On Friday (Feb. 7), Justin Timberlake made his musical return when he teamed up with Meek Mill on the new single “Believe.” Timberlake’s affinity for hip-hop dates back to his days as a member of *NSYNC, who enlisted Nelly for a remix to “Girlfriend”; as a solo act, JT’s penchant for rap features was strong, as he called on Clipse for debut single “Like I Love You” and later enlisted artists like T.I., Three 6 Mafia, Jay-Z and Drake to guest on his albums. Meanwhile, the pop heavyweight contributed his silky vocals to various hip-hop artists’ major singles, with varying degrees of commercial success.
Below, check out some of Justin Timberlake’s best features on rap songs.
5. 50 Cent – “Ayo Technology”
After forging together two Billboard 200 chart-toppers with Get Rich or Die Tryin’ and The Massacre without any significant features outside of his Shady / G-Unit camps, 50 branched out on his third album, 2007’s Curtis. Hungry for a pop smash, 50 partnered up with Justin Timberlake and his go-to producer, Timbaland, for a futuristic bop in “Ayo Technology.” JT doles out a frenetic hook, which speaks to craving a physical connection instead of a cyber one; although the record hasn’t aged incredibly, back then, “Ayo Technology” zapped the competition, peaking at No. 5 on the Hot 100.
4. Jay-Z – “Holy Grail”
JT struck gold when he and Jay-Z collided on the dashing 20/20 Experience single “Suit & Tie.” The song sprinted to No. 3 on the Hot 100 and made fans crave more collaborations from two of music’s biggest titans. Their wishes came true when he and Hov teamed up a few months later on “Holy Grail,” which, unlike its predecessor, takes a more serious turn, as the twosome wrestle with the downsides of fame. JT ‘s poignant chorus (“One day you screamin’ you love me loud/The next day you’re so cold”) is a solid alley-oop for Jay, who slams home two verses about his celebrity struggles; both tracks helped launch the duo’s co-headlining stadium tour that year.
3. Meek Mill – “Believe”
Last October, Meek Mill and JT were spotted in the studio together. Rumblings of a collaboration circulated on social media until Meek announced the forthcoming release of “Believe,” amidst his latest skirmish with ex-girlfriend Nicki Minaj, on Wednesday (Feb. 5).
On Friday (Feb. 7), Meek took his biggest leap yet into mainstream pop territory when he unleashed his uplifting anthem. Anchored by Timberlake’s empowering hook, Meek raps with aplomb, eager to motivate the downtrodden. On paper, the pairing of Meek and JT appears jarring, but on wax, it’s golden.
2. Snoop Dogg – “Signs”
Snoop Dogg’s “Signs” is a funky earworm accompanied by Timberlake and Charlie Wilson. The Neptunes set the table nicely for the groovy triumvirate to dish out their best lines for their favorite women in the room. Snoop shines as an old-school player, using his Long Beach twang to his advantage, while JT and Uncle Charlie inject their buttery vocals into the dance-friendly tune.
1. T.I. – “Dead & Gone”
In 2008, T.I. was a man on a mission. His magnum opus, Paper Trail, scored two Hot 100 No. 1 singles with the Rihanna-assisted “Live Your Life” and the solo smash “Whatever You Like.” After knitting together an all-star lineup for “Swagga Like Us” — which peaked at No. 5 on the Hot 100 — T.I. released “Dead & Gone” with Timberlake.
Two years prior, JT and Tip danced their way to a Hot 100 No. 1 when they released “My Love” off of Timberlake’s FutureSex / Lovesounds album. With a pending court case and the recent death of Philant Johnson, T.I.’s best friend and bodyguard, resting on the rapper’s shoulders, JT delivered an indelible hook about evolution and leaving the older version of yourself behind.