The meaning of the colloquial term ‘freestyle’ has often been debated. Many insist it means rapping verses on the spot that are not pre-written, while others claim that it means spitting pre-written rhymes but in a free-flowing way that is devoid of structure.
However, irrespective of the type of freestyle we’re listening to, they always deliver surprises and regularly astonish us. In the UK, ‘Fire In The Booth’ is where artists go to show off their rapping ability, give all they have to offer and where they prove themselves. However, in the US, MCs go to HOT 97.0. More specifically, they visit DJ Funkmaster Flex.
Usually, lyricists deliver pre-written verses with complex rhyme schemes, interesting similes and punchy metaphors. However, on one occasion, an emcee sat in front of the microphone and delivered a rap in reverse.
The lyricist who achieved this incredible feat is the Massachusetts native Joyner Lucas. In 2020, Eminem certified Lucas as one of his favourite rappers of all time, tweeting, “For me, in no particular order… Toss up between Wayne, Pac, Royce, Jay, Treach, G. Rap, Biggie, and King Crook. Plus Redman, LL, Nas, Joyner, Kendrick, Cole, Andre, Rakim and Kane.”
This stamp of approval definitely helped Lucas, and two years ago, he paid a visit to HOT 97.0, where Funk Flex challenged him to recreate his 2015 track ‘Backwords’, which hears him deliver lyrics from back-to-front.
Challenging him, Flex told Lucas, “I saw something seven years ago. I saw you rhyming backwards. I seen it — might I say — cranking, hard! ‘m into challenges; I’m gonna challenge you to do that again. ‘Backwords Part 2,’ that sounds like where we’re going with this.”
However, to Funk Flex’s surprise, Joyner Lucas took him up on the challenge, and over the instrumental of ‘Nas Is Like’, he began by rapping regularly before hitting the rewind button and repeating the same bars in reverse.
In a 2015 interview with DJBooth magazine, the Massachusetts artist explained the inspiration and process behind his original ‘Backwords’ song, detailing,“I write all my lyrics on my iPad. For the backwards, I copy and pasted the same verse and then made another paragraph underneath and went all the way from the ending to the beginning and then figured out how to make it work.”
He added, “I didn’t try to get a point across like, ‘I’m an MC, I’m super lyrical, and I’m gonna prove it.’ It was more so for me; I wanted to see if I could pull it off. I wasn’t thinking about if other people are gonna like it or not … I’m always looking to do something different that somebody else isn’t doing.” You can listen to the Funk Flex freestyle below.