Taylor Swift may be a pop icon, but she knows a thing or two about hip-hop. As well as being a conversation figure for Kanye West over the years, Swift has also shared her love of the genre, often picking out classic tracks as favourites. However, when thinking about Kendrick Lamar, there is only one song she considers her “go-to”.
‘Backseat Freestyle is a powerful and thought-provoking song by the renowned American rapper Kendrick Lamar. Released in 2012 as a part of his critically acclaimed album good kid, m.A.A.d city, this track stands out for its clever lyricism, storytelling, and social commentary. In just over three minutes, Kendrick Lamar conveys a deep message about identity, ambition, and the influence of external factors on one’s personal growth.
At its core, ‘Backseat Freestyle’ is a narrative about a young Kendrick Lamar growing up in Compton, California. The song begins with a provocative line, “Martin had a dream, Martin had a dream,” referencing Martin Luther King Jr.’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech. This immediately sets the tone for a song that explores the contrast between youthful aspirations and harsh realities. Kendrick Lamar adopts a persona in this track, portraying himself as a cocky, reckless teenager, starkly contrasting to the mature artist he would later become.
The chorus, with its repetitive chant of “All my life, I want money and power,” symbolises the shallow desires that often consume young minds growing up in disadvantaged environments. Kendrick Lamar uses this repetition to emphasize the pervasive influence of materialism and ambition, highlighting the often misguided priorities of youth in his community.
Throughout the song, Kendrick Lamar skillfully juxtaposes the superficial aspirations of his younger self with the harsh realities of life in Compton. He raps about the allure of women, money, and fame, showcasing the temptations that can easily divert one from one’s true path. However, he doesn’t glorify these desires but criticises them, suggesting that they distract from more profound personal growth and self-discovery.
The title, ‘Backseat Freestyle,’ itself carries a dual meaning. On the one hand, it suggests a carefree attitude, where Kendrick Lamar and his friends engage in freestyle rap battles while cruising in the backseat of a car. On the other hand, it represents a metaphorical backseat in life, where he temporarily loses sight of his true goals and identity, succumbing to the superficial desires of his environment.
For Taylor Swift, the song was more about the empowerment she felt when listening to it. When speaking with Rolling Stone, the pop singer noted that the track was her “go-to” tune for when she’s feeling down as it helped her “immediately go from feeling victimised to feeling awesome. I know every word.”
We all have those songs that can energise our very soul, and for Taylor Swift, it just so happens to be a monster tune from Kendrick Lamar.