“Backseat Freestyle” by Kendrick Lamar (2012)

Kendrick Lamar’s “Backseat Freestyle” is the Black male ego run unchecked…and it’s awesome.

In my previous Kendrick post, I mentioned how hip-hop has a swagger that, as a Black man, makes me feel unstoppable in the right context. Certain artists do that for me: Jay, Kanye, Talib Kweli. Ballers have that swagger too: J.R. Smith, LeBron, Mark Jackson, even Dennis Rodman. They knew they were the shit and didn’t feel compelled to downplay their talents just to appease White folks, which is something I’ve certainly done in the past (because there’s nothing more scary to White men specifically than an intelligent, confident Black man) and I don’t think is an experience unique to me. Black men are conditioned to think that they are less-than, and there’s nothing wrong with a motivational kick in the ass as a reminder that you’re just as (or more) smart and you’re just as (or more) qualified.

Motivational capabilities aside, Kendrick conducts a master class in rhyming. I read that “Backseat Freestyle” was inspired by Eminem, and Kendrick absorbs Em’s internal rhyme schemes and hyperspeed rhyming and puts some stank on it. That last verse is some head-spinning-in-Poltergeist type shit. Dick-grabbing, chest-puffing, comparing-his-dreams-to-MLK (ain’t nothing wrong with that), Michael Jackson standing-with-his-arm-up on Motown 25 type shit.

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