1 to 2, if you’re counting…
Brad Shoup: If you’re experiencing blood in your pen, please see a doctor. Having said that, I’m interested in how Janet’s used here. I don’t think of her as a balladeer, more of a hard-edged petitionee. (My favorite Janet song is still “Runaway”, which is, of course, in another category entirely.) She never really did a whole lot of duets, so I don’t have much to compare this to. Jackson’s spirit impels Kendrick to a lot of silliness: the bloodpen, the line about room-blooming flowers. Drake’s coming colder, line about the “fun sex” aside. I like the softness here; for me, the gold standard is Pete Rock & CL Smooth’s “Lots of Lovin,” but this is a fine if under-detailed entry in the loverap sweepstakes.
Alfred Soto: The Janet Jackson sample decelerated to match the taffy-coated tempo is the first coup. The second is Lamar dropping come-on’s like “If I told you a flower bloomed in the dark room would you trust it?” and using the simplest of puns to make a point about how writing may redress a lifetime of sins. Fortunately Drake acts like the chump that Kendrick hopes he isn’t, and for once his comic fool works.
Patrick St. Michel: Drake’s easily the worst part of this song, but this isn’t the usual stack-of-leaves piling on. His verse sounds fine even when he’s hooting and hollering at ass, but his leering come-ons are totally out of place on a song that’s all about awkward wooing. Kendrick Lamar, playing the role of boy-approaching-manhood, fumbles between the sort of lustful talk mostly shared by knuckleheaded teens (“every second/every minute/man I swear that she can get it” and so on) and stabs at being a romantic. The Janet Jackson sample is fantastic, bolstering both Lamar’s horndog lines and his attempts at loving poetry. It also helps Drake out, even if he doesn’t fit into what Lamar does so well here.
Crystal Xia: Much ado has been made about the production and the Janet Jackson sample, but it’s significant that “Poetic Justice” takes its title from a movie starring Janet Jackson of the same name. The movie is considered the lesser cousin to Singleton’s Boys n the Hood, but as Roger Ebert points out in his review, it’s not a film as obvious in its message, instead letting that unfold through a romance between Janet’s Justice and Tupac Shakur’s Lucky. “Poetic Justice” is also a love letter, and like Lucky, both dudes learn to listen to their ladies. Towards the end of each one of their verses, each one highlights the importance of communication: “They say conversation rule a nation”; “I just wish we would fight less and we would talk more/And they say communication saves relations”. But these emcees aren’t writing from the point of view of Tupac’s character; they are writing from the perspective of Kendrick and Drake. We get Kendrick bonding to his lady’s pain and we get Drake’s constant references to where he’s from and lines like “your big ass in that sundress.” Without this context, this song is great. With, this song is incredible.
Jer Fairall: A track accentuating the lineage drawn from Tupac to Kendrick was as much of an inevitability on good kid, m.A.A.d. city as a Drake feature, but going about it via a reference to a role in a not exactly well regarded film is a creative means of homage, all the more welcome for allowing the whole thing to languish in an airy, comfortable Janet Jackson sample.
Jonathan Bradley: Ostensibly the love song on good kid, m.A.A.d city, “Poetic Justice,” with its limpid Janet Jackson sample, works better as a distillation of Lamar’s artistic ethos. “Living my life in the margin,” raps Kendrick, “and that metaphor was proof. Yes, because he does live in the margin; he’s the kid catching a beating from the gangbangers, not the “man on these streets” but one of the boys bumping the first Jeezy album from his car stereo en route from the mall to his girl’s place. And what else do you do in the margins? You make notes about the text — which is the mission statement of good kid; to illuminate Compton beyond cliché and cursory reading and to prove that it exists within, and is accessible to, the larger world: to “come back and tell those black and brown kids” that he “rose from that dark place of violence.” Or that “love is not just a verb,” a theme he fleshes out on “Real.” “Poetic Justice” is Kendrick inviting Drake on to his album and returning the favor the latter made on his own record, when he allowed Lamar to rap “Buried Alive,” a song about despising a celebrity for his success and allowing oneself to pursue the same. “He said that he was the same age as myself,” Lamar said petulantly on that track, “and it didn’t help cause it made me even more rude and impatient.” But now he’s host to Drake on a major label single designed for Drake’s sensitivity routine and for Drake-level spins. For his part, Drake complements K-Dot well, even investing just the right amount of lust in his “big ass in that sundress” line. And this is Lamar: thoughtful and libidinal all at once. “If I told you that a flower bloomed in a dark room, would you trust it?”
Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: So here’s where Drake fits into Kendrick’s universe detailed throughout m.a.a.d. city: he’s the puppydoggish buddy on the block, smart enough to stay out of the gang messes but dumb enough to keep falling for pretty girls in sundresses (ooh!!!) on the regular. His verse, nimble and lived-in, works as the exuberant accompaniment to his host’s seriousness — “what we have in common is pain” is somewhere between Real Connections and hokeyness but the simpler “I really wanna know you all” finds the perfect balance. Extra  for the Atari line, multiple Kendricks surfacing to buffer the hell out of that line’s charm. Also: Scoop DeVille stays flipping familiar choices into sonic glee, making it look easy but never lazy.
Al Shipley: I have two particular pet peeves that are both violated at once by this song: songs that cram the title into the lyrics when it would be more clever or appealing as a title that didn’t appear in the lyrics, and songs that feature the title phrase in both the verses and the chorus. And “Any Time, Any Place” is a jewel of ’90s R&B that they really should not have touched. Despite all this, and Drake’s always embarrassing attempts to assimilate Kendrick’s style, it ain’t bad.
Alex Ostroff: Kendrick is awkwardly smooth and earnest and romantic, and pretty much everything I could want from this track. Meanwhile, as a bonus, after a bit of his usual shtick Drake sounds enthusiastic and oddly charming for the first time in ages, instead of just strangely frustratingly compelling. His “Ooh! What you doing that walk for?” temporarily erases my memory of ten thousand sad-in-the-strip-club moments. Janet floats through the proceedings, totally out of both of their leagues and absolutely worth this much effort from two fumbling boys crushing on the unattainable. But despite all the talk of conversation and communication ruling nations and saving relations, Kendrick flags the most vital thing in “Poetic Justice” before it falls from his lips: “I mean, you need to hear this/Love is not just a verb; it’s you looking in the mirror/Love is not just a verb; it’s you looking for it, maybe.” In the middle of a song spent spitting game I’m still not sure if he’s addressing himself or condescending at the object of his affections, but his reminder that the quest for connection and communication and conversation starts with self-acceptance and rejects passivity is one I’ve needed more than once this year. Plus, it’s the only track on good kid, m.A.A.d city that remotely feels like a single.