
This Gotti album was wildly overlooked this year, probably drowned by the success of "Down in the DM," but it's an important one in representing how much Gotti improved at rapping and varying his flows over much of his previous work, and "Bible" is a good example of his newly-discovered agility. Wayne has a few snarling lines with a bit of a bite here -- you can picture him delivering a line like "I played them corners like I'm Richard Sherman muthaf---a" with a side-eye and sneer -- but he's almost too lackadaisical at times as well on his verse, barely enunciating at times. For the most part, only his preternatural ability to ride a beat without thinking saves him.
16. 2 Chainz feat. Lil Wayne, "Blue C-Note"
First off, I will be the first to admit that this is a weird song and not a particularly good one, as a whole. Nor is it on a particularly high level lyrically, whether judging by substance or by wit, and Wayne's flow is stodgy and static. But not only did dude say his hair looks like pasta, he delivered the line "I keep on switching wifeys / You gotta Uncle Phil me." I'll take it.
15. DJ Khaled feat. Travi$ Scott and Lil Wayne, "Tourist"
There's a pretty great section of DJ Khaled's Wikipedia page that features a chart showing which artists appeared on the most DJ Khaled albums -- there have been nine so far -- and Wayne pops up on eight of them, second only to Rick Ross' full complement (2008's We Global is the only Khaled album without a Wayne verse). Wayne gets let down a bit by the beat here, which serves Travi$ Scott far better than it does him (which would make sense, given Scott co-produced it), but Wayne still delivers in his own idiosyncratic way; he opens with "Wayne's world, party time, excellent," which is just fantastic, for one. He also flashes a vocal quirk that draws a clear line between his own aesthetic and Young Thug's rapping style, a probably subconscious flex that shows how much Thugger took from Weezy's world of influence.
14. 2 Chainz feat. Lil Wayne, "What Happened"
"She said, 'Oh, you got that comeback?'" Wayne begins, and while it takes a while for him to kick into high gear, he rips the second half of his verse, doubling down on his flow and bending words and syllables to fit his relatively clear-headed narrative. (Who else can rhyme "sky" with "bomb"?) Lyrically he voices a litany of complaints that his girl has laid at his feet and offers little in the way of resolution, but as happens sometimes with Wayne it's more in the aesthetic and sound of his vocals than it is in the exact nitty gritty of his words that serves the song best.
13. Jeezy feat. Lil Wayne, "Bout That"
Jeezy's much more associated with anthemic rallying cries for the streets, so this sparse, almost creepy beat is a surprise, but Wayne's deft switches between flows add plenty of life to the brooding track. It's not really about what Wayne says here that makes this verse work so well, it's about how he says it -- the staccato punches of the last eight bars are so effective that it almost doesn't even matter what tale he's spinning (it's about drugs and women, FYI).
12. 2 Chainz feat. Lil Wayne, "Smell Like Money"
The reverb that accompanies Wayne's otherwise-a-capella opening verse is probably a little unnecessary, but only in that it takes away from the fact that his bars here are arguably weightier than anything else he spits on this album. It feels like he's freestyling things -- and he probably is -- which, more than anything, showcases his uncanny ability to mold language to fit whatever flow he wants without sparing a thought to what it all means. Once the beat kicks in he's a little smoother -- "My chances are cold cut thin / But I still took 'em and n---a we made it / T roll that killa weed up in the swisher / And make it as fat as a pig in a blanket" -- and by the time he reaches the hook he's finally found his purpose.
11. Dame D.O.L.L.A. feat. Lil Wayne, "Loyal to the Soil"
Yeah, that's NBA star Damian Lillard behind the Dame D.O.L.L.A. moniker, who channels early-2000s New York hip-hop in both delivery and beat selection here and, charitably, doesn't provide much competition for Wayne. He starts things off with some clever double-meanings and metaphors -- "Sippin' purple Whitney Houston, never touch the Bobby Brown" might be his best of the whole year -- but ultimately winds up losing some steam with some basic bars about Charmin toilet paper and being too short to play basketball.
10. 2 Chainz feat. Lil Wayne, "Section"
Collegrove as a whole suffers from some strange production, but London on da Track laced up a beat that provides plenty of room for Wayne to waltz through and stamp his signature punchlines all over it. Wayne is always malleable, and he even picks up a Migos flow for a piece of this verse, but it's his carefree attitude that makes this one of his standouts of the year -- that and his ability to create his own narrative tension with his voice rising with each bar towards the end, delivering a payoff that would make St-st-st-st-stuttering Stanley smile.
9. YG feat. Lil Wayne, "I Got a Question"
At some point, we're all going to have to come together and come up with some sort of honor praising YG for his impeccable beat selection. That's all you need for Wayne to float, and he delivers with a 16 that makes up for its lack of complexity with a silky delivery that stays firmly in the pocket and blends Wayne seamlessly into YG's West Coast audio landscape. It's not a standout verse, but the song is better for having Wayne there, which is probably the most important benchmark for a feature, anyway.
