“I’m not aware, but I know Fruity Pebbles.”
Patrick St. Michel: It’s subtitled “A Short Film by Kendrick Lamar,” but good kid, m.A.A.d city features a few moments that standalone as summer blockbusters. “Backseat Freestyle” is the most popcorn-friendly of the bunch, because when you strip it from the context of the album it takes on a whole new life. Within the confines of good kid, it helps round out Lamar’s character, the juvenile knucklehead-ness of the lyrics highlighting the youth of our protagonist — and also showing what a good rapper Lamar is. Cut out and left on its own, though, “Backseat” turns into pure banger, propelled forward by Hit-Boy’s beast of a beat. It’s a bit dumb lyrically, but conceals cleverness from a protagonist so young (catch the “25 Lighters On My Dresser” shout out). And again… regardless of how you hear this song, it highlights Lamar’s vocal versatility excellently.
Anthony Easton: This is so offensive. I am so offended listening to this. I worry about the children of America, who have to hear about one of their nation’s great moral leaders in the same song as disgusting references to this terrible human being’s thingy. Martin must be rolling around in his grave.
Jer Fairall: Kendrick Lamar sounds absolutely unhinged on “Backstreet Freestyle,” but what impresses the most about his performance, at least from a technical standpoint, is just how convincing he is at giving the illusion of mania. He is in complete control of his craft here, throwing himself into character with the assurance that defines his work throughout all of good kid, m.A.A.d. city, but which reaches a visceral (if not quite an emotional) climax on this track. His whole ecstatic tirade — the chutzpah it takes to juxtapose himself with Martin Luther King, Jr., the euphoric vigour that causes one to declare their intentions to “fuck the world for 72 hours” — isn’t just great fun to listen to, it’s wickedly funny, vicariously thrilling and vividly terrifying all at once; you’re torn between wanting to be the Kendrick Lamar of this song and wanting to cross the road when you see him coming your way. If Kendrick ever decides to take the acting route favoured by so many rappers before him, consider this his audition.
Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: On “Backseat Freestyle,” Lamar delivers a virtuoso performance of rappity-ass rapping. (As always.) He growls and howls, is alternately threatening and minuscule, and despite staying deep in the pocket for “Backseat Freestyle”‘s running time, a feeling remains that both song and artist could go off the rails at any moment. This lends the song an unease that the best bangers have… and oh lord it is a bonafide banger, a Hit-Boy construct of anything-goes bells’n'whistles and a clattering, anxious energy. Even if you don’t know that K. is inhabiting a reckless persona for “Backseat Freestyle” in the context of the LP, this is still a blitz through Kendrick Lamar’s world: honesty (“it makes me cum fast but I never get embarassed”), humour (compares his cock to the Eiffel Tower), wildness (howling “BEE-YATCH” in a wrestler’s gruffness), a need for historical context (“Martin had a dream!”), the power of home (“C-O-M-P-T-O-N my city”).
Al Shipley: A scarequotes “banger” done in the character of the artist as a slightly younger man, who’s still young now but a little too invested in acting like a wizened old soul. As the token fun song on a serious album, it isn’t actually as much fun to listen to as his more sincere material.
Alfred Soto: One of the Lamar tracks that most people are crazier about than I, and even if he’s “in character” it doesn’t excuse the affected whine.
Ian Mathers: All the reviews I read talking about how incredible this album is never mentioned how incredibly annoying (on a purely sonic level) his voice is.
Brad Shoup: He can tuck the word “power” away, but he can’t hide the Kanye parallels. It’s the realized adolescence Mr. West lords over his peers, or Lil Wayne celebrates with naked glee. Hit-Boy pushes pocket church chimes and sonar ping, Lamar switches to the wrong gear (or he’s doing an awesome Eminem impression). If you count Bubbling Under, this is one of eight charting singles; it’s not one of the better ones, but it’s one of the more memorable.
Jonathan Bradley: What kind of seventeen year old is lucky enough to get a beat like this Eiffel Tower–sized Hit Boy thumper to spit over? “Backseat Freestyle” isn’t as narratively or thematically inspired as some of the better tunes on good kid, m.A.A.d city, but it does showcase Lamar’s lithe tongue and facility with a clever turn of phrase. (Even the album’s religious motif shows up here, with the dense couplet “And I pray you niggas is hating: shooters go after Judas/Jesus Christ, if I live life on my knees, ain’t no need to do this.”) But on “Backseat Freestyle,” Kendrick’s sounds are more interesting than his words: his delivery encompasses onomatopoeic growls (“vroom vroom!”), jeering call-and-response “BEE-YOTCH/go play!” and a nimble growl (“I roll in dough with a good grind…”). Then there’s the assonance — “She rolling/I’m holding/my scrotum/and posing” — is much more pleasing to the ear than it reads — or the double-tracked switch-up from his bass delivery to a higher-pitched yelp on the last four lines. Freestyles are about showing off, and K-Dot pulls out all the stops on this one.