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(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)
(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)

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Steal This Song

What happens when a guest rapper’s verse pilfers a whole track from another artist

Without Googling the lyrics, I couldn’t tell you a single thing Mike Jones said on "Still Tippin’," aside from relating that some time ago hoes didn’t want him, and that now, because he’s hot — and it’s to be understood, only for that reason — hoes all on him. I regularly forget that Paul Wall was even there. But if I were to try hard enough, I could probably rap Slim Thug’s verse backward.

It’s not that Mike Jones’s verse isn’t great, or that Mike Jones himself isn’t great, or that Paul Wall "crawling similar to an ant" with a chain that lights up "like a lamp" isn’t a fun image. It’s just that Thug’s booming, pre-screwed, Mariana Trench–deep voice hogs up all my attention, and I’m pretty sure that "blowin’ on that indo, GameCube Nintendo, 5 percent tint so you can’t see up in my window" is the coolest thing that anyone has ever said in the history of recorded human civilization.

Twelve years later and after a lot of thought, I still have no idea why "GameCube Nintendo" is in there — I’ve devoted a similar amount of thought to what Lil B meant by "can’t stop what you can’t see, word to my dick" — but I am 110 percent certain that it was genius, and "Still Tippin’" would not have been "Still Tippin’" without it. Therefore: "Still Tippin’" is Slim Thug’s song.

That’s probably the best-case scenario for how a guest verse pans out, provided you’re the one making listeners mash the repeat button and not the one getting your song jacked. Guest verses, in that jacking framework, can be inconsequential and unnecessary, a robbery on the order of Tom Hardy knocking over a post office for a few dozen dollars in Bronson. In some cases, they can be the worst things ever assembled with words, akin to Sol and Vinny trying to knock over a bookie in Snatch for a fistful of quid they couldn’t even get out of the door with.

But when they work as they’re intended to, and a guest doesn’t literally phone in a verse from the cloud (with at least one super notable exception; more on that later), guest verses can be wonderful, beautiful capers. Entire careers can be launched off of them — an easy example would be AZ making a name for himself after turning in a sturdy verse on Nas’s Illmatic. Similarly, good guest verses can breathe new life into a plateauing career: think Teta Chico reintroducing himself as 2 Chainz, the Scene Stealer, early 2011. An otherworldly guest verse is a different thing that doesn’t quite fit into this extended theft metaphor. Those can raze everything to hell like that massive particle beam did to the White House in Independence Day.

Like, imagine being Big Sean.

Imagine Kendrick Lamar asks you what you’re working on, and invites himself to hop on something. You play a rough cut, and Kendrick straightens up as if struck by lightning, storms into the booth, and gets to rapping like the room has a limited and waning supply of oxygen, beating the instrumental up until it just about runs out of the studio on him. He goes on for about three uninterrupted minutes, and to cap it all off, he singles out 11 of your closest friends and declares that all their shit is weak — as is yours, you can now assume. You own eternal shame either way, but do you nerf the remix and also lose your self-respect, or put it out as is and lose the respect of everyone else?

It’s not the same thing as Prince walking onto a stage with Steve Winwood, Tom Petty, and Jeff Lynne to cover a Beatles song — in a red top hat — then melting everyone’s faces off with a "I Really Do This Shit For Real" guitar solo. But I’d wager the cocktail of blood-curdling jealousy and reluctant admiration was similar. Same deal for Nicki Minaj eating Rick Ross, Kanye West, and Jay Z all on "Monster," which, if my future daughter won’t know the Pledge of Allegiance, she’ll know Nicki Minaj’s verse on "Monster."

Guest spots may begin as favors or huge looks or whatever, but they create an uneasy, if mostly friendly, environment of competition. And therein are winners as well as losers. The victors are the ones who with their moment in the spotlight take ownership of a song — like Slim Thug, like Nicki Minaj, like Kendrick. Drake technically does this a lot, but most of his "wins" don’t count because you can’t "win" solely by being the most recognizable. You have to ruin someone else’s day, too.