8. Ariana Grande feat. Lil Wayne, "Let Me Love You"
I'm not going to lie, I don't really understand this song at all; somehow, running Ariana Grande's voice through a series of effects feels counterintuitive in the extreme and there isn't much in it that reaches out and grabs you. But the wide open format leaves Wayne plenty of latitude to flex some lyrical dexterity and twist words to his liking, spinning the last word of the line "My ex trippin', it's no Biggie / I Tupac, Shakur" to sound like "shook her" and using the diva's last name as a metaphor for his sexual prowess. There's also a thematic callback to the name change from "A Milli" -- "I'm laid up with my new thing / She lay her head on my new chain / Then the mood change / Then my name change / From Lil Wayne to 'Ooh, Wayne.'"
7. Gucci Mane and Lil Wayne, "Oh Lord"
It was always a big ask for Gucci Mane and Lil Wayne to top "Steady Mobbin'," and they didn't here. But despite the track's fairly uninspired hook, Wayne goes in with his verse, sounding almost desperate as he spits a coherent 16 addressing the break up of his Cash Money family and the unrelenting need to deliver for his own flesh and blood family and vent his pent-up creativity. He spends the rapid-fire verse expressing indignant-yet-wounded pride and the constant twinge of nostalgia in a relatable, if slightly frantic, way. (Bonus points for comparing himself to Hemingway.)
6. PartyNextDoor and Jeremih feat. Lil Wayne, "Like Dat"
This song essentially served as confirmation that Party and Jeremih would be teaming up for a joint project called Late Night Party, and the two would-be crooners step up the energy to match the song's pulsing beat. So when Wayne comes through in full-on alien-voice-mode it almost sounds like an intrusion into the world Party and Jeremih had created -- until midway through his verse, when Weezy starts to snap with some of his quickest and slickest bars in years, moving into a rapid-fire flow that he rarely employs these days. It might not be lyrically adventurous, but it's technically great.
5. DJ Drama feat. Lil Wayne, "Intro"
Few combinations have proven more effective than DJ Drama and Lil Wayne over the years, so it makes sense that Dram would tap Weezy for the introduction to his second studio album, Quality Street Music 2, and for Wayne to come through and kill it. He kicks things off with some free association freestyling but kicks into higher gear as the beat comes through and rides it to cinematic heights. When Wayne gets into this type of groove he's like a freight train abiding strictly by Newton's first law of motion, barreling straight ahead and gaining steam every step of the way. By the time he gets a minute in you question whether or not he's paused to breathe, or think -- or even whether he needs to -- and then he somehow keeps going.
4. Lil Wayne, Wiz Khalifa and Imagine Dragons with Logic and Ty Dolla $ign feat. X Ambassadors, "Sucker for Pain"
Setting aside the fact that this is the most random assortment of artists this side of "We Are the World," Wayne really finds a groove within the understated chaos of the collaboration and delivers a verse that not only perfectly fits the theme of the track but serves up some formidable bars along the way: "Devoted to destruction / A full dosage of detrimental dysfunction, I'm / Dying slow, but the devil tryna rush me." And let's not forget Wayne's penchant for the endearingly bizarre, which is on full display here with lines like "Tongue kiss a shark, got jealous b---es up in the boat / Eating peanut butter and jelly fishes on toast." No wonder it became his highest-charting of the year.
3. 2 Chainz feat. Lil Wayne, "Bounce"
Take the shackles off and let Weezy run loose over a beat that wouldn't sound out of place on a Run the Jewels album and you've got the breakneck Wayne on "Bounce," on which his verses get better as the song burns along. Overall he probably gets overshadowed by Chainz, whose voice fits this production perfectly, but Wayne's frenetic energy is matched by his wildly varied metaphors and explicitly vivid imagery. Take your pick: "My rivers rapid, my fin is splashin', my gills are flappin' / I bit some matches then sipped some gas and went 'Kiss the dragon'"; "It’s gon' be trouble, we come through and catch you while you cuddle / Them shotgun barrels like tunnels, n---a, don’t even mumble"; or "I’m so high the blunt feel like a dumbbell / These n---as tiny like a spider on a Spud Webb"?
2. Chance the Rapper feat. 2 Chainz and Lil Wayne, "No Problem"
I love punchline Wayne, I love free association Wayne, I love triumphant Wayne and give-no-f---s Wayne and intergalactic space oddity Wayne. But to me, the best Wayne is emotional Wayne, the type of Wayne verses that he delivers on "Tie My Hands," for instance, where he really opens up and lets out his frustrations and insecurities and feelings in a way that reminds you that deep down he's actually a human being, too (despite his resistance to the idea). What strikes me about this particular verse is that it's almost like he tries to reject that part of himself, opening his verse talking about money, saying he feels like Jesus and condemning his label situation (which, understandably, seems to be the main thing on his mind these days) only to stop himself almost involuntarily: "Hold up, get too choked up / When I think of old stuff." The whole verse is stuffed full of quotables -- "pretty b---ches, centerfolds"; "Half a milli in the safe, another in the pillowcase" -- but it's all tied together with that emotional through line, showcasing Wayne at his peak once again.
1. Solange feat. Lil Wayne, "Mad"
"Got a lot to be mad about / Got a lot to be a man about / Got a lot to pop a Xan about / I used to rock hand me downs / And now I rock standin' crowds / But it's hard when you only got fans around / And no fam around / And if they are then they hands is out"
"And when I attempted suicide I didn't die / I remember how mad I was on that day / Man you gotta let it go before it get up in the way / Let it go, let it go!"
Oh my God, Lil Wayne might still be the best rapper alive.