Kendrick Lamar is objectively the best living rapper. He has two albums that, for reasons unbeknownst to concepts like time and age, have immediately been deemed classics. Kendrick's dense, recherché rhyme schemes and other advanced multisyllabic adjectives to describe his technical ability as a rapper automatically make him a top 5 G.O.A.T. Lamar can do no wrong. And yet despite his "chosen one" position in rap Kendrick does indeed have an Achilles heel. You see, some part of him can't ignore the dull pain that erases his best musical instincts and fuels his objectively bad pop sensibilities. Meaning, he's had a hand in some of the most mediocre pop records in the last century.
Now, some of this can be chalked up to location. As an LA-based artist, Lamar is right next to the biggest names in mainstream music, so any producer who needs a rapper to appeal to the kids on their latest trend-hopping single will go to him because a) he has a large following b) he's objectively skilled and c) he's "conscious" which means he's consumable by the widest possible audience. It also doesn't help that the sheen of being brand new has completely worn off so now, like any successful human being who has been successful for too long, we as humans decide to be critical and massage the idea that he's starting to go downhill. Such is life. This is not to disregard his nuanced and challenging solo work, of course, but no one who makes music that left-field gets features that prominent for no reason. Lamar has continued this streak with a verse on Maroon 5's new single "Don't Wanna Know" so we have taken it upon ourselves to see where it stands with the rest of Kendrick's crossover features in order of least to most bad. Warning: this list will feature high cringe levels.
8) Dido featuring Kendrick Lamar - "Let Us Move On"
Dido is definitely still a thing and Kendrick is a thing. Together they made a thing called "Let Us Move On" that sounds pleasant to the ears. Here, Lamar, in the throes of his pop-coasting act following the universal acclaim of good k.i.d. keeps his verse tempered with shouty bursts denoting his bar and it all sounds quite nice but kind of goes nowhere in a harmless way. The song's worst crime is being forgettable and in light of what's here, that's a completely not bad thing.
7) The Lonely Island featuring Adam Levine and Kendrick Lamar - "YOLO"
The Lonely Island released this song in 2013, about a year after the actual phrase YOLO reached the peak of its ubiquity. They didn't make up for their tardiness either, with a goofy marching band replacing their usually on-point beat selection. The concept for the Lamar verse is kinda funny, with him rapping about real-estate investment and other responsible uses of money. It hasn't aged well but there is little awkwardness here. This is the least bad feature.
6) Taylor Swift featuring Kendrick Lamar - "Bad Blood"
Admittedly, this song is the catalyst for white pop artists to say "oh yeah, we can do some of this trap...rap...stuff...sort of?" so it has quantifiable impact. Lamar's appearance was meme-fulfillment and possibly his widest exposure ever, so it's not all bad, but it's insane that in the same year as the tangled, tortured To Pimp a Butterfly, he wrote and performed a verse that was mainly acronyms. "We was O.G. like DOC, remember that? / My TLC was quite OD, ID my facts" Too cute by half, not all that clever, altogether it's the feature you get when you want a rapper on a pop song.
5) Alicia Keys featuring Kendrick Lamar - "It's On Again"
Ah, Hans Zimmer. One of the five film composers people know about (even then…) and friend to Pharrell, who he once got to hit a giant drum on the Man of Steel soundtrack for seemingly no other reason than to say he had Pharrell hit a giant drum on the Man of Steel soundtrack. The two gathered Alicia Keys and a newly-famous Lamar for this official Amazing Spider-Man promo single and good God is this ever a song for a movie soundtrack. Overly bombastic, undynamic, and kinda boring. Lamar's verse isn't bad per se, but it is very "Lose Yourself," the kind of generic carpe diem rapping that mass audiences process as "inspirational" and "not like that gangster stuff."
4) Robin Thicke featuring Kendrick Lamar - "Give It 2 U"
Joining the ranks of artists who are looking for an elusive character who cannot be seen without a flashlight, Lamar finds himself, of his own choosing, on a Robin Thicke single. Much has been said about Thicke, not a lot has been said about this song. Let's keep it that way and move on from this mountain of mediocrity.
3) Maroon 5 featuring Kendrick Lamar - "Don't Wanna Know"
This is one of the worst. With its soft-EDM percussive keys and Adam Levine's broken record hook, this song will be dated in four months. Somehow even more baffling than the song being as generic as it is how putrid Lamar's verse is. Open secret: Lamar is kinda awkward when he writes about sex (see Eminem "Love Game") and this is no different, featuring the wretched slang "poona" that Kendrick is so embarrassed to say out loud that he pronounces it "poo-y."
2) AWOLNATION featuring Kendrick Lamar and Ab-Soul - "Sail (TDE Remix)"
For reasons unbeknownst to us, Kendrick along with Ab-Soul decided to not only do a remix of "Sail" but a TDE Remix. Maybe they thought the song was good. Perhaps they were inspired by the video of the woman in a cotton beanie strangling her friend with a garden hose. We'll likely never know why but at least it's... no, this isn't good. Between random trap drums and that sound night vision goggles make in Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell, Lamar makes metaphors for taxi cabs while pleading for CO2 from Mother Gaia and Ab-Soul talks about real estate agency Century 21. The verses here don't really sizzle but then again they're not supposed to... because this is a song about water. If Kendrick is given a free pass on these horrible songs I'm allowed to make that joke. Good lord.
WORST) Imagine Dragons featuring Kendrick Lamar - "Radioactive (Remix)"
There comes a point in time where a string of bad choices for broader appeal are no longer excusable, where your decisions become part of a trend. In this case "Radioactive" is ground zero, the point where everything collides into a Gundam Seed-esque pink explosion and we're left to deal with the aftermath. Now, sure some of you will argue about their amazing performance at the Grammys and, that's nice but here's the thing: did you know that "Radioactive" has the record for spending the longest amount of weeks on the Billboard Hot 100? Do you know which song previously held that record? AWOLNATION's "Sail." Forget his verse which is obviously exceptional, Lamar has definitively been on two, TWO of the worst rock songs of our generation. Correlation does imply causation. Kendrick absolutely likes bad stadium rock, objectively has horrible taste in music outside of rap and will certainly front a nu-metal band called Korn for Llama(r')s.
So there you have it. Here's a pic of Kendrick with Linkin Park so you can gaze into the future with sullen eyes.