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The Art of the Feature

banner photo from Billboard

source: The FADER

Like a skilled bassist, the sign of a quality feature lies in its ability to blend in, not stand out. Don’t confuse cohesion with mediocrity however, a forgetful feature is just as song-ruining as a forgetful bassline. Mastery of the guest appearance art form is a widely sought-after achievement in the Hip-Hop genre, where features are a right of passage, and an essential skill in the toolbelt of any artist hoping to obtain GOAT status. But what differentiates a bad feature from a good one? And perhaps even more importantly, a good feature from a great one? There is of course no quantifiable metric by which to rank an artist’s ability to feature, (although Ty Dolla $ign would probably get an A+ for consistency.) So instead, we will analyze an artist widely regarded to be one of the most reliable phenomenal guest artists in the rap sphere. The 2016 XXL freshman, Florida native, and Saturday morning cartoon enthusiast, Denzel Curry. We’ll break down some of his most notable features, and why they have remained a talking point for nearly half a decade.

Features, whether good or bad, are done most often in the attempt to add variety or star power to a song, with the hopes of congealing the two objectives together and accomplishing both simultaneously. The Weeknd is a highly sought-after guest artist due to his ability to provide a melody, chorus, or verse with consistently high quality. Not only this but seeing FEAT. The Weeknd on a song is a surefire way to ensure the song will skyrocket to the top of the billboard charts based on name recognition alone. Similarly, after many years of steady grinding through the ranks of Hip-Hop, Denzel has secured himself as a household name, one that can make or break a song’s relevance.

album artwork via: Spotify

This didn’t come easy, however. Denzel burst onto the scene with his hit single ULTIMATE, which ironically had a feature of its own from Juicy J. The success of this single largely came from its affiliation with Vine, where content creators or bored teenagers from all around the world used the song to time their bottle flips in what was at the time, a hilarious internet trend. Understandably, “bottle flip song guy” is not a moniker any artist hoping to be taken seriously would want to be known by. And it was perhaps this very fear that motivated Denzel Curry to prove himself to the world.

Curry’s first round of features on songs like “Chill Bill Remix” and “Du Rags” in 2016 showed moments of promise, but overall lacked the energy and dynamic bravado Denzel would later accumulate. Within these features, his confidence is shaky at best, with the cadence and rhyme structure barely keeping afloat with the song’s overall tone. However, building within these early years was perhaps Denzel’s greatest superpower, the ability to mold his flow to meet the necessities of nearly any beat presented to him. A strength best represented in one of his standout features from 2017 on “Babylon” by Ekali. A glitchy, scatterbrained track with only brief moments of continuous rhythm, the track can be seen as a double black diamond of feature difficulty. Despite this, Denzel masterfully weaves himself together with the beat, flowing seamlessly from one pocket to the next, despite the sonic chaos swirling around him.

It wouldn’t be until 2019 that Denzel would step far out of his comfort zone like this again with his feature on “Tokyo Drifting” by Glass Animals. A light and bouncy pop track with playful horns and deep 808’s, the cut was a far cry from Denzel’s usual grunge and grime. Despite only appearing for a total of 22 seconds, Curry’s presence elevates the track to a higher echelon. Combining a determined flow with whimsical pauses for sound effects, Denzel integrates himself into the highly positive energy mix with irresistible charisma, returning to his more aggressive roots with a bar-ending battle cry sure to invoke goosebumps upon every listen.

album artwork via Spotify

While this feature can’t be positioned as the sole guest appearance that launched Denzel’s skyward trajectory, it more than likely played a significant role in the artist’s most packed year of all time for features, 2020. Appearing 8 different times on tracks ranging from heavy trap bangers such as “The Little Scammer That Could” with Guapdad 4000 to groovy dance mixes such as “Fallin’ Apart” with Young Franco and Pell. With each appearance Denzel melded with the energy and vibe of the track, standing out with infectious confidence and flow while blending in with his chameleon-like adaptable cadence and tone.

Denzel has done well to keep this impressive track record going through 2021, and 2022, with his first feature of 2023 on Armani White’sGOATED,” once again proving Curry can hop on nearly anything and provide a showstopping performance that elevates the song. He accomplishes this by understanding what makes a feature good, and what makes a feature great. It’s not about rapping at the highest possible ability that Denzel Curry can, he knows that features are at their core, collaborations. Further proving this point, features such as JID on “SIRENZ | Z1RENZ” and T-Pain on “Troubles” display Denzel’s ability also to choose who best to feature in his own work, demonstrating an ear for new styles and sounds, and a willingness to adopt them into his own.

Like a skilled bassist, a good feature blends in with the song, a seamless cog in the machine, one whose absence is impossible not to notice. Guest artists are meant to add a new element to an existing project, not make it their own. Even impressive features such as Kendrick Lamar on “Control” or Lil Baby on “Wants and Needs” can be seen as a bit overzealous, acting as their own performances rather than an addition to a song. Knowing this, Denzel morphs his style, lyricism, cadence, flow, and even his own persona to best fit the needs of whatever track he’s a part of. And it’s this ability to become one with a crowd that ironically, makes him stand out from it.


  • Noah Bosch

    Noah Bosch is a Michigan State University graduate in Media with a minor in film. He’s an ex-radio employee working in children’s animation and maintaining a music-based TikTok on the side. His favorite genre of music is hip-hop and loves discussing the music and the culture surrounding it.

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