The losers, then, are the ones you forget about. (Like, say, Bonkaz on "And Dat," because, well, Stormzy.) With that in mind, here are five other examples of people getting "Renegade’d" on their own shit.

Kendrick Lamar, "No More Parties in LA"

Victim: Kanye West

"Don’t kill a good nigga’s confidence, just ’cause he a nerd and you don’t know what a condom is" and of course "the head still good dooooooooooe" make everything else in this song completely unimportant. Which really isn’t fair considering Kanye wrote 90 bars for this gorgeous Madlib beat and kept the best 89.

Kendrick Lamar is a bully. And Kanye’s cousin, though I obviously don’t know him, must really suck.

Larceny line: "Buddhist monks and Cap’n Crunch cereal / Lord have mercy, thou will not hurt me"

Theft equivalent: Vincent Cassel using capoeira to steal a laser-protected Fabergé egg. I am exactly right about this.

Busta Rhymes, "Ante Up (Remix)"

Victim: M.O.P.

On the intro, Busta says that "this shit feel like an entire world collapse." And then he collapsed the entire world. Busta drops his shoulder and barrels out of the speaker with a verse that is somehow more gleeful and enthusiastic about robbing people than the gleeful and enthusiastic verses about robbing people that were already on the track. Specifically he talks — no, yells — about robbing subway trains while running alongside them, which is some Reverse-Flash, Legion of Doom shit.

Larceny line: "You little costume nigga, romper-room nigga / get you in the night or early afternoon nigga"

Theft equivalent: Bane snapping that scientist’s neck in front of a stadium full of people and persuading every not-rich Gothamite to, well, eat the rich.

Jadakiss, "Made You Look (Remix)"

Victim: Nas

I take back what I said about "GameCube Nintendo." "Outta shape, but I make sure that my gun’s healthy" is definitely the coolest thing anyone has ever said in the history of recorded human civilization.

Larceny line: I honestly can’t decide between "copped ya shit, now I break weed up on it" and "I’m a ape, you can’t stand Kiss / Comin’ through the hood in a Aston Vanquish the color of dandruff."

Theft equivalent: Danny Ocean and his 11 cohorts disguised as SWAT members walking out of the front door of the Bellagio with three casino vaults’ worth of cash. (I really like the Oceans movies, whatever.)

Tyler, The Creator, "Telephone Calls"

Victim: A$AP Rocky

Tyler and A$AP Rocky are friends. They race go-karts together, they race actual cars together, and Rocky even has a spot-on and super-endearing Tyler voice that he uses when telling stories about times when they’ve hung out. But on "Telephone Calls" Tyler just about reads everyone else on the song, including Rocky — and maybe me — for filth.

Rocky loves Gucci, and Raf, and swag, and plenty of other brands I can’t actually say correctly without hearing someone else say them first. (With the exception of J.W. Anderson, which makes some pretty cool stuff I can’t afford.) So, yeah.

This … just hurt my feelings.

Larceny line: "Fuck the Rolls and fuck the ’Rari / Fuck the Lambo, Tyler only ride McLaren"

Theft equivalent: Mark Wahlberg punching Edward Norton in the face and still paying for dinner in The Italian Job. It’s technically not a heist, but it is a heist film, so it counts.

Pimp C, "Big Pimpin’"

Victim: Jay Z

This is simple math: Jay Z spit 32 bars.

Bun B rapped his heart out for 20 trying to keep up.

Pimp C washed them both with eight, didn’t even like the song all that much, refused to fly to New York to record his verse, and didn’t show up for the video shoot in Trinidad either. He chose his own outfit and his own locale for his own shoot, did everything on his own terms, and at a time of his choosing. QED, this is the best guest verse ever.

Larceny line: If I had to pick one out to put on my headstone or have tatted on my face, "No rest till whitey pay me" would probably be it.

Theft equivalent: Going off of unprecedentedness and irreplicability — neither of which are real words — I’d have to say the Antwerp Diamond Heist. Somehow, that feels inadequate. Long live Pimp C.

